Reflections on a party

I get out in society so little that every party I attend that includes a host of new people takes on a defamiliarised character in which each interaction stands out in stark relief. So on Saturday attended a friend’s birthday party where I was quite the mingler. Also I drank a lot of wine which accounts for some of the weird conversation, or that’s what I’m telling myself.

The party was at an unusual location in an industrial building and being us, we took public transport. We must have been the only people at the party who when asked, how did you get here, said: “MTR, then minibus, then taxi.” Or rather, I must have been the only person, because V would have sensibly dissembled. In our defense, we intended to take just two forms of transport but the minibus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere so we had to take a cab. As the minibus raced towards what we thought of as our destination, I even said to V: “I love the public transport system in Hong Kong.”

I had worn a very nice dress and brought heels which I refused to wear until the moment I was at the party which involved me changing out of my sandals in the lobby and almost falling over.

There was a sprinkling of people when we entered. We said hello to couple of our friends and then I made my way over the birthday girl to wish her and also offload present that I was quite sure would fall out of my bag otherwise. I was quite pleased with myself for actually getting a present and it was a very personalized one, though I have a niggling suspicion that it’s going to be lost in the sea of things at that party. And I will be miffed. But let me hope for the best.

In the background was a lady I’ve met on a couple of occasions and I intended to say hi to her but didn’t, because honestly she’s one of those conversational black hole people and the only thing I can think of to say to her is ask about her teenaged daughter and then she’ll say, she’s fine. But for some reason, I feel bad about not acknowledging her now.

Then, I joined another friend who was talking to very marmish looking lady who turned out to be quite intelligent. I now judge people’s intelligence based on how they react to my PhD topic. I try to keep it simple and say Gender Studies but most people have no clue what that is. And thus, the divide yawns.

It appears the two things I can talk about are PhD and my kids. Weird combination I know but normally one gets segued into one or the other. So to some people I appear to be this mum who does nothing but obsess about her children, and to others I appear briefly as this creature of awesome intelligence and then when I elaborate further, they don’t know what to say because they can’t comprehend someone studying what I want to study. Or they have no idea what Gender Studies is or even what a PhD entails. You can tell the ones who know at least the latter because they ask “in what?”

Two (British) men I met earned kudos in my eyes for suggesting some queer studies angle. It’s not exactly what I’m doing but at least there’s a connection. I also got embroiled in conversation with gweilo man about Occupy Central, which is the topic du jour in Hong Kong, except in expat circles where nothing the locals do concerns them. Frankly, I’m surprised it is not more discussed among expats at parties, or maybe people are following the dictum of keeping politics separate, which might be wise because I suspect the guy was at the polar end of the spectrum from me, but I can never keep my mouth shut about these things.

I spotted this famous artist and edged closer to him and confessed my admiration like a groupie. Alas, he was colonized by this Brit woman who had inane-ish things to say. I should appreciate her talking about the nature of art, but it’s like she never took the ‘what is art’ 101 course. I did a little spiel on Eliot and the pastness of the past and ‘make it new’ and Jane Austen and the universality of the commonplace. Yes, at a party with the latest music that obviously I can’t name blaring so loud I couldn’t hear a bit of what the Chinese artist was saying though I was hanging on his every word.

I gave up and started talking to this Venezuelan model – you can tell what an eclectic group, right? – about her long-distance relationship, which we had touched upon once when we met before. And I had an uncomfortably frank discussion with new fiancé about friend. It’s kind of weird to be encountering people in the first flush when one is at the jaded stage. They’re like: “We’re getting married!” and you struggle to say: “That’s wonderful” and mean it, not because there’s anything wrong with them as a couple but because you know marriage.

My most cringe-worthy conversation of the evening was with close Chinese friend of birthday girl. I’ve heard about her so much but never met her so felt the need to be introduced. She has kids, I have kids. “Is he naughty?” she asked of my son, and I felt the need to elaborate on how he sometimes hits out and how my daughter is even naughtier and bites. She and her husband looked shocked and I don’t think we’re ever going to have a playdate. Why do Indian parents have a hint or more of pride in a naughty child? The irony is that my kids are very well behaved in public and not even that wild in private. Mimi is well over the biting and becoming more and more a girl now, and Benji is a lamb except when he’s reaching the frustration level of boredom. I have no idea why I highlighted their worst moments, maybe I wrongly judged that they would amusing and that fellow parents would not judge (as if). “Do they go to international school?” the husband asked. “Because in Chinese school they teach them to be good.” Erm, and therein lies the problem, I wanted to say. My kid has experienced the Chinese discipline system at his old school. “Oh a boy who doesn’t know how to fight won’t survive in India,” I said breezily instead. “That’s like Mainland China,” they said grimly, and I should have known the conversation was lost after that. Why or why?

I even had conversation with helper of friend who is leaving. She has been in HK 26 years. 26 years! And now that she is old she has to unceremoniously return home to a place that is not exactly home.

People were dancing, I joined them. V was flagging and making eyes at me to leave as usual. A close friend rubbed the side of my ass. I moved away. Later V, who had witnessed it and was surprisingly very annoyed, told me I should tell him off. My own response surprised me. There was a time when this friend’s random penchant to stroke or massage put me off. Now that I’m sufficiently close to him, I’ve made my peace with his proclivities. They are inappropriate and would make other people uncomfortable, but I barely register them. I know he’s harmless and he’s a good person and a good friend. So I can ignore his drunken advances more so because I have an inkling where they’re coming from. Someone will one day tell him to stop, but it won’t be me just yet at least.

I called a cab and the cabbie spoke perfect English, though he was confused about where we were. I was supremely hung over the next day, and reflecting on my sins. Now that I’ve written this, they weren’t that bad. Right?

And on being polite, a skill I champion but am yet fully to master, this.






Diana Vreelanding

I must confess, I was more familiar with Diana Vreeland’s name and her association with Vogue than anything more substantial about her. Nevertheless, her memoir DV sounded right up my alley.


Unfortunately, I was not. First of all, it’s more anecdotes and free-flowing thoughts as narrated to an interlocutor than an organised reflection. And then some of the thoughts were too bratty and posh for even my high tolerance level for that sort of thing. By the end of it though, I warmed to her style (while setting aside my misgivings over the politics, such as her assertion on the place of women etc) but still felt I had not really got a complete picture of her life or contribution to fashion.

Diana Vreeland Empress of Fashion

Diana Vreeland – Empress of Fashion cured all that. It is a fabulous book, not just painting the portrait of an extraordinary person whose genius is evident only in a fragmented way in DV. Amanda Mackenzie Stuart puts Diana into the context of her time, a time when some women were highly educated but most were essentially powerless and when fashion offered and still offers a real-world domain in which women can wield power. For Vreeland, it was more about creativity than power. Her social connections got her a job, and thereafter she ran with it and became an influencer.

Throughout the biography, this strain of self-creation runs through. Vreeland invented herself from material that she had been told since childhood was substandard. Her mother flat out considered her the unworthy ugly child, and she coped by deciding that she’d fulfil her own fantasy of swanhood. And she did, partly by extending that fantasy outward to the whole world. She remained a relevant force in the fashion world well into latter years too. Sacked from Vogue, she was granted a position at the Costume Institute of the Met and she ran with that and reinvented it too.

While reading the book, I realised I was not really familiar with American fashion of the 30s-late 50s period, and I started Googling the names mentioned in the book and the images are so inspiring.


Dress by designer Claire McCardell


Dress by Mainbocher

richard avendon

Photo by Richard Avedon

Retro_Photography_by_Louise_Dahl-Wolfe_1 swim

Photos by Louise Dahl-Wolfe

The cool kids

Curly and I were talking yesterday about some of the people we went to college with who are doing extremely well in creative careers. This was a group of arty/boho/hipster types who are still that way, and hang out in a group entirely comprised of such types.

“I guess it pays to be a cool person,” I observed.

Curly agreed. “It pays off to portray yourself as a cool person. I feel like we were just having fun and not posturing enough.”

I’m not so sure. For one, I didn’t just have fun in college. I was pretty serious academically, especially since I was finally studying things that came naturally to me and that I was deeply interested in. Then, I started writing for a newspaper, which is another thing that I’m surprised to realise. I always thought I never worked when I was in college like kids in the West do, but actually I did. When I graduated I had a whole file of press clippings and I had got paid. And in my second and third year of BA, I was involved in the college festival and the literature journal and helping out as department assistant (a shit job I should never have put my hand up for) to the extent that I had a mini breakdown just after because I had taken on another freelance writing job as well (and also a close friend died which added to it). So yeah, I was not just having fun.

But the difference was that I didn’t know who I was. I hadn’t cottoned on to an identity and run with it. Curly’s and my point is that what differentiated this group from the many creative people around was that they not only were creative and intelligent but they dressed the part, flaunted their cool interest (like obsession with Tolkein) and talked intensely about their stuff they thought was cool. They were also visibly bored in class when they didn’t think the teacher was sufficiently interesting, and this I find plain rude.

Even if I had decided I wanted to be a creative type, which I probably knew all along, I couldn’t have played the part as unironically as the arty kids did. I just find that kind of intensity a bit weird. I always feel the need to be counter-counter-culture. I just cannot take myself that seriously.

“But why are we like that?” Curly questioned. I don’t know. I have a devil’s advocate in me, I guess, and so do many of my friends. A lot of us play The Flake to different degrees. I’ve been playing The Flake less and less and embracing my inner Miss Serious and Intense (which according to Curly is not that inner) but I don’t want to lose The Flake entirely. I think having Bridget Jones’s diary side by side on my bookshelf with Mrs Dalloway is a good thing. It’s my thing anyway.

I also believe in apprenticeship. I want to learn the trade before wearing the uniform. I had been writing professionally as a journalist since I was 17 but I refused to call myself a writer until much later, when my work had been evaluated from someone other than myself and been deemed worthy and when I felt I had enough experience and skills to take on the mantle. I have turned down boots that seemed too big for me to fill. I know a guy from the same group who was offered a column a year into his first job. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to turn down a column – it’s part of the idiocy of journalism in India that these things happen. But I wondered at how cocky he was, like it was totally his due to be doing that so early in life. I’ve also known another guy who was much more deserving who was promoted quickly, and remained humble throughout. But overall, I think the first guy is doing better career-wise. Maybe there’s a moral in there for us about being less humble if we want to succeed.

That’s the other thing though – I’m not that interested in success. If it means I have to posture excessively – I’ve learnt to do a bit of it – I can’t be bothered. I would love to be acknowledged as a creative genius, but I don’t want to compromise on the slow plod onwards.

These people defined their dream early and did what it took to get there, including cultivating their personality appropriately. Which is great for them, but I’m not envious, though just a little dubious. I still have a bit of skepticism about people who project the brooding intellectual vibe but nothing stunningly original ever comes out of their mouth. Or maybe they save those pearls for their friends.

Which is another curious thing – how that group is entirely peopled by creative types. If you’re not sufficiently creative do they reject you? Or you can join and then you become creative by osmosis?

Even in friendship, I was unable to commit to a single cause. My own friends are quite diverse. Only now with one leg into a PhD can I say that I have a fair distribution of academic and non-academic friends. And even though I’ve decided to embrace Ms Serious, I know I will not wholly fit into academia – for one, I have a whole other identity that’s tied into my kids and a latent ambition to be picked to read a story to my son’s kindergarten class during circle time. I also have an interest in fashion and a propensity to wear little dresses in bright colours paired with diamonds. I don’t know if I can entirely be a kurta-jhola type or the Hong Kong version of it. So yeah. I have these alter egos and for now at least I’m keeping them.

Book passovers

Nishita had this list up on books she’s not sure she wants to read that made me think on similar lines. Here’s my list:

Books I’m going to pass on

  1. The Luminaries: Borrowed this with great enthusiasm, found it too heavy – both in actual weight and content – gave up on it. It’s supposed to be awesome, but I think because it didn’t grip me from the start, I couldn’t be bothered to lug around the book and I wonder if I ever will be.
  2. The Lord of the Rings series: Tried, failed, tried again by getting hands on the each part of the trilogy in separate books, failed again. Tried to watch the movie. Watched a bit. Interest died.
  3. Russian authors of the 19th century: Just can’t seem to get into them. Sad but true. I’m holding out for Anna Karenina but not very hopefully.
  4. Anything by Charles Dickens: I’ve read the abridged versions so much so that I convinced myself I had read Great Expectations. Can’t find it in me to plod through the originals now. Like Thomas Hardy, Dickens is someone I would have read – and probably enjoyed unlike Hardy – had I been forced too in lit class. Now it’s too late.
  5. The Hunger Games: I’m not into reading fantasy anyway, and I discovered the movies first, loved them, developed huge crush on JLaw and can’t be bothered to read the books.
  6. Wuthering Heights: I feel I should read this as a counterpoint to Pride and Prejudice, but it all seems so grim.

Book I am determined to read

  • Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red: The idea of this book seems awesome – a murder mystery based in the world of miniature painting. Everyone says it’s awesome. Why can’t I feel the same way? I don’t know. I’ve started and stopped numerous times, found myself fascinated by miniature painting from the parts I read, tried to convince myself it’s a book that should be read in stints when a cousin visited and finished it in two days flat. Now it’s been so long since I last dipped into it, I know that I’m going to have to start from the beginning all over again and that is not an appetizing thought.

However, I take solace in the fact that the same thing happened with Love in the Time of Cholera and suddenly, I happened to pick it up at the right time (for me) and now it’s one of my favourites ever. Heh.

  • The Fault in Our Stars: Because MinCat.

Actually, there are loads of books, even edifying books, great literature and all that, that I’ve passed on. Life’s too short and there are too many books to read. Why waste time on those that don’t really hold you? Same with people, I guess.

What are your passovers?

Reading, blogging

I recently watched a TV programme which quoted a study that said the average Hongkonger reads 4 books a year. I gasped. Four a year is worse than I imagined when I heard people moaning about the decline in reading. Also, one of my most distinctive memories from my early days in Hong Kong is chancing upon the long lines for entry to the Book Fair (and promptly joining the queue) which seemed to indicate that reading is not a dead hobby horse yet (excuse the mixed metaphors, I couldn’t resist.)

On the other hand, I’m always bored when people wring their hands over how little they’re reading or how they should start reading again and pause expectantly presumably for me to offer some encouragement. Similarly trying are people who go: “You read so much. Suggest something for me to read!”

To the latter, I want to say: There is a universe of books. You at least have to pick a genre. Also: What I like, you may not like. But now I will say:

To the former, I am nonplussed. If you don’t read, don’t. I am married to a man who does not read and it does not perturb him or me, except when he gets angsty about me reading and snatches my book away. There are people who don’t read and since I married one, I cannot be snotty about those people though my mom, dad, sister and close friends are all readers. Only barefaced lust could have conquered that prejudice, and just barely.

The troubling assumption of these people is that reading is a good habit that needs to be cultivated. I don’t really understand that at all. For me, reading is like breathing. Breathing is not a habit. I can’t teach a full grown adult how to breadthe, can I? I read because I am.

Frankly, I probably read too much. When I realised that the husband’s argument to that effect might be making some sense, I quickly applied for a PhD in order to legitamise the amount I read. Now I shall read unquestioned. Hell, I shall read on the government’s tab. Something useful shall come out of it, I hope, but what I shall enjoy most is the reading.

Once I was lunching with a PhD student who was finishing her programme and looking for a job. “You could teach, no?” I offered. “Oh, I don’t want to teach,” she said quickly. “I just want a job that lets me sit quietly and read.” Ah, holy aspiration.

I also remember a similar conversation with Curly about our jobs and their drawbacks, which ended in her saying: “Okay, I don’t think anyone is going to pay us to sit in a spa and read books.” Well, I’ve been paid to do that, but not fulltime unfortunately.

Anyway, I digress. The point is, don’t ask a reader for help in getting you to be one. The gap is too wide.


Similarly blogging. People are always ruing how little they blog and how they should blog more. At least with reading everyone from philosophers to the self-help quacks agree that it’s a noble pursuit – so fine, maybe everyone should make the effort to lay eyes on the written word for the sustained period that it takes to finish a book.

But blogging? There’s no reason for it to be mandatory.

I blog because I enjoy it. I’ve kept a diary since read Anne Frank’s when I was 10. When I discovered blogging, my blog became my diary. There’s a difference between a blog and a diary, but in my case, there’s a lot of overlap. Recently, because I felt the need to explore my dark angst more deeply than I’d care to share with you, I started a private blog where I record these musings just as I used to in a physical book. The digital version is password protected and accessible anywhere (to me only) and I don’t have to rely on my family’s discretion and restraint to be sure that my dirty secrets are safe with me. AND I have Evernote to jot down random thoughts in, some of which end up being full-fledged posts on either blog. So yeah, actually, I blog twice as much as you think.

The most tedious blog posts are the ones in which people apologise for not blogging and promise to do better. Why? If you have nothing to say, don’t say it. The second most tedious ones are when bloggers force themselves to blog, often in a marathon.

The moral of the rant story: Read if you want, blog if you want. Or not. Don’t keep talking about it.



It is happening

For the longest time, I refused to talk about the impending PhD because I didn’t want to jinx it. I was traumatized with my tryst with bureaucracy and I refused to believe that there would be no spanner in the wheels and I would actually be allowed to pursue my studies without being asked to furnish another document.

This fear of bureaucracy is a particularly Indian one. I wonder if people from countries where rules and regulations and paper pushing are not weapons used to terrorise the masses (and these countries do exist, Hong Kong being one of them) have this ball of dread in the bottom of their stomachs when they are asked to produce a document. It has taken me years in Hong Kong to unlearn this fear, to go to the counter of a government organization and not steel myself for the apathy and the inevitable runaround. And just one setback was all it took for me to be back down the panic-stricken path again.

But here I am, just shy of a month away from full-time studies. I have begun to look into courses I might do – and god, it’s so exciting. Even the prospect of a run-of-the-mill Gender Studies course excites me. I met my supervisor and she seems nice – despite one slightly snarky comment – if strangely clueless about admin stuff. She quickly asked me to scratch the very basic Gender Studies course from my list, but was supportive of others. On the positive side, she remembered my topic which surprised me. I also received an email about tutoring duties and the teacher I’ll be helping for the semester is young and seems friendly.

I am confused and a bit stressed out about courses, because I’m not yet a student but I need to register for some classes or I might not get them. Unfortunately, because I’m not a student, I don’t have all the information on how to do that and I had to resort to asking my supervisor the stupid questions. Fortunately, because I’m a staff member of the same university I have the advantage of accessing the course list with my staff ID and can actually meet my supervisor before I start. Because I’m bad with numbers, I thought I’d need to take more courses than I actually have to. Now I’m tempted to just coast for the first semester.

Apart from rereading my proposal before meeting my supervisor, I refuse to read any stuff related to my topic. I just finished Diana Vreeland’s memoir and will move onto a biography of her. I’m going to squeeze in as much frivolous reading that is unconnected to my PhD in the next two weeks. Then, I’ll look at my notes again. I have good intentions of summarizing everything I’ve read so far into a paper of sorts (I know, I know, go ahead and laugh).

In the interim, I’ve received quite a few requests for freelance work, which is flattering. I might not end up as broke as I thought. But I might end up busier than ever, which is terrifying.

I have started carting home personal stuff since I gallantly offered to give up my desk to the new girl who will be joining during our overlap period. Also because I know from experience that unless you have a car or a friend with a car willing to be your caddy, leaving it till the last day is not a good strategy.

My plants almost died during the last long weekend break and I put them out in the terrace garden hoping they’d revive with natural sunlight and rain but they’re pretty much goners methinks. I’m seeing them as a symbol that my time here is done. I need a symbol because a part of me is really sad (and scared) to be leaving this job which has all things considered been so nice to me for more than five years. And two months before leaving I got a raise due to civil service adjustment so the salary I’m not going to be getting anymore is even higher than I earlier imagined and that makes me feel like an utter fool.

But deep breaths. I’m at the finishing line or the starting line. Limbo really. And it’s not a bad place to be.

Indian evening

Unlike the typical immigrant experience, when we moved to Hong Kong, I did not seek out or try to recreate a Little India. My kitchen did hold Indian spices and I figured out where to replenish them from, but we never needed enough Indian stock to meet the HK$200 minimum order for home delivery, which should tell you how much Indian cooking we did. We imported a pressure cooker after almost a year. I had an equal number of Indian and non-Indian friends. In the matter of friends, I’ve almost totally gone Indian, but in a very select way so I’m not part of any of the big Indian groups of events.

All these years, what I’ve missed most about India – apart from my family and my besties back home for whom I have never entirely managed to find local replacements – are idlis, dosas, waxing and threading.

There are plenty of nice restaurants doing Punjabi/Mughlai food in Hong Kong (though my favourite Jashan shut and Great Indian Kebab House which started out great seems to have become an MSG fest), but almost none doing South Indian food or chaat. I heard about Woodlands, Brantos and Indian food in Chungking Mansion but never really checked them out until quite late in the day. Woodlands the husband dismissed as being too unsanitary. Ditto for Indian food in Chungking Mansion – the food we tried wasn’t very good and gave us tummy upsets. Later, we discovered good samosas there though, and of course, I patronize the Indian stores to get our spices etc. Brantos we went to even later and while V gave it his stamp of approval in terms of quality of dosa, the experience of waiting outside in the corridor till there was space deterred us from visiting again.

I pretty much gave up on waxing and threading. We never lived in areas close to the bulk of Indians so I could not convince the one lady everyone seemed to use to come home on a weekend. Waxing in the spas in Central is crazy expensive and I once tried getting it done in my Chinese beauty parlour but they used cold wax and it was painful. I started shaving, relied on Veet strips for my arms and gave up on my eyebrows except for unsatisfactory pruning during facials. Chinese facialists just don’t know how to shape an Indian eyebrow.

Almost eight years later, a lady in my building asked for waxing contacts and I realised I actually knew of a chain of Indian parlours that I had thought were shady except they had expanded to several branches and had a website so probably weren’t. There are a lot more Indian people in Hong Kong now compared to when I first got here, and so the number of stores and services catering to South Asians as we’re called has grown. It turns out there is another Indian parlour not too far from where we live. What galvanized me was that my legs seem to have developed this aversion for shaving. And my arms reacted badly to the Veet strips the last time I used them. So I decided to do the trek to a parlour, and finally chose the one in Tsim Sha Tsui.

Since I was going there, I decided a trip to Brantos was in order. We had eaten dosas at a restaurant in Chungking and I realised then that the idlis in Brantos had been quite good.

First stop was the parlour. It was in an apartment, and while clean looked like one of the older school local parlours in India. This did not deter me as I’ve begun going back to one of those when I’m in India. Waxing my arms is actually a pleasurable experience for me. The lady doing it convinced me to do my underarms as well and while not so pleasant, I love how they feel sans hair. And my eyebrows, my eyebrows. I can’t stop admiring them. I can’t believe I haven’t done this earlier.

Then Brantos. There was no line this time and the restaurant without the crowd is quite clean and pleasant. I arrived before V and had already polished off a plate of idli by the time he got there. As he sat and perused the menu, I gobbled half a masala dosa. I was in heaven. I speedily ordered sev puri and then V and I split a chole batura, which for me was the lowest point because it tasted a bit tikka-ish.Basically, all we needed was momos to make it a pan-Indian meal.

I washed everything down with a Coke, which is a trick I learnt from a New Zealander friend who swore that the dubious chemical content of Coke/Pepsi serves to kill whatever pests might try to inhabit your tummy from dodgy food. Unscientific as this might be, it seems to work well with me. V had a tonne of gas that night, but I was fine.

We then went to Chungking Mansion where V bought gulaab jamuns for dessert and I bought a box of Haldiram’s kaaju katli. I have developed a taste for kaaju katli after my mom brought me some from Mumbai, and while I feel quite smug about easing off on chocolate, apparently, I’ve just replaced it with this mithai. Hmph.

V then decided to try and acquire halim. Alas, he was two days too late – apparently, they only make it during ramzaan. So we bought mutton curry and paayas to take away which I swore I would not eat, but I couldn’t resist and my tummy is a tad off now. I’m trying to beat down the fear of having contracted Ebola. Maybe another Coke is in order.



Things I ate on the first day of my period

1. Toast and tea (a good start!)
2. Quarter packet of chips (and downhill from there)
3. Maggi
4. Kaaju katli
5. A medium sized packet of chips*
6. Chocolate-chip cookie
7. Green tea Japanese sweet that was the sweetest Asian desert I’ve ever tasted.
8. Piece of chocolate
9. Banana
10. Lamb curry and rice/Thai curry and rice (clearly I am not over that time when my helper used very old Thai curry ingredients and I have the mother of all food poisoning. Thai curry still makes me queasy.)
11. Kaaju katli

Needless to say all the good work done in the aftermath of horrible stomach bug has dissipated. Face is like oil well and love handles spilleth over. Beyond caring though.

*I dragged myself into work after lunch. Co-worker spotted me eating chips and kept cross-questioning me about how I was eating chips if I was sick. Chinese people have a very strong idea about what should eat when one is unwell, but geez, could we just put something down to cultural differences and leave it? I didn’t want to tell her I took half-day off for my period. So I just stonewalled politely. Annoying though.




Orange is The New Black


We don’t have cable. I obsess over TV series by getting V to download them. V does the downloading because he promised to when he cut the cable. He’s also more enthu about needing to watch something. Usually, I let him discover a show, sample it and then decide whether I want to give it a shot. Girls was the exception.

I skipped Breaking Bad which he really really got into. He watched the entire thing binge-style, downloading episodes on his phone and watching on the MTR even. In a month or so he was done. With the entire thing.

Then there was True Detective. I got into that. It was beautifully shot and while there was no great big twist at the end, it was more about the characters of the two detectives. I started to get into Fargo but V watched it too rapidly for me. I couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t watch it alone.

And then he downloaded Orange is the new Black. It’s a surprising choice for him because it’s a female-centric show and he’s not into that. I guess what he enjoys is the edge of grit (because let’s get real, this is not an accurate depiction of prison) and the prison humour.

But I, I love the show. It’s a girl-fest, what can I say. Women in a fishbowl, almost undiluted by the presence of men. There are straight-up lesbian plots, multiple lesbian plotlines in fact, probably for the first time in television and it’s done so nonchalantly that it’s the new normal. So it’s women, their conversations, their backstories, their petty and their grandiose machinations, their power. And by their, I mean our. It must mean something that this can only happen within the literal walls of a prison.

There are of course problems with the show. Straight up, the protagonist is white and well-to-do. The show acknowledges this privilege but it sticks to it. A white yuppie in prison draws attention in the show, and the show itself didn’t have the balls to do a black or Hispanic protagonist. There was a scene where I could see black women in the background topless, but not the white girls ever. There are loads of protagonists of colour with powerful backstories though, so we’ll take what they’re giving. Feminist critiques of the show here and here.

After the husband and I watch our nightly episode, he turns over and begins snoring almost immediately, just like after other satisfying acts, while I lie awaking, tossing and turning, thinking about the characters and their pasts and futures.


The joy of the average-ish

Got into a discussion on IHM’s blog about the expectations of Indra Nooyi’s children (yep again, that piece is the gift that keeps giving). The question was “After all, why do we as kids, feel so entitled to our mother’s time, indeed her entire life and personality?”

And my answer was: because they are kids. We can run and we can hide, but we have to face up to the fact that kids will want to be around the people they feel close to and secure with as much as possible, and often those people are their parents, and if the person who had been most involved with them in their young years was their mother, then it will be their mother who they crave.

Kids usually have some special affinity for their parents – I was surprised to realise that even though my kids adore our helpers who have been their primary caregivers, they still go “mummy mummy” and hang on to me. I expect this will become less as they become older, but it may never quite dissipate. I know grown children who are independent in every way and still have expectations of their parents’ time and attention because they love their parents and enjoy their company. It’s that simple.

Does this mean we have to sacrifice our own ambitions to our kids? No. Does this mean we have to be superparents? No. In fact, one of my pet peeves is the immense pressure on parents, especially moms, to do it all. But even if this pressure does not exist, I’d wager, kids would want their parents to be around, the younger they are, the more they will want you. I’d take it as a compliment, even though it can be trying.

I am currently reading Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, which is an awesome book that I might write more on later. She addresses the hyper-expectations of parents today. She says of her mother: “she always felt like a safe place”.

That’s the sum of it, really for me, as a parent. To be the safe place. I don’t think it’s necessary to be there all the time or to sacrifice myself entirely. Quindlen also says: “In my religion, martyrs die.” Quindlen and I were both raised Catholic. And we have the same views on religion. Okay, honestly, I feel like her twin though she’s ages older and more accomplished than me.

But I digress. If you’re the safe place for your kids, you’re doing well.

The thing is, if you’re the safe place or thereabout, the thought won’t enter your mind that your children would think you a bad mother. It takes a lot for a child to formulate that thought. Bad mothering is something grown-ups think and verbalise not children. If a child – even a teenager formulates that thought, or you perceive they are thinking it, it might be time for self-reflection. In Nooyi’s case, the truth might lie somewhere in the middle as it often does, but that is for her and her daughters to decide.

The other thing that came up was this hierarchy of mothering. Should there be one?

So, I am aware of how ‘bad mother’ has become the guilt-switch of our generation. I myself am averse to the term.

But I do rate myself as a mother. And I don’t give myself an A grade. And I’m fine with that.

Why should there be ratings at all, someone asked. A fair enough question. The thing is, I rate myself in all my roles. It’s my way of doing better. Maybe I’ve worked in offices too long. I rate myself as a writer and give myself an A (it took me a while to recognize that I was worthy of an A, but I’m not going to be modest anymore). I rate myself on the attractiveness scale. I haven’t rated myself as a wife recently, but I probably wouldn’t get an A either. I rate myself as a daughter.

Perhaps rate is a harsh word. I think about how I’m doing and I see if I can do better without killing myself. Am I the only one that does this?

So, I think I’m an average mother, and I’m quite happy with that. I think an average mother is a safe harbor, but without the extras like handmade cookies and craft-activities every day. I doubt I’ll be doing cookies, but I would like to do more craft and fun excursions. I’m an average mother because I fall sick often and am tired and probably look at my phone more than I should. But I don’t beat myself up on these things. My kids are okay.

I also don’t feel the need to think that I’m the best at this particular role. I can see others who do better than me. As parents, we’re told to not praise everything our kids do, even when it’s less than marvelous, lest they have an inflated sense of self and get a rude shock when they venture out into the world. (I actually tend to go ‘wow’ around my kids a lot, but nvm)

It seems to me that our generation – or maybe it’s just those of us who were achievers at school – feels the need to be the best at everything, or we feel slighted. This is part of the have-it-all syndrome. We want to tell ourselves we’re the best, at everything. And when it comes to parenting, we’re even more precious. Is it social pressure? Or is it because it’s ultimately what we really truly care about? If the latter, then by all means be a perfectionist in that role. But it’s okay not to want to be.

I’ve embraced being average in several areas and it’s very liberating. I’m happy not being at the forefront of my career. I’m happy being an average mother. I’m happy being a cook with the barest of survival skills. I’m clumsy and I don’t love that, but I’ve learnt to laugh at myself (just the other day, I dropped my helper’s birthday cake while I was bringing it out and V shot me daggers but I apologized to my helper and we all had a good laugh. The cake wasn’t too badly damaged and I still think it’s funny, that splat! sound.) I’ve learnt to forgive myself when I forget something yet again. I’ve accepted my love handles if not totally in love with them. The things I can’t accept, I try to do something about.

But others, try so-so. You might enjoy it.





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