Qikly does it

The thing about having coffee with Kevin Lim at Highlander Coffee, is that you never know when he'll suddenly ask you, hey, do you mind if I grab a video of this conversation? And what he means is: using Qik, he's going to upload the video live from his cell phone onto the web.

Now you can hear how quickly I speak in real life.

Also good if you wanna hear me maunder about writing, travel writing and being a freelance operative.

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Just another day

Not every day is about writing.. Today was about scratching things off my to-do list, which is scribbled in ballpoint ink on a piece of used paper.

In the approximate order in which they were completed:
  • Called my mom 'cause it's her birthday. Yay, Mom!
  • Confirmed a radio interview for next week for Singapore: A Biography and drafted some talking points for it. (First time in my life I've drafted talking points for my own use --- it doesn't get any easier.)
  • Made loose plans to meet a Lonely Planet writer who'll be in town next week.
  • Made loose plans to meet one of my best friends' boyfriends who'll be in town next week too.
  • Sent out an email reminder to a rather long list of friends and associates about the upcoming book launch events (which kick off on Sunday at the National Library --- are you gonna be there or what?). Fortunately I didn't break my Gmail doing it.
  • Secured a good freelance writing/editing partner for a small job next month that I don't have the time to do on my own (yay for pay copy).
  • Turned down another copywriting job that totally doesn't interest me.
  • Shilled for the book at the National Education mothership of Singapore.
  • Contemplated the niceties of starting a Facebook Fan page for Singapore: A Biography, considering the book is still at the printer's and will only be in bookstores next week (but you can buy it at the National Library event on Sunday).
  • Made loose plans to meet a couple of Singapore writers at the opening of the Singapore Writers Festival.
  • Emailed some contacts for a Vietnam trip next month.
  • Compiled a bunch of information for a government tender and updated a proposal document that one of my collaborators drafted.
  • Attempted to do a friend a favour and play around with the new Raffles Alumni website, but there was only so much I could do when it didn't send me my password.
  • Daydreamed (although we did this after dinner and via IM) with a good friend about the Really Cool Business we're going to set up --- someday.
  • Ignored Ink whining for more food because he's had his full ration for the day.
  • Bought more bandwidth for the Singapore: A Biography website (I suspect there's a not quite optimised-for-web image that's doing us in).
  • Scratched Sisu's head till she stopped whining at me (after lunch and now, as I'm typing this in bed).
  • Avoided finishing that essay I started a few weeks ago.
Pretty damn productive.

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Are you a maker or a manager?

As I was buckling down to work a couple of weeks ago, Pin sent me Paul Graham's "Maker's schedule, manager's schedule", which crystallises a lot of what I've only properly realised these couple of months about how I work. In a nutshell: managers get stuff done by breaking the day up with itty-bitty tasks and meetings, makers need uninterrupted blocks of time to get substantive creative work done. (He goes into good detail about each job type --- go read it.)

I used to multitask a lot more, and a lot more flexibly, when I first started freelancing. Maybe it was because I was doing itty-bitty bits of work, whatever came in that seemed interesting or paid the bills, none of which were very long-form or long-term projects. I also thought that trying to schedule all my client meetings on the same day of the week was 'cause I was lazy to go out everyday, which would feel too much like going to work at a conventional office job.

Now my work schedule swings between the extremes of (a) hermit-like self-imposed isolation at home with the internet on for research but not IMing, and (b) multitasking days for things like meetings, admin work and "grabbing coffee" (see Graham's use of the term). This month it's been mostly (a), which has been great for creative foment, although I have to admit that in this day and age of constant Twitter chatter and link-sharing, it feels counter-intuitive to take a step back and block it all out in order to get anything creative done.

I wonder also if this is why many of my teacher friends are always so frazzled during term time, as I used to be. Preparing a good lesson is "making", but so much of a teacher's life is filled with "managing" --- managing students and colleagues, being managed by bosses and the system. Just as non-freelancers sometimes assume that a freelancer having a "flexible" schedule means they can interrupt his/her day at any time, people in school often assume that a teacher who doesn't have a scheduled lesson is likewise "free" to be interrupted ("free periods" indeed).

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"The work, that is another thing"

Ah, Cary Tennis. Always hitting home with the hard truth. From "Should I leave L.A. after one year?":
There are dreams and there are career plans. They are not the same. Some dreams are compensatory: visions that we retreat to in times of stress, like blankies for infants, things that comfort us and tell us what we need to be told. The dream of being a famous writer can be like that: a dream of infantile power and attention that disguises the more immediate need -- for safety, self-love, serenity, peace in our hearts.

But the work, that is another thing. The real work is staggering; the real work is work. It is not dream. It is pushing against the wall; it is hearing what we do not want to hear; it is doing the numbers; it is learning the new terms as they come along; it is sitting through evaluations and self-evaluations. It is an eternal object lesson in our powerlessness and our smallness. The real work is grinding and slow.

When I look at all the writers who have won coveted prizes and all the filmmakers and artists who have had success, what I notice is that they are the ones who actually filled out the applications for fellowships and sent their work around for critique and rejection; they are the ones who locked themselves in rooms and worked at it; they are the ones who did what was required; they are the ones who allowed themselves to be beginners and to begin at the beginning and do the next obvious thing.
(Via alf.)

I've resumed a leisurely pace of work this week, which is an improvement over last week but still not clip-cloppy enough for my liking, and certainly not clip-cloppy enough for any dreams to be realised. I need to work up to a point where I can start locking myself in a room ...

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Things that make me smile

Find your own bodhi tree

  • Text message from a cute guy.
  • Email from a publisher offering me Work I Want Very Very Much (details to be announced after negotiations are concluded).
  • Good meeting with an existing publisher for the marketing strategy for our book.
Yes, I'm a writer. Yes, I have books coming out this year.

Gosh, this feels good.

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From the incredible Indexed: puttering can get old.

(Venn diagrams were one of the few things in math that I didn't have trouble with.)



It never rains but it pours

After several days of whining venting to friends about my creative ennui and other things, I finally made a Plan --- or rather, diverted my whinging into Step 1 of a Plan --- which was to kick off tomorrow for a personal creative project.

All the repining must've also helped with the camera-constipation, because after I decided to walk home from Parkway Parade via the beach/East Coast Park today, I "saw" a picture as soon as I entered the underpass leading to the park and was instinctively pulling the camera out of my bag before the thought (or image) had cohered in my brain.

Go towards the light

And then I just knew that I would be taking more pictures on the walk home.

Stay on the bike path! Unstable coastline I Unstable coastline II
Find your own bodhi tree Unstable coastline III Unstable coastline IV
Waiting "Keep our parks beautiful and litter-free" Abandoned

But alas for my newborn creative impulse. When I got home, I was diverted by work --- specifically, several emails and phone calls requiring immediate attention or work done in the next few days, which means that Step 1 of the Plan is being postponed to next week. Even uploading these pictures and writing this post had to wait till I was done with work for the day.

It never fails, does it? One moment I was working at 50% capacity and cavilling about having no creative focus; the next moment, as soon as I'd formed a plan to use the other 50% of my time more productively (other than taking long lunches and catching up with friends as I've been doing), Real Work shows up knocking peremptorily on my door like an Internal Security agent, demanding that I get back in line.

But I am taking pictures again.

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Still ennui-fied, as I put it to a friend a couple of days ago, but there are things to be grateful for:
  • Story published in Hemispheres.
  • Recipe attempted successfully.
  • Studio 60 watched in its entirety at last (only two years late).
  • Good, good late-night conversations (post-nap, post-Korean food, post-research trip to bookstore).
  • Good, good friends.

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(Pun on the previous post about "25 Things" not intended.)

I've been feeling somewhat off-kilter since I moved house. I know why: I love the apartment, but work-wise I have nothing major lined up at the moment, so I'm filling my time with kucing kurap (literally 'diseased cat', metaphorically 'unimportant') assignments that pay the bills but leave me feeling blah at the end of the day. I don't have stories to tell when people ask me how I'm doing, but I still do the kucing kurap work because everyone's murmuring about the recession and how the money's drying up.

All of which leaves me feeling like an ant toiling away in the fading summer (not that I know any grasshoppers).

I also haven't taken any photographs that I really like since I got back from Vietnam, and that really bugs me. I have my camera with me almost all the time, but I never see anything I want to take a picture of. It's like that particular creative muscle is settling into entropy and I can't think of what would jolt it out of its flaccidness.

At the same time, I've been yearning to play the piano again because I want to do something creative that doesn't involve the internet or writing. The main obstacle to this plan is the cost of not only a piano (even a secondhand one), but also the cost of moving it into the flat where I've living and any future moves. A friend tells me it costs $50 per floor to move a piano around and I live on a very high floor; I'm definitely not making enough money to cover that.

Yes, yes, I should quit whining and get on with doing something creative for myself. I should sit down and work on those novel/short story/film ideas I've been dawdling over for years and always say I have no time for. If nothing else, I should write up the overdue recounting of last year in books (as I've done since 2003) --- but the truth is I'm embarrassed at how few books I read in 2008.

I know eventually I'll emerge from this stasis, but for now I can't say I feel thrilled about it.

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Not here, not there

I don't really know where the week went, but it did. I did a small spot of travel writing to tide me over with some income for the week, caught up with friends for coffee/lunch/dinner/a movie, watched the US presidential inauguration, and did plenty of Chinese New Year shopping.

English only

The interesting thing about waiting in line at Bee Cheng Hiang was realising that all the signs for bak kwa were in English. The staff spoke Mandarin (and probably other Chinese dialects) just fine, but I'm pretty sure they used to have Chinese labels too for their products.

Last night I was at Mustafa and they were playing bona fide Chinese New Year dong-dong-chang music. Go, multiculturalism!

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It wasn't intentional, but I'm sort of taking half the week off to:
  • Hang out with Packrat, Ondine and their twins.
  • Catch up on movies (so far: Zack and Miri Make A Porno and Mean Girls).
  • Sleep in.
  • Drink red wine.
  • Organise my workspace (not quite a writer's room yet but gettin' there ...).
  • Not panic about how the economy is probably gonna go into a tailspin after the Chinese New Year and who knows what'll happen to freelance writing opportunities then ...



Amidst moving

I spent all of yesterday dealing with movers, then unpacking and organising --- and totally failed to take a picture of the amazing view from the new flat. I'll grab one later when I head over to finish unpacking and cat-proofing the place.

If all goes well, I should be living there by tomorrow night and waking up to the whistling wind from this weekend. I've been warned that when there's a thunderstorm, the crashing of the waves is pretty audible, even though I'm on the top floor of a very high block of flats. We shall see.

One thing I'm gonna need is a new (and good) office chair, something that will stand up to 8-10 hours of sitting per day (er ... pardon the pun, or is that a mixed metaphor at this point?). I would love an Embody, but I'd have to land such a huge contract before I allowed myself to splurge on one.

Meantime, it's back to Ikea (from left to right, top to bottom): there's the Allak, Joakim, Patrik and --- my personal favourite --- the Skruvsta.
Ikea office chairs
Images taken from Ikea

The Skruvsta gets pretty good reviews (from decor8 readers, among others) and I totally fell in love with it when I was last at Ikea on a browsing visit, so I'm leaning towards that. Thoughts?

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In the middle of the night

I stopped work at 3:40 am and was clearing up when I realised I'd forgotten to wash the French press after making coffee earlier this evening (at 10 pm, to be precise). So it was that in the middle of the doggone night, I'm pouring and scooping used coffee grounds onto the flower bed in the living room balcony. If anyone had seen me, I'm not sure what they would have made of it.

From the living room balcony, I can see the traffic on the newish overpass that connects the port in West Coast with the one in Keppel, and let me tell you, there's a surprising number of trucks hauling containers around at this hour.

Tomorrow I must cut another 1,000 words from my Lonely Planet text --- and then I'm done.

(I think.)

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What I did when I wasn't writing

On Christmas Eve, I walked through a light spray of rain, not enough to be a drizzle, palpable enough to feel like a dusting of snow, the kind that leaves your hair damp but not wet. At the first party, courtesy of ampulets' family, we politely raided her mother's wine collection after dinner and clinked glasses to the fact that we've been friends for 18 years (my bad, I said 16 that night). At the second party, courtesy of beeker's family, the conversation turned inexplicably to ghost stories some time after 1 am, which is a little weird for Christmas Eve.

On Christmas, the food from The Garden Slug was a big hit, as was my uncle's homemade roast beef. Packrat and Ondine got my grandfather a digital photo frame, which is so cool I want one. I did, however, get some very cool Breadou (thanks, Darren & Mel).

Today, I resumed work. Well, technically, I did, but really the writing muscle was so torpid from yesterday's tryptophan exposure, I felt like it was moving at the rate of one word forward, two words backspaced. So now I find myself two days behind schedule, with my final deadline exactly two weeks away.

Tomorrow better be more productive.

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Jonesin' for a drink

So tonight I was alone at Holland Village, and I could not for the life of me rustle up any kaki (pals) to come have a drink with me.

I was at Holland Village because I have a Pilates class anyway. I was alone because other Christmas drink plans had been cancelled on me at the last minute. I couldn't get anyone else because, I dunno, I have bad karma or something.

On the one hand, I like the intensity of sitting down to write for days at a stretch. On the other hand, it does leave me feeling that any preciously scheduled recreation time ought not to lie unusued if I've already scheduled it.

I think the word I'm looking for is du lan (a stronger version of being disgruntled).



The first words are the hardest

Which is why a headline like "I'm rewriting the same paragraph over and over and over!" is guaranteed to get me to click on it.

I figured Cary Tennis's advice (or anyone's, really) would run along the lines of "Just write it, dammit!" But I didn't expect him to approach it this way:
The rule I have made for myself [because he's on post-operative painkillers] is that I cannot go back and fix, or rearrange, or rewrite what I have done. I realized, on the first day of this experiment, when I absolutely lacked the mental concentration to do that kind of rearranging, that I would have to give it up. Thus I was forced to write this new way.

[...] This disability is forcing me to simply keep writing and moving forward.

Of course I fear that I will not be brilliant enough. This fear will have to wait. I cannot hide from it.
He also says:
In the case of writing and rewriting a paragraph 20 times or 50 times, we may fear the plainness and simplicity of what is in our minds; we may fear that unless we unleash a dazzling fusillade of verbal inventiveness, the reader will turn away in boredom and disgust. So we keep tinkering, trying to perfect the bomb.
I've often said I'm a highly inefficient writer (in terms of word count per day, which often translates into income per day) because I spend all this time "tinkering, trying to perfect the bomb", as Tennis puts it. The last few weeks, I've been plugging away at the Lonely Planet assignment, trying to write with "colour and flair" while "telling it like it is" (their mantra, don't you know). Which means I get stuck rewriting the same sentence over and over --- don't even get me started on paragraphs --- and the opening words to any new section are the hardest.

Of course, even harder than writing a good opening, is when you write one and then realise that there's no way you can use it in the book. For instance, this is an outtake for my opening to the history of Hue:
The emperors loved it, so the French sacked it. The North Vietnamese coveted it and stole it; the South Vietnamese and Americans wanted (and took) it back. The Communist government didn't really want to have anything to do with it --- but then the tourists started turning up in droves.
Copyright ME --- just because I'm not giving these lines to Lonely Planet doesn't mean anyone can steal them.

I know that I need to "simply keep writing and moving forward", but I don't know that I can. I guess sheer desperation will kick in at some point, as my non-negotiable deadline looms.

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Out of words

I would blog more, but writing all day leaves me feeling strangely empty (not drained, just empty).

I would stick a photo here in lieu of text, but even though I still carry my camera with me everywhere, I haven't "seen" any pictures that I want to take. Also, I spend most of my day cooped up at home writing, and while the cats are plenty entertaining, I haven't taken any good pictures of them, either.

I think I'm just going to go to bed.



Writers' Rooms

The BBC website has a great slideshow of photographs by Eamonn McCabe of writers' rooms --- from Martin Amis to David Lodge to Roald Dahl. I particularly love the skylights that Seamus Heaney and Martin Amis have.

My own writing space at home is much more mundane. Cheap, too.

My el cheapo writing corner

I promise to do better after I move to a new place. I want to have:
  • A whole room, for starters.
  • A chair/table setup that's better for the back --- wish I could afford the new Herman Miller Embody.
  • More artwork around me.
  • More natural light --- I totally fell for an apartment I can't afford in Joo Chiat two weeks ago because it had glorious windows.

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First impressions

An excerpt from Sunday's IM conversations:
Wahj: what have you been up to?
Wahj: besides writing
ME: writing and procrastinating
ME: if i'm not doing one, i'm doing the other
ME: today i cleaned my shower curtain and shower in lieu of writing
ME: (altho i have written quite a bit after that)
Wahj: The power of procrastination is amazing
Wahj: I'm convinced the best way to do something is to have something else to do
True dat, but I think after a week of giving in to procrastination, I finally have text on the page that I'm reasonably proud of.

However, there are also lots of stories from my seven weeks of travelling that won't make it to Lonely Planet. I mean, it's a guidebook, not a travelogue or a memoir.

So since I've been getting storyteller's block when I'm with family and friends, plus there are more stories than can be told in one sitting anyway, I thought maybe I could try blogging some of them as I'm writing about the respective places.

First stop: Ninh Binh.

Van Long Nature Reserve

When people ask me what my favourite place on the trip was, I usually hesitate to give a reply because they were all good in their own way (except for Vinh, but more about that in a couple of days). Philosophically I also don't see much point in trying to single out one travel destination or experience and elevating it as the superlative. It smacks of a certain consumerist approach to travel that I'm none too crazy about.

The blithe answer to the "favourite place" question, though, is Ninh Binh.

Ninh Binh was easy to love. The weather was positively glorious for the three days we were there. The flowers were blooming and the buffalo were amiable. The rice fields were a ripe, rich green, and the farms were buzzing with harvesting activities (including a memorable skedaddle on motorbike past a small roadside fire fuelled by dried rice plants; I made it unscathed but my friend was unfortunately singed by a stray ember).

And our motorcycle guides made things easy. The lead guide always spoke pretty good English, everyone drove safely, and all they had to do was whip us off the main path and down some country lane for me to be happy.

In the living quarters of a 14th-century temple, we sat down for tea, bananas and persimmons with an elderly nun who wouldn't let Deanna take pictures of her until she put on her official robes. On an empty river coming back from Kenh Ga village, the boatman let me take the wheel because, you know, that's what they let tourists do. Deanna led forth to breakfasts of pho ngan (duck pho in a heady broth, which I never saw again on the trip) and other market foods that I promptly forgot the names of.

When you spend most of your day looking at mountains (okay, limestone karsts) and blue skies, it's not hard to like a place.

There were other mountains and other blue skies over the next seven weeks, but it was Ninh Binh's that I saw first.

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"So what are you doing now?"

That's what a couple of people have asked me since I got back in circulation in Singapore. Some of them thought I'd finished my Lonely Planet writing while I was in Vietnam. To which I shake my head fervently and mention the 65,000 word count I've got to complete by January 9. Sure, some of it got written while I was there, but all the longer texts (i.e. anything longer than 50 words per block of text) still need to be done.

In between writing getting the writing started, I've also initiated the apartment-hunting process. I have until January 21 to relocate. Ideally, I'll be able to wrangle a new place with a move-in date in mid-January, thereby allowing me to complete the Lonely Planet work in peace.


The other thing I've been doing is sneezing regularly. The spates started in Saigon, where I had a slight itchy-eye/sneezy reaction, but it's become full-blown now that I'm home. I wonder if it's the cats or the general air quality. (It's definitely not a cold --- different type of sneezing.)

Tomorrow I'm going to my first Thanksgiving dinner in 11 years. There'll be a roast rack of lamb instead of roast turkey, Caesar salad instead of green beans, and potato au gratin instead of mashed potatoes --- but it's the spirit that counts. Besides, there will be pumpkin pie.

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Like a lost backpacker

Around lunchtime, I trooped around the towering office buildings of Beach Road and Shenton Way: grey hoodie, three-quarter jeans, orange shoes and a rather large backpack (thanks for the loan, Adri!). This is what all that education my parents paid for has come to --- me looking like an overgrown teenager, amidst all the financial types talking about stock market prices and other things I know little about.

Why a large backpack, you ask? I'm test-driving it for an upcoming trip to Vietnam to write for Lonely Planet.


Yes, this is the Really Cool Writing Gig I've been mentioning.


Okay, that's really the last time I'm going to put that in all caps.

The backpack seems to be a good fit. Now to figure out the other 20 million details before I go (in between finishing up work, of course) ...

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I am a bad, bad freelancer

Between the wall and the laptop ...

I took a nap this afternoon. On the couch. The kind where one moment I'm staring at the printouts in front of me, the next I've safely tucked everything away (including my glasses) and I turn over to face the inside of the couch and fall completely asleep.

I blame it on the rainy weather.

I think I slept for an hour and a half. Sisu slept at my feet. She's not as anti-touchy-feely as Ink.

I almost never do this (sick days don't count), but now when people ask me how I resist the lure of the bed and the couch, I'll have this story to tell.

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Crazy is ...

The National Museum goes MPH

Not the thousands and thousands of people swarming the Night Festival last night, but the fact that somebody decided Sunday would be a good time to run a loud motor all day to slice up the tree that they chopped down on Friday. (They have to slice it up into more manageable chunks so that they can transport the lumber away.)

Meanwhile, I'm trying to catch up on writing because I only cranked out twenty words instead of a thousand yesterday, and they were twenty crappy words that I promptly deleted today.

Sunday = day of rest? Not likely.

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Miles to go before I ...

Sisu mid-yawn

Jude asked me today how work was going, to which I said:
  • I need to power through certain projects by end-September,
  • so that I can start on that Really Cool Writing Gig (more information akan datang),
  • which involves more intense research and writing,
  • and that takes me all the way into 2009.
Then I said: "I feel tired thinking about it."

Maybe this is why mornings are getting harder.


Mornings are getting harder

11 o'clock

So far this week, I have:
  • Poured un-boiled water onto coffee grounds.
  • Poured boiling water into an empty coffeemaker.
  • Forgotten to eat breakfast, resulting in a forlorn and overripe banana that had to be cast into the trash yesterday.
I'm not overworked at the moment, so I'm not sure where all this un-wakefulness is coming from ...

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Strike three, but we got lucky

Because I am a freelancer who is --- for all intents and purposes --- surgically attached to her internet connection, Cowboy Caleb calls me on occasion for last-minute restaurant advice and I spend about five minutes helping him pick a place where he can fête a client or boss on his company's tab. The other typical condition is that it has to be a place that he knows how to get to in Singapore, which can be harder than it sounds.

Today he calls at about noon from Hong Kong and needs a place for dinner tonight. He can't expense the meal, but still needs it to be nice enough. Oh, and no Asian food.

We settle on Valentino's, because we've been there before and it's pretty damn good food. He asks me to get a reservation (yes, I am officially his entertainment secretary, didn't you know?) and SMS him when the table's booked. I call. Valentino's, it turns out, is fully booked for the night.

A little SMSing, another phone call. "How about Marmalade Pantry at Palais Renaissance?," I suggest, "because the air-conditioning at the Holland Village one isn't working [as I found out to my dismay on Monday night]."

"Where's Palais Renaissance?"

"Next to Orchard Towers, between Orchard Towers and the Thai embassy."

For reasons that cannot be reported here, Cowboy Caleb declines to go anywhere near Orchard Towers. We settle on Ember at Hotel 1929, another reliable choice that he knows how to get to.

I call and: "We regret to inform you that we will be closed for renovations from 30 April to ..." Cheebye. I hang up without bothering with the rest of the automated message.

"Strike two," I SMS Cowboy.

He calls back. By this point, I'm trawling through The Travelling Hungryboy for ideas. We confer. "Okay, Wild Rocket," he decides.

I call and I cannot believe my ears: "I'm sorry, but we're closed tonight for a private function."

Clearly, the moral of the story at this point is that it is not possible to get a dinner reservation at a decent place on the eve of a public holiday (it's May Day tomorrow), unless you planned your evening a week before and had time to work your way through an entire restaurant directory.

Cowboy cannot believe it; neither can I. James comes to the rescue on MSN: "Cork", he says, "63279169." Does Cowboy know where Capital Towers is? Why yes, he does. After which he SMSes: "I boarding the plane. You decide."

Meanwhile, I'm calling --- and miracle of miracles, they are open, they have tables available and they are pleased as punch to take Cowboy's reservation. I manage to sneak in a last confirmation SMS to Cowboy and the URL for Chubby Hubby's review of the place before he switches off his phone on the plane.

As far as I know, dinner went all right.

It seems Secretaries' Day has just passed us by, so Cowboy owes me a huge bonus next year. He should buy me dinner at a nice place.

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Of neo-nomadism and neighbourhoods

It was a year ago that I decided I liked the term "neo-nomad", and now the Economist has a whole special report on it.

The thing I find about living the neo-nomadic/digital-nomadic lifestyle, is that when I read a "special report" like that, I tend to go, "Ho-hum. Tell me something I don't already know."

Or else I tend to assume that these reports are confirming what I hope will happen, like this scenario from the article "The new oases":
... urban nomadism makes districts, like buildings, multifunctional. Parts of town that were monocultures, [William Mitchell, a professor of architecture and computer science at MIT] says, gradually become “fine-grained mixed-use neighbourhoods” more akin in human terms to pre-industrial villages than to modern suburbs.
I count myself lucky to live in a village-like neighbourhood now. The free wifi is dreadfully spotty (why, oh why, can't [email protected] get it right?), but all the other elements --- brick-and-mortar stores delivering basic services, a mixture of chain stores and "local" enterprises, low-rise living and neighbourhood folk who kind of recognise each other after a while --- are well in place, and have been for decades.

Being neo-nomadic Working freelance means I can spend more time here and still get enough work done to pay the rent. I'd like to think, along the lines of Mitchell above, that the broader neo-nomadic trend also means that it will keep this neighbourhood village-like, with the kind of vibe that made me want to live here in the first place.

(I'm still hoping the coming MRT line doesn't muck up the neighbourhood either.)


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Talk, talk, talk

I write, and I talk too

Thanks to melch, I had the opportunity today to blather on to impressionable younglings about freelance writing. Talk about being out of practice since my teaching days. I forgot how much of an adrenalin rush it is from the minute one is "on", as in: "Here's the stage --- you're on!" One minute I was introducing myself, ten minutes later I realised I had finished the first part of my talk, which was fine, but was panting for breath because I'd been rattling away so fast, which was nosso fine.

The 400 ml of water in my Nalgene bottle? Nowhere near enough to get me through a 40-minute talk plus Q&A plus the five or six kids who wait to ask the speaker questions at the end.

Some interesting points that came to me extemporaneously:
  • What are important qualities to be a freelancer? "Discipline. Discipline, discipline, discipline. The kind of discipline that gets out of bed and at your desk at 8 am even though you don't have to meet a client. Being comfortable with uncertainty, i.e. not knowing now what I'll be doing in July. Knowing how to sell yourself to clients and potential clients (Asians very shy one). Work hard, do good work."
  • Which writer do you want to be like? "Easy question. [Then I tell a long and pointless story about the book of popular history I'm co-writing.] Answer: Bill Bryson. He's light-hearted but a serious writer. [Naturally, it seemed like most of the audience hadn't heard of him, though melch made a pitch for his books being in the library.] He takes culture, history and all sorts of information about a country --- and puts it in an accessible and entertaining package for the reader, even if you've never been there."
  • Who is your favourite writer? "I have so many favourites. PS: Favourite writer and writer whom I want to be like are two different things. I love Shakespeare, but I could never write like that. PS: I'm reading a biography of Shakespeare right now, that's why I've got Shakespeare on my mind. Okay: [I forgot the first name I mentioned], Jonathan Frantzen, Alice Munro --- hang on, I'm running through my bookshelf --- Salman Rushdie, Philip Roth ... Okay, that's five. You can go and find out more on your own."
The unexpected things I said:
  • "If you do bad work, one day it might come back and bite you in the --- okay, I think I'm not supposed to say that word, but you know what I mean, right?"
  • "I mean, I live alone, so I can work all day, not see anyone except my cats --- oh wait, that makes me sound like a crazy cat lady, right?"
  • "Eh, can you all stop talking? I am the one doing the talking."
The last point was when the audience of fidgety students got too chatterrific. It's kinda scary how teacher mode kicked in instinctively.

Now I just hope I didn't preach the gospel of freelancing too ardently, because it certainly isn't the ideal work situation for everyone.


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When proofreading begins at midnight

Take a shower first, to feel clean and cool and awake.

Make a cup of coffee (hopefully, you don't need a whole pot).

Turn on the Killers as loud as it's possible without waking the neighbours.


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Nailed it!

Over six months ago, I put in an application to be a writer at a Really Cool Gig. The process involved sending a kick-ass cover email, followed by several rounds of writing samples that needed to be even more impressive. Except for a couple of people whom I asked to read the material I was submitting, I didn't tell many people about my application, mostly because I thought that would jinx it for sure. Even the less-than-ten people who knew about it were under strict instructions not to say anything.

Today, at the end of a long and tiring day, filled with many appointments and much busyness and much traipsing up and down stairs in uncomfortable shoes (my bad, I should've worn something more sneaker-like), I got home to my email, cast my fatigued eyeballs down the unread missives --- and alighted on an email with the simple subject line: "Congratulations!"

(No, it wasn't spam, even though spam is 15 years old now.)


I didn't say "I got the job" because it's not a full-time position, it's freelance. I can't even say "I write for So-and-so now", because I haven't written a word for them yet and I don't get to write a word for them till one of their editors decides to give me a contract. But I'm in the pool, which is a nice place to be, and I got here through sheer dint of hard work and hard writing, which feels great, and hopefully a super contract will follow not too long from now.

Most importantly, this comes after a couple of weeks of wrangling with people who don't appreciate the art of writing --- hell, this comes after numerous encounters over the last few years with people who have shown faint, if any, respect for my writing --- so I am sitting pretty with the sweet taste of vindication in my mouth. Not to say that everyone has to love and applaud my writing, but now that the Really Cool Gig has put their initial stamp of approval on it, and I know that the kind of writing they value is the kind I want to do and think I could be good at --- I'm just pleased as punch all around.

I'm not going to say who the Really Cool Gig is, so don't bother asking. I would feel a little pretentious saying it when I haven't done a jot of paid work for them yet. As a freelance writer, I'm only as good as the last three things I've written --- the next big thing doesn't count till it's not only written, but published.

(So those of you that know, don't spill the beans on this blog, eh?)

But yeah, I'm happy. Over the moon, as I've said to a couple of people today. I wanted this so badly it hurt when I was preparing my submission, and now that I've gotten it, it feels incredible. I can't wait till the work starts.


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It's my birthday and I'll brush my teeth if I want to

Even if the cat won't let me.

I wanted to brush my teeth but the cat wouldn't budge

Actually, he got out of the sink after a couple of minutes, so I could perform my morning ablutions after all.

My birthday has been hot (where's the unseasonal rain when you need it?), somewhat work-filled but generally not too bad considering how much dawdling I did. This I document to reassure my brother, whose SMS to me this morning consisted of birthday greeings followed by "Hope the whole day isn't spent doing work."

My dad's SMS included a line to say, "Make the world a better place to live in" --- both sweet and guilt-inducing at the same time. I need to dust off certain ideas and get cracking on them.

My mother's SMS asked me what my plans were. To wit:
  • I planned to back up my hard drive --- done.
  • I planned to do a spot of work --- done.
  • I planned to mix various leftovers into a chicken salad for lunch --- done.
  • I didn't plan to finish the Leonidas chocolates oiseauxbleu gave me for Xmas, but there were only two left and I did.
Tonight's plans consist of dinner and maybe ice cream or something sweet after. I almost called Awfully Chocolate just now to get myself a whole 6" chocolate cake, but decided I would rather hold out for a real Lana cake when I have time to engineer an order for it.


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The end of a busy weekend

An Apache, I think

Went to the air show --- yay!

Came home and had to rush work that I couldn't complete any earlier this weekend --- boo!

Ended up working till 3 am just to get everything right --- double-boo!

Had to wake up at 6:45 am to get ready for a full slate today --- triple-boo!

More later, when my brain's more coherent.




Properly unpacked

I realised earlier this week that I wasn't writing very well or resting very well, probably because the apartment was still in something of a shambles. While I'd gotten the bedroom, bathroom and half the hall in good shape within the first weekend of living here, the kitchen was barely unpacked and the other half of the hall was full of stuff that belonged elsewhere. Add the fact that I'd cleared out over 100 books, but they were still in stacks on the floor waiting for friends to come pick over the leavings --- and it would seem that I was still living in a thrift store after over two weeks of being here.

So I set aside this weekend to get the place in order, which entailed buying under-bed storage boxes and kitchen shelves to stash things away, unpacking all the remaining boxes, organising the kitchen, dragooning a friend to come over and install the shelves he'd handed down to me (they spent a week sitting by the front door, adding to the general disarray) --- and cleaning up after everything.

Bag of tricks

If that previous sentence read like a mouthful to you, let me just say that it felt pretty nonstop to me too. Good thing I allowed myself to sleep in both mornings, so the fatigue that'd been plaguing me all week couldn't be used as excuse for procrastinating further on things.

But at least everything is in order now, and I'm not tripping over boxes every time I need to pull out a book or get to the other side of the bed.

Books aside, I also have a set of cutlery and some odd bits of crockery to give away, so if anyone needs to kit out their kitchen, let me know.


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Saturday, at last

A(nother) sign that I am getting old: today I caved in and increased the default font size on Firefox and Adium by 1 point.

Ten years ago, the first thing I used to do on a computer was to superciliously adjust the Internet Explorer font size down to a more aesthetically pleasing proportion. Today, functionality trumps form. Who've thunk it?

It's been a particularly long week, hence the lack of blog updates. Tired eyes, tired body, tired mind. I updated my Facebook status yesterday to say I was "declar[ing] a one-week moratorium on 'business development'" --- because while more business (and money) is good, the distraction of following up of every single potential business lead was taking a toll on both the quality of my writing and my overall equilibrium.

Of course, not three hours after I set that Facebook status, I received emails from two more potential clients about some new projects.

This weekend will be dedicated to unpacking the last few boxes and getting things in order. This place needs to stop looking like a forgotten warehouse.


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This never rarely happens

And lo it was, that before 4 pm in the middle of the workweek, I found myself having finished all the work I'd scheduled to do for the day

I'd felt myself inching towards this achievement around 3 pm, when I realised I had two more paragraphs to write, max, before I could shoot the document off to the client and mark the task with a triumphant "done!". And then I actually did finish, despite taking time to play with the cat instead of ignoring him like I'd been doing all day.

Which is bloggable only because I usually whine about long work days, so let's give the short ones their credit where credit is due.

Not that I'm about to go goof off for the rest of the day; there's still odds and ends of administrivia to wind up. But no more paid writing for today, and I'm taking tomorrow off to settle some moving-house matters, so let's just say I'm taking my weekend early.

On a related note, my cousin updated his Facebook status yesterday to say he was "amazed how many S'pore friends mention 'work' in their status updates!" And he works in DC, so it's not like he's slacking off somewhere on a desert island. Separately, I once had two phone calls with friends who were still working after 8 pm on a Monday night --- to which James, the friend I was with, asked incredulously, "Are all your friends workaholics?

Er ... no comment.


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The perils of working at home

A cat in the lap

How am I supposed to get anything done when he takes a stack of A3 printouts as an excuse to climb into my lap and snooze?

Fortunately, he got bored about half an hour later and moseyed off elsewhere --- just before my legs fell completely asleep.


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Random run-ins today

At Bugis Junction, I was intercepted by a slip of a girl claiming to be from a modelling agency and would I like to ... "I'm not interested," I said, and waved her off. I have no idea what she wanted. I mean, I was wearing a boring button-down office-y shirt I had resurrected from the back of the wardrobe because I needed to look respectable and in case the weather turned cold, paired with skinny jeans and wedges --- the faux successful "creative" look, as one might generously call it. Definitely not one of my better-dressed days.

Also at Bugis Junction, I'd arranged to meet someone off one of my email lists to buy a secondhand Margaret Atwood book off her. Which may not sound that remarkable, but given how all-over-the-place my schedule has been in the last twenty-four hours, I'm amazed no one else beat me to it. Guess there aren't that many prospective purveyors purchasers of Moral Disorders after all.

In other randomness, it looks like both the projects I was rushing to get finish before Xmas are pushing their deadlines back --- due to circumstances that have nothing to do with me, of course --- so maybe I'll get to enjoy a little pre-Xmas jollity next week. Earlier this week, I was in a house that had two real Xmas trees and real Xmas wreaths scattered throughout all the ground-floor rooms. It smelled incredible.

Finally, for my l33t-sp43k1ng fr13nds: who'd've thunk it that "w00t" would make Webster's word of the year?


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It never rains but it pours

It's been pouring a lot --- the rain, that is. I love it.

Work's been pouring too. I have major deadlines before Xmas, which has turned me into a furious writing machine whose eyes get itchy from fatigue around dinnertime --- but I typically plough on for a few more hours anyway. Meanwhile, all non-essential social plans have been axed, all Xmas decorations are still buried in the storeroom, and I try not to think about the fact that every other person I know seems to be traipsing off on vacation.

Nonetheless, for dinner tonight, I took the time to whip up (almost literally) some lemon linguine from a Nigella recipe. I now know how to separate yolks from whites. It would've helped if I'd remembered the salt and pepper, though.

Is it really ten days till Xmas?


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Is it almost midnight?

It's no fun when the work week begins on a Sunday.


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Lunch hour

Faux kopitiam

So Daniel and I are dawdling over lunch at Shin Kushiya, when suddenly we realise how quiet the place has gotten. It's only ten minutes after two, but all the men wearing pin-striped shirts with ties have cleared out and we're the only ones left in the section.

"Wanna go for coffee?" Daniel asks.


I guess that's why the pin-striped types make all the big bucks and us "creative" types, er, don't.




The week in pictures

Sea view

On Monday, I went out to sea. But only for a little while and it was choppy enough that I had to stop taking notes and concentrate on the horizon to quell the potential seasickness. Now I know exactly where some of the Southern Islands are, like Kusu and St John's. They always seemed such a long boat ride away when I was a kid.

PS: Our port is truly, irredeemably ugly.

Nature reinterpreted

On Wednesday, I popped in on Culturepush's Next Stop: Wonderland tour of Majestic Bar. Groovy art. Besides Yuki Chong's stained-glass ceiling installation (above), I'm also in love with Sandra Lee's third-floor blue-room set-up, staircase and all.

They don't build 'em like this anymore

Yesterday, there was ROJAK. I hadn't been to one in some time, and since my Singapore Writers Festival panel put me right across the street from the old City Hall where it was happening, I had no excuse not to drop by for a bit (until my stomach demanded to be fed anyway). It was very, very cool to be sitting in the same room that I've seen in so many black and white photographs of historic events.

Things that I forgot to take pictures of this week:
  • The also very cool Dual City Sessions party on Friday night, where I ran into all and sundry, and managed to finally meet a couple of people that I'd been hearing about for the longest time. Other people have pictures on Flickr; all I've got to show for myself is a pair of well-worn wedges (lots of traipsing up and down the stairs), a resolution to bring my mom to see what her Old School has become, and the vicarious thrill of reporting that I loaned Daniel the camera to make his art.
  • The Reel Blogging panel I did yesterday evening, which I completed failed to even, er, publicise. Good thing Stefan was, as usual, quick with the blog post and the camera to record what went down.
Pardon the lack of more eloquent descriptive phrases. My brain's all used up from crunching text for that Very Important deadline.

No pictures of the new Macbook yet. Let me post this, then I can go play with it.


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On the go

Since 3:30 pm, I have consumed two black coffees, one iced tea (unsweetened) and one ice Milo (very much sweetened and loaded with Milo powder). This is what happens when one is roving between meetings and killing time slash clearing email at any wireless-friendly cafe in town.

I'm also peckish and dinner's not for another hour, so I'm now adding several mouthfuls of kaya toast to the mix. I'm sure I'll start feeling ill any minute now ...


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It's not 19 hours everyday

I thought I'd better blog, because some people think I've been on 19-hour workdays since Friday.

Which I haven't, truly. Just five hours on Saturday (would've been less if I'd been less distracted by the New York Times's weekly book and movie review updates) and about seven hours on Sunday (NYT's Travel Dispatch did not interest me but other sites did). Monday clocked in at about ten hours and today's about 11.

Not that, um, I'm scrupulously keeping track of my work hours or anything.

Besides working, I have also been cooking (very therapeutic, now that --- thanks to Nigella --- I have a clearer idea of what I'm doing) and reading Jared Diamond's Collapse. The Easter Island story I used to read in my Encyclopaedia Brittanica Children's Encyclopaedia makes sense at last.


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This never happens either

I was up at 6:20 a.m. It's now 1:30 a.m. and I'm off to bed. That's a 19-hour workday, y'all, if you're keepin' score at home.



Related posts: Officially a workaholic, Not quite the weekend off, Working on the weekend, Checking in, Still tapping away here, Seeing stars

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Getting out for a change

The problem with working at Starbucks is that I can't sit there with one leg up (TM Stellou) --- which, as anyone with working-class Chinese immigrant forebears will tell you, is the most comfortable yet least dignified way of sitting on a chair. (I am sitting with one leg up now. But I'm at home.)

The other problem is that it's exam season and the Siglap outlet was positively packed with teenaged students, ostensibly studying, though a number of them did a fair amount of wandering aimlessly in and out of the place. I was barely able to get a table at 2 pm and now I know why James says it makes him feel old to be there.

But actually the main problem is that there doesn't seem to be a publicly accessible power point. Which means that after less than two hours, I've got to pack up the laptop and head home. But at least I'm not cabin-fevered anymore.

PS: Will someone open a nice indie cafe at Siglap, please? The neighbourhood is just drowning in chain cafes.


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Out of sorts

Baby superpowers

I think my Super Hero cape was on backwards this weekend, because everything conspired to make me feel at the very bottom of my game. Okay, not everything, because the weekend began promisingly enough with a work-related event Saturday morning, at which I shook enough hands and traded enough introductions with folks to make me feel like Work. Got. Done.

But maybe having to do a work thing on the weekend threw me off my game, and watching two tortured love stories on DVD on Saturday afternoon wasn't the best complement to that. Then there was the 满月(first-month birthday) celebration for the twins today, at which many members of the extended family were in attendance.

On the bright side, at least I know I'm not PMSing.


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Let's call this a want ad

I'm looking for:
  • An invite to Pownce.
  • A small office space in town without being in the heart of town (where it would be both annoying and unaffordable).
  • A morning where I can sleep in without having to set my alarm clock.
If you have any of the above available, please leave a comment, email me (toomanythoughts [at] Gmail) or otherwise send some love my way.


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Getting around

So we were at one end of Depot Road and wondering how to get to the other end, so that we could mosey over to Handlebar at Gillman Village for some cold beer. When we got to the bus stop, I scanned the list of bus services and said, "Okay, we can't take 195 and I don't know about 57, but we can definitely take 175." To which my friend said, "How do you know these things?" To which I wanted to quote Stellou's immortal lines from two Christmases ago:
"I am a worm. I can find my way places."
For really, sometimes it seems that I am. Give me a map and I'm good to go. The map at the Braddell MRT station got me to block 970 along Toa Payoh North so that I could drop off my laptop for repair, and Streetdirectory.com got me to DSTA Tower B for a client meeting. Later the bus got us to Alexandra Road and by 6 pm we had frosted mugs of Heineken in our hands.

Now if only every day could end this way ...


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I'm going slightly mad

After all, I've spent the last three days staring obsessively at the top right-hand corner of my laptop screen, pondering the mysteries of why the battery/power icon keeps changing whimsically from one to the other --- charging, not charging, charging, not charging --- even though I didn't touch the charger cable. This, even after I gave in and coughed up $144.40 to buy a new charger.

Needless to say, it has been impossible to do any real work. All I do is jiggle the point where the charger connects to the laptop and swear a lot. And yell at the cat when he decides that's the best time to start doing mad dashes under the table. And pray fervently to some unnamed deity when the icon switches to a "charging" symbol that it will stay that way. And swear more when it doesn't.

Fortunately, Wahj is coming to the rescue by loaning me his spare iBook, so that I can still keep up with work when I send this one to the shop. I was hoping to wait till I was on vacation to send it in, but it looks like I'll have to make that trek up to Yio Chu Kang this week. The bloody thing has refused to charge this morning, except for a few tantalizing seconds when it flickers to the "Calculating..." symbol, and now I am down to my last two hours of battery.


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Officially a workaholic

You wouldn't know it from the (in)frequency of blog postings here, but I'm actually faffing about on a lighter work schedule right now. After the breakneck pace of the last few months, I decided, annual business targets be damned, I needed to cut myself a little slack before I completely lost my mind.

And so I've been coasting along working what approximates normal hours, i.e. an average of 8-10 hours a day, 5 days a week (rather than 10-12 hours a day everyday). Now I remember what the concept of "free time" is about.

Which also makes it the perfect time to consider this timeless question from Workaholics Anonymous: Twenty Questions: How Do I Know If I'm A Workaholic?

(Via Cowboy Caleb. Of course.)

Workaholics Anonymous prefaces the list of questions with: If you answer "yes" to three or more of these questions you may be a workaholic. Something tells me three "yes" answers are going to be something of an understatement in my case.

1. Do you get more excited about your work than about family or anything else?

No, but I get pretty damn excited about my work in general.

2. Are there times when you can charge through your work and other times when you can't?

Yep. Times when I can: when non-negotiable deadlines are coming right up, particularly if the money is good. Times when I can't: when I'm feeling burned out or creatively spent, or on the weekends when everyone is out having fun and I'm alone at home in front of the laptop.

3. Do you take work with you to bed? On weekends? On vacation?

To bed: yes. But only when I know it doesn't matter if I'm also simultaneously catching up on friends' blogs or chatting online.

On weekends: Yes. Hence the chronicling of the "Day of rest" series.

On vacation: Okay, that's an absolute no-no. I try not to even have my cell phone on when I'm on vacation. Except that I've got a two-week vacation coming up in September and I'm thinking of bringing my laptop just so that I can check in on stuff ... and already I can hear the chorus of friends screaming "NOOO!!!!!" down at me.

4. Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?

See, this is where it gets tricky. My work involves writing and editing, which I love doing, and part of me really wants this to be the last job I'll ever have. That means even when I'm not writing for work, I'm writing for fun which also feeds back --- sometimes indirectly, sometimes directly --- into work. And writing is certainly one of the things I live to do best.

On the other hand, do I talk most about work? Heavens, no. In fact, I get tired of giving the same answers when people ask me what I'm working on at the moment.

5. Do you work more than 40 hours a week?

Yes. I'm almost unapologetic about it.

6. Do you turn your hobbies into money-making ventures?

Well, I've always like to write and now I write for a living. I've occasionally been paid to blog, but I wouldn't say those experiences merited the term "money-making ventures".

7. Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?


8. Have your family or friends given up expecting you on time?

I hope not! Although I'm late more often than I'd like because "I was just finishing up something."

9. Do you take on extra work because you are concerned that it won't otherwise get done?

Sometimes --- but usually only if my reputation and/or the quality of the overall project is at stake.

10. Do you underestimate how long a project will take and then rush to complete it?

Sheesh, just about all the time. Mostly, I think, because I typically work at home and then I get distracted by bits and bobs of things around the apartment. I'm much more productive working in a cafe or office environment; I'm most productive if there isn't an Internet connection available.

11. Do you believe that it is okay to work long hours if you love what you are doing?

(Kill me now.)

12. Do you get impatient with people who have other priorities besides work?

No way! People get to make their own choices.

But if someone commits to completing a certain join within a certain timeframe, and then fails to do so because they felt like going shopping, and then the entire project is thrown into jeopardy --- well, let's just say I'll be more than impatient in such a situation.

13. Are you afraid that if you don't work hard you will lose your job or be a failure?

Yes. *meep*

14. Is the future a constant worry for you even when things are going very well?

Yes. *double-meep*

15. Do you do things energetically and competitively including play?

I most certainly do not play competitively. In fact, I slack on most things that aren't "work"; hence I'm fairly domestically challenged, never really did well (or made money) from any of my hobbies, and never saw the point of conversations about who found the best bargain/has the swankiest apartment or car/had the coolest vacation/has the latest designer outfit/etc.

16. Do you get irritated when people ask you to stop doing your work in order to do something else?

Sigh. Sometimes. I need to let go, I know.

17. Have your long hours hurt your family or other relationships?

I think so. I believe this merits a *triple-meep*

18. Do you think about your work while driving, falling asleep or when others are talking?

I don't drive at the moment, but when I used to, I used to be mostly swearing at other drivers.

I've sometimes made the mistake of thinking about work as I was trying to fall asleep --- only to be up another half hour because that my mind spun up into high gear and wouldn't let me rest. Now I think about the colour black ("colour" is a misnomer, I know).

When others are talking? Sometimes. But only if a) I'm stressed about work, b) they're being at that moment truly, 110%, I've-given-them-as-many-chances-as-our-relationship-will-allow boring.

19. Do you work or read during meals?

Yes. But not all the time. (Reading during meals was a bad habit I picked up as a kid, despite my mother's best efforts.)

20. Do you believe that more money will solve the other problems in your life?

Of course not!


On that note, I'm off to enjoy the rest of my non-working Sunday.


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Too much mediocre dessert

Working en cafe

One of the projects I'm working on is rushing to print, and since all of us working on it are freelancers, the last two days have been spent living in various downtown cafes, madly checking proofreading changes and making sure that the final text is as clean as it can be without any of us (managing editor, copy editor or publication designer) losing our minds.

Yesterday, we were at Geek Terminal, where there was a dearth of attractive corporate types in swanky Hugo Boss suits, but abundant good service. On the other hand, several things on the menu were inexplicably unavailable, including the brownies I'd been hoping would satiate my sugar craving. I settled for a warmed apple cake instead and thank goodness for the heap of vanilla ice cream that came with it, because the cake was more like a muffin and not particularly tasty.

Today, we were at Dome Cafe at the Singapore Art Museum, which had the same Bjork CD (Homogenic) playing the entire afternoon. Either someone on the staff really loves Bjork or they're impervious to music. Anyways, while Dome's menu has really improved lately (it was quite ho-hum when the chain first launched in Singapore in the late '90s), the carrot cake that I was lusting after (because someone'd had it at a meeting earlier this week at a different Dome) turned out to be a tad dry and not quite as sweet as I like my carrot cake.

On the bright side, we're almost ready to put the publication to bed, so I should soon have the time to return to either The Secret Garden for their incredible apple crumble or The Garden Slug (hm --- there seems to be an unintentional horticultural theme going on here) for some of those stewed pears.

Oh dear. I just realised this means I've had four really sugar-laden desserts in six days.


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An afternoon at Geek Terminal

When Adri first told me she wanted to check out Geek Terminal (first seen --- by us, anyway --- at theory.is.the.reason), my initial reaction was: Great concept, but couldn't they have come up a name that was more Wired and less Hackers? Then I said, "Oh, I'm not usually in the Market Street area."

And then at 3 pm today, I found myself at Chulia Street with several hours to kill before meeting Little Miss Drinkalot for dinner. So I ended up at Geek Terminal after all.

An afternoon at Geek Terminal

The verdict:
  • The decor --- Futuristic-ish. A bit too much silver and a few too many plasma screens for my personal liking, which is why I ended up sitting in one of the red chairs and stared at my own laptop screen instead.
  • The coffee --- Illy! I approve.
  • The wireless - Free and fast on my laptop. However, my Nokia N95 didn't get along well enough with the cafe's wireless network to be able to upload an image directly to Flickr. Oddly enough, the usually more patchy [email protected] did the trick instead.
  • The Eubiq power plug system --- Very cute! And idiot-proof.
The only downside is that the table height is a little awkward for short Asian people like me. If I lean back into the (comfy-but-stout) armchairs, I have to raise my arms a little to work at my laptop. I imagine that could get tiring for anyone who needs to do some major typing.

I wasn't at all hungry, so I didn't try the menu. But if the cafe's raison d'etre is to serve neo-nomads like me, it seems to be on the right track. There's even a Nokia Nseries/Eseries display where customers can wander over and fondle new phones.

We'll see what Adri thinks when she gets here.


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Not quite the weekend off

The apple martinis at Winebar are too sweet. Plus when combined with a generous dose of champagne (at a party in mock celebration of an "en bloc" eviction, no less), it meant that I popped awake this morning after only five paltry hours of sleep.

Although perhaps it's just as well, since I have a deadline looming tomorrow and the work is barely halfway done.

*[insert other "virtual" fretting-type gesture]*

The next time someone tells me that editing and/or typesetting for publication is easy-peasy and shouldn't require such high fees, I am going to whack them over the head with a mallet the size of my accummulated eye strain over the last two days.


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Two degrees of separation (or not even)

In which I whine about how Singapore is Too. Damn. Small.
Among my current clients, I count:
  • The best friend's ex-boyfriend from way way back.
  • Someone who went to school with Wahj way way back.
  • The old government department I used to work for, including people who used to be my bosslets and colleagues a few years ago.
Only the last instance was a case of me knowingly taking up a job with people I already knew. The first two were pure and somewhat serendipitous surprises.

Familiarity is fine and dandy (which is partly why I took the job with my former department), but I would also like to meet some new people, please!


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It's always nice to get a cheque in the mail

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a cheque for a job that the client had already paid me for. So once the initial elation at the prospect of being paid twice evaporated, I dutifully sat down at my laptop and punched out an email to alert the client to the mistake.

It was awfully nice for a few moments to imagine that money in my bank account, though.




Written off, sold out

I am writing a piece on the first Cabinet of Singapore.

And enjoying it more than when I was writing a profile of Madrid's Hotel Urban yesterday.

Kill me now.

No, really. Kill me.


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I, the neo-nomad

I recently came across the BBC's "In search of the neo-nomad", which picks up a San Francisco Chronicle definition of neo-nomads as:
... people who turn a laptop, a wireless connection and a cafe into an office and work wherever they happen to be ... distinguishe[d] from traditional freelancers because of their close engagement with technology and use of the latest generation of web-based tools in their working lives.
Laptop --- check.
Wireless connection --- check (thank you, [email protected]).
Cafe --- check. Coffee tastes best at Starbucks or tcc (German blend). Less satisfying is The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf's, and overpriced is Coffee Club's. Epicurious and Toast also have yummy coffees (and unbeatable iced teas). Not that there's anything wrong with indigenous kopitiam coffee, but sometimes in the afternoon it's too hot to sit in a non-airconditioned environment.

Close engagement with technology --- I think so. Did I mention what's in my bag? Nowadays, the list includes a laptop (usually with charger), although I only have one cell phone now and no more security pass.
Latest generation of web-based tools --- check. Gmail to manage 5 work-related email accounts, Flickr, Adium for MSN/Yahoo/GTalk/AIM, blogging software (Blogger/Movable Type/Wordpress) all. Plus I recently got sucked into LinkedIn.

I'm going to put down "neo-nomad" the next time I fill out a job that asks me for my "occupation".


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My nose runneth over

Seriously, having to blow my nose every 5 minutes? Not funny. Interspersed with very animated sneezing of about the same intensity as a Pacific Rim volcano? Really tiring.

This isn't the first time I've blogged about having a cold. But I still hate having them. Give me a good debilitating fever any day.

The downside to being a freelancer? No such thing as "taking MC" or pleading for medical leave. Work proceeds apace.


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It was gonna happen eventually

One of the occupational hazards of being an teacher is that one of your extremely competent (and hopefully not too frightful) former students might someday be your boss.

While this hasn't happened (yet), I knew that after I became a freelance writer, it was more likely that someday, somewhere, some student would be in a position to become my client. If I was lucky, maybe it would be a) a student who didn't have it in for me, and/or b) a project that I didn't mind working on.

Fortunately for me, when the opportunity did come round (thanks, suzie!), that's been true on both counts. The worst I've had to fear is that suzie will mock my copywriting because I know that she, like me, has a wicked ear for spotting the soullessly bombastic phrase or the abuse of adjectives like "unique" and "distinctive".

I think I used "unique" only once.


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Random thought

And then, some days, the dilemma is: what do I wear that's apropos for meeting a potential new client this afternoon and going to the open-air Muse concert at Fort Canning tonight?


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I've forgotten how to blog

So now I have a little bit of breathing space between work, but I've forgotten how to blog. I sit here, I stare at the blank Blogger screen, and I wonder what it is that one writes about when one blogs. I think about the day that's passed, or is passing, and I can't think of anything that's worth committing to words, as such.

I mean, of course, there's stuff. There was Terz's birthday last Friday, which involved a considerably amount of alcohol, semi-public humiliation and silliness for him, and not very much of any of that for me (because I had to put him to bed eventually, see).

There was the Museum's soft launch on Sunday, which involved showing people around the place so that they'd know exactly where the help they'd given us had gone. If anyone wants a personal walk-through, I'm available for one-on-one tours till December 13, all for the low, low price of a good meal and a glass of wine.

And then there was the usual whining about how much I need a vacation. At last recitation (last night), I have the following places on my to-visit list (in no particular order): central Vietnam (currently in the path of the most creatively named Typhoon Durian), Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bali and Beijing (which I've been talking about visiting since June). I have booked not a single air ticket. I have no travelling companion (Terz is otherwise occupied). My window of travel is in January only. At the rate this is going, I will still be talking about the proverbial well-earned vacation come next December.

I do believe I now remember what blogging is all about after all.

For the record, I am still in the office, drinking cold Tiger beer out of a white Ikea coffee mug, while we try to complete everything in time for a certain midnight deadline.


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