On mommy dating

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When I read this post, I kind of rolled my eyes and thanked my stars that I did not need to mommy date because I had enough friends. Granted, none of them were parents, but in my view that was a good thing. Frankly, the very concept of a playdate seemed precious (not in a good way) to me. Whatever happened to plain old playing? When did it become a set-up that had to be orchestrated between parents.

Well, now here we are.

Admittedly, I kind of got steamrolled into the playdate thing. But I have to admit, it works … for the kids. It cements friendships which makes your child’s adjustment to school, for example, easier. In summer, where days are long and kids (in Hong Kong) usually have a number of things going on, it gives your kids something to do. The fact is that my kids have friends they run into without too much planning – though sometimes the helpers coordinate among themselves – and they play together. They form adhoc alliances in the playground too. So if I didn’t do the playdate schtick my kids would be fine.

Nevertheless, Nene has a once-a-week playdate the location of which rotates between the houses of the three kids involved. My feelings about the mommies involved are mixed. We are not a natural fit: I am probably at least five years younger than them, and have never been a SAHM. Both are much wealthier than me and have huge houses and cars. They are nice enough to accommodate me, and I appreciate them including Mimi and dropping my kids to railways stations from their home. We exchange useful information and proffer help and that occasionally feel warm and fuzzy towards them. Sometimes we have conversations that reveal a little more than the surface, but we are not besties.

I have had the mommies over for lunch once, and I find myself doing anything to avoid a repeat. Though they didn’t say anything, fitting everyone in my house is a tight squeeze and because they do proper sit-down meals when we go over to their places, I feel obliged to do the same, but a) I am not a cook and my cook’s cooking skills are limited b) I do not have the space or paraphernalia to ‘host’ people. I realised how edgy they make me feel when we had V’s cousins over and I barely thought about what and how were going to serve them until the morning they arrived. If it had been the mommies I would have been stressing for days.

And then there was Mimi’s friend D. I really wanted them to be friends because I know much easier school was for Nene when he had his little gang. And D adored Mimi. However, apparently the feeling was not mutual. We tried over the summer and the last date was awkward. What made it suck even more was that I really liked D’s mum. We could have been friends if only our my baby would cooperate. D’s mum is friends with another mum whose kid is in their class and who I like but who always kind of gives me the cold shoulder. Oh God, it’s high school all over again. Anyhoo it was not to be, and I guess I just have to accept that.

Now another mum in Nene’s class seems to want a playdate with him, which works because they live just across our street, except that I don’t know if I should be including the other kids too. Ouff the politics of it.

The mums in Mimi’s class have a whatsapp group to share information and they seem like a warm and supportive bunch. Everyone gets invited to birthday parties, for example, at least what I know of.

When I went back and found the post that started all this, I realised how a lot of that list now applies to my life. Without knowing or wanting it, I am embroiled in the mommy dating scene. And with that I need to institute a new tag #eatingmywords.

Summer’s end

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Painting moves from paper to each other. 
And just like that, the kids will be starting school again. The summer literally flew by. And I dare say, they weren’t bored.

First of all, we did as the Romans and enrolled them in summer activities. After rolling my eyes at parents who schedule their kids, I scheduled mine. In my defense, V who is usually the chief eye-roller in this regard, was all, you need to find them stuff to do. And I agreed. Lazy days are great and all, but when a kid is used to school, to suddenly have open days on end can get a bit much. When we were young, I recall we used to hang out with other kids our age but in HK, that has to be scheduled and since most kids have 1000 things going on, they’re not going to just be available. Also, this was a scorcher of a summer so not many outdoor excursions could be planned though we did do little minibreaks as a family.

Anyhoo, our estate is awesome for this because the estate clubhouse itself offers a range of classes in the summer that are reasonably priced. So popular are they that there is a lucky draw to see if you’ll get a place. And with our luck, Mimi ended up getting a place in all three we applied for (I had expected we’d probably get placed in one or if lucky two) while Nene didn’t get a place in any. It worked out in the end, with the help of some strategising on the part of clubhouse staff, and Nene was able to get into two of the classes Mimi was in. I wanted them together because it’s more convenient plus they won’t have any anxiety if they’re in the same class. The advantages of having kids one on top of the other, you know.

One of the classes was swimming, which I was sure Mimi would struggle with if Nene wasn’t there. And sure enough, on the first day, she started whining that she didn’t want to go. However, Nene started walking and I pretended I hadn’t heard her and she went along. Unfortunately, that class wasn’t a success. The teachers kept changing and none of them were very good, plus six kids is a lot for beginners. I think I might have made more progress with them myself.

We also did playdates with their friends from school. They enjoyed the one’s with Nene’s friends, but alas, the one with the little boy who wanted to be Mimi’s friend didn’t go well. Whenever I asked Mimi if she wanted a playdate with him she’d say no, or she’d say yes, then change her mind on the day after it had been arranged. It was better when we were in his playroom as it was new and exciting, but in ours, Mimi seemed to want to hang with anyone but little D. The last one was completely embarrassing – D feel down and cried, then Mimi started crying for something and D went up to her and she apparently hit him. I didn’t see it, but D came up to us and told us. Then, I had to give Mimi a talking to, she had a meltdown and I had to leave for an appointment with my supervisor, and thus had to rush D and his mum out of there (though I had told them in advance that I needed to leave). I never heard from her the rest of the summer and the memory still makes me cringe.

Mimi seemed to be labouring under the illusion that she would be in the same class as Nene and his friends. Because we kept saying she’d be going to K1, which Nene was in, only she never twigged that they would be going on to K2. She only realised this on the day I went in for the parents orientation and came back and told them about their teachers. Alas, the teacher is no longer the one who taught Nene so she’s an unfamiliar face for Mimi. There was another meltdown about that.

In the meantime, I’m in the throes of applying for a primary place for Nene. Part of our strategy in having him repeat K1 when we moved him to the current school was that he could just stay there till K3 at which point we’d most likely be moving out of HK. But now we realised that the K3 class at the current school is uncertain, plus just on the off-chance we don’t move, we’d better have a school place for him. Also, as a result of us keeping him back a year, I now realise it’s going to be a problem for him to get into half the schools in Hong Kong. It’s such a seller’s market here that the schools don’t even need to adjust an inch. So given that I don’t want to pay a big fat debenture and his age restrictions, I have a very narrow shortlist. Trying to breathe, while making multiple copies of documents.

Tomorrow they start school again. Nene will be fine but I expect drama from Meemer. I’ve resolved not to go in, as my presence only worsens things. Fingers crossed.

In flight movies

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Sometime ago there was this post that went viral, written by a mom who was travelling either for business or pleasure. One of the things that struck me (and many of her readers) was that she said being stuck alone on a flight was pure bliss, me-time that was hard to come by and that she intended to use it by watching movies back to back. I can’t claim to have no me-time, but I don’t have uninterrupted guilt-free time, and so I too fantasized about what I might do on a flight, and yes, the idea of back to back shows with me in charge of the remote did excite.

See, in-flight entertainment is exciting in the same way that inflight meals are. The choices are laid out for me and I have to choose. Just the way I like it.

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I am always drawn to watching reruns of chick flicks, but I try to be stern with myself and choose something edifying. I oscillated between The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bird Man, decided on the latter (more edifying) but ended up entering the channel for the former and so stuck with it.

And I have to say, I loved it. It might become one of my favourite films. Expectedly quirky and in the magic realist tradition. Somehow it didn’t seem off that everyone was speaking in American accents, except for Ralph Fiennes who was excellent. Why don’t people get Oscars for performances like this? Understand but impeccable. Also for a film with war as the backdrop, no sad ending. Yay! Just a really really charming story charmingly told.

Before Sunrise

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So someone, probably MinCat or my friend K, told me that I should watch this film, and one of them said she didn’t like it but I should still watch it. Because it sounded like exactly the kind of film I would love.

And in theory it is. Walking and just talking and one night’s grand romance in a great European city, what’s not to like? It’s probably been my personal fantasy for more than half my life.

But I realized, and this may be part of the reason the film fell flat for me, is that it’s not my fantasy anymore. My fantasy is not to meet anyone on a European trip, but rather to be alone (which is what I did on my most recent one, heh). If a guy came up to me and said the things Jesse did, I’d at best laugh, at worst get annoyed.

Frankly, Jesse could only be taken as charming because he’s goodlooking. Otherwise, he said very boring teenage things. Celine was better looking and more interesting. But still. Is it that I’ve just outgrown that kind of conversation? Possibly. But also, it reminded me that the conversation between people in love is fascinating only to them.

Honestly, I had to force myself to watch till the end. At which point, I can’t say I hated it, there were points that I liked, but it could really be so much more interesting. If they didn’t say the clichéd intelligentsia type things.

I mean the whole idea of backbacking through Europe and traipsing into quirky places and buying records or whatever is such a cliché. Which reminds me, why is that form of consumerism okay? Go to Disney, it’s more honest, I say. Ok I digress.

But I don’t have much more to say about the film. I should have watched Pretty Woman. Now I’m afraid I will feel pressured to watch the sequel and waste another 2 hours of my life.

Pretty Woman

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I watched. I cried. I fell in love with Richard Gere as the original Mr Big. felt like a sap by being so moved by schtick. But I also felt like there was more to the schtick. Well I would.

Birdman

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My first encounter with this film was a clip shown by a guy in our gender class. Specifically, it was the clip during which the protagonist meets the critic who can make or break his career. My impression was the aggressive masculinity of the encounter and that coloured my impression of the film as a straight white male’s egocentric preoccupations. Watching the film, I don’t think I’ve entirely changed my mind, and yet, there was something intriguing about it. It was a more enjoyable ride than the usual Hollywood drivel, masculine though it’s aesthetic may have been. There is a poignant scene between women in the film, and Emma Stone was awesome. Also the scene with the critic takes a on a new resonance in the light of my own recent, um, experience.

Force Majeure

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This movie centres around an episode that happens with a family (mother, father, son and daughter) are on a skiing holiday. While eating at a restaurant in the Alps, an avalanche happens. The father basically runs off leaving the mother alone with the children. He then returns and pretends nothing happens. The incident implodes the tensions in the marriage. I found it riveting for obvious reasons.

Recovery

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So, I’ve realised that one of the things that helps when I’m blue is really superficial (which is ironically one of the criticism of the paper I presented according to the wicked witch, oooh maybe I really am a superficial person. Only, I’m not) is a spa day. It is obviously a very elitist solution to the problem of feeling like you have no self worth, and actually I can think of a direct chick lit reference.

In Bergdoff Blondes [spoiler alert], the lead character is totes depressed after her famous boyfriend publicly humiliates her (oh my, I am seeing parallels, though thankfully I wasn’t dating wicked witch), her friends keep telling her to go to a therapist, and she refuses. Finally, her best friend just books her and she’s so tired she goes, and then in the waiting room, she notices everyone else there is so beautiful, until finally she realises, she’s not at a psychologist’s but at a skin clinic. She has this amazing facial, while also venting a tad to the “therapist” and emerges radiant and glowing, her self confidence restored.

And I think that’s what happens to me. Though it’s not like I come out looking amazing or something, but that the process itself soothes me. Which is exactly what they say on the ads, and at least in my case, it does work like that.

So I definitely wanted to a massage (and possibly more) in Indonesia, and had I gone to Bali, I would have done it there, but since I was stuck in Surabaya, I decided it definitely had to be on the agenda. I would have done it in the hotel I was staying at because the prices were tres reasonable, but a fellow student on our hotel whatsapp messaged to say not to do it at the hotel unless we wanted something “special” and then a girl also mentioned something funny at the hotel massage though infuriatingly they wouldn’t say what, so I decided to just go upscale.

After some frantic googling, I decided on the Martha Tilaar spa at the historic Mahapahit Hotel. This is a bit like going to the Peninsula in Hong Kong or the Taj in Mumbai but paying Nalini and Yasmin prices. The hotel is housed in a former women’s prison, and has that very old world feel. The spa is run by a well-known local spa operator, Martha Tilaar, which going by my experience I would recommend if you’re traveling to Indonesia.

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So, I went in, clicked a few photos of the hotel, and entered the spa, which is done in dark wood tones, possibly Indonesian style if there is such a thing that can be generalised to the country of many islands. I booked for a massage but ended up choosing a two-hour “mangosteen” (what? I had to choose a local fruit) package. I was led to my spa room which had a shower area, steam facility, and bath. The therapy started with a scrub, using I assume mangosteens. I rarely get a scrub because if I have to choose between a scrub and a massage (and I usually do), I prefer having oil rubbed on me rather than something rough, but if you can do both (which happily I could in this case), I’d recommend the scrub because exfoliation and you come out feeling so clean.  Then, I was asked to shower, and then steam. The steam is interesting – rather than going to a steam room, you get zipped into this canvas bag and you just sit there in your own private steam bag with your head poking out, until you’re unzipped. Then, glorious massage, then body mask (!) and then finally bath. A comment on the massage – the woman used her elbows in what I think is a traditional technique, and normally I find this very uncomfortable, but this time it was totally effective, especially on my shoulders which tend to be tensed.

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I came out feeling almost new (despite vestigal throwback to the debacle of the recent past), hopped into a cab and went back to the hotel and took a nap. And after that, I felt so much better overall.

In the evening, I had dinner with a young teacher in our department. I had told her about the debacle and we talked some more about it. Why I feel the need to talk about my failures to other people is something I’ve been thinking about. For me, it’s an unburdening, part of the recovery process. At some level, I want people to say pat pat pat, it’s not that bad (though they have to give good reasons, otherewise I tend to argue with them). But on another level, I need to share it as a part of who I am. If you didn’t read the comments on the previous post, I discuss a bit the hows and whys of my openness about negative stuff in my life.

Another way I recover is my just vegging out. So I totally neglected the academic reading material on my bedside table (it was too painful to think about), and watched episodes of Keeping up with the Kardashians (while I was watching which, I came across this piece) and some local variant called It Take Gutz to be a Guiterez, about a Filipino family. Seriously, it is so elevating for the soul to immerse oneself in complete nonsense (oh dear, am I proving the wicked witch’s point? And why am I not feeling guilty?). If I had had chick lit, I would have read that, but unfortunately I didn’t, so I had to content myself with mindless telly, and I have to say, it helped.

Surabaying

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View from my room


Room I ended up spending six nights in instead of three.

So after venting to a friend about the conference debacle, it was decided I needed a drink. A group of us headed out to a food market (I think it’s called Food Festival, Pakwan City), which is an open area with loads of stalls selling different types of food. The place had a carnivalesque atmosphere, with live music (that is almost ubiquitous in Surabaya), a caroussel, weird family-sized bicyles, etc. We ordered satay to share, coconuts, and I decided on a roti cannai (which is basically a fluffy-ish paratha) to be dunked in some gravy. Safe, but I can’t stand too much fish sauce which a lot of street cuisines in this part of the world use.

Then, we headed to a restaurant that served beer, which is not ubiquitous in Surabaya. We didn’t realise alcohol was so hard to find here. I was so desperate for a drink that although I never never drink beer, I drank about half a bottle of Bintang. Which doesn’t sound like much, but I hate beer. So something positive came out of this, because I think I might just be able to stomach beer henceforth which will be really easy on my wallet.

The next day I braved the conference again, and even attended a session in which the wicked witch was part of, but cowered at the back. Then at night, headed out for dinner with a group of people to a nearby Indonesian restaurant where an Indonesian girl in the group ordered for us. Honestly, I liked the idea of the food more than the food.

The next day was my first vela day. I had signed up for a tour organised by the conference. The tour rundown did not sound terribly exciting but it was something to do. The good thing was that it got me to do what I wouldn’t have otherwise been motivated to do – see some of the signts of Surabaya. Here they are:

Started at Balai Pemuda, which means Youth Hall.

First stop, City Hall which houses the offices of the mayor. Independence Day is around the corner and the whole city is decked up in red and white, the flag colours, for the day. Outside City Hall, students were practising their marching.

First time I’ve ever seen cauliflower growing in a pot as a decoration.

Surabaya (sura=shark, baya=crocodile) is all about the shark and croc, I think related the the rivers that flow through the city. The motif is everywhere.

Visited a museum which contained a random collection of objects such as hospital equipment.

More interesting was the art exhibition, taking off on the theme of the city’s (or country’s?) first female mayor.

 Then we headed to the ruins of a building that was destroyed in WW2. The city’s identity is very much tied up in a battle which started the war of independence on 8 November 1945. See I even remember the date.

The monument has 11 lines, 10 planes and is 45 metres high. I think.


Then we went to House of Sampoerna, which is little museum dedicated to the local ciggie maker. We had a special guided tour which does bring the thing to life. We got a glimpse of women on the factory floor though it was kind of weird watching them work through the glass above like they were exhibits not people. Each woman produces 300 ciggies an hour! The cigarettes have a mix of tobacco and cloves and are called kretik because they make a crackly sound. Below is the machine traditionally used to make the mixture.

We then went to lunch, which honestly was the best part of the tour. It was the best meal I’ve eaten so far. The fish (freshwater, my favourite) is a local favourite. There was satay of course and a yummy mushroom spicy stir fry thing. Simple but tasty.

We then took a long ride to see this super kitschy giant statue of a god that our tour guide couldn’t identity. We mused over the fact for once, we had a view of the backside of a god.

 There was also a temple dedicated to a combination of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. More exciting was this view of the mud flats.

 Last stop was a souvenir shop, full of stuff I did not want to buy.

How can a trip go wrong? Let me count the ways.

  • Your friends decide the trip to Bali is on just after you’ve given up on it and have submitted your funding application. You get the application back, by snapping at the admin, and get your supervisor, a very busy woman to resign (later, however, it’s obvious she has no recollection of this.)
  • A volcano starts spewing ash. You ignore it.
  • The airline you booked rescheduled its flight, which means that you won’t make your next flight so you can’t make it, so you have to cancel and you get nothing back. Then you rebook with a more reliable airline. In the background, the volcano starts spewing ash again.
  • You go to exchange cash, and thanks to your ineptitude at math, you get a really bad rate.
  • Your period has not come, and it’s time to leave. You get your period while transiting through Singapore. Only good thing is that it didn’t come on the first leg when you were sitting next to two boys from uni, and the first bit is relatively mild.
  • By evening though, you’re knackered and you can’t make it to the conference the next morning. Which is ok, because going is not essential.
  • At night, it becomes obvious that your friends are not going to make it to Bali because their flights have been cancelled. You realise you’re screwed because you’re not going to get refunds on your tickets and now you have to scramble to advance your ticket or spend three extra nights in Surabaya twiddling your thumbs. You try searching for the Singapore Airline hotline and realise it’s closed. Finally, you decide to deal with it in the morning.
  • In the morning, I realise the problem with using the hotel phone is that it doesn’t work well. I had to get the front desk to open an account so I could make the calls and it took ages. But Singapore Airlines wasn’t picking up and finally I had to get V to call them from Hong Kong. Turns out there were no seats out of there earlier. So on the morning of my presentation, I’m hustling to figure out what I’m going to do with myself for the next couple of days. Do I spend HK$3000 or more on a flight out or HK$1000 to stay in Surabaya for two nights, doing nothing. From what I’d seen of Surabaya it didn’t seem like the most exciting place. But the thought of leaking more money than I needed to killed me too. Finally, because even getting a seat no matter what I’d pay was getting to be a problem, I decided to stay put.
  • Went to the conference for my presentation. I was not hugely nervous. There were enough people in the room, thought not a lot. My presentation went okay. There weren’t as many questions as I’d liked.
  • However, one of the biggest names in the field came in during my part and left right after. I knew that her leaving after wasn’t a good sign, but when I saw her alone in the coffee room, I decided to ask her what she thought. Um. She completely dissed me, my project, and only stopped short of dissing me in general. So that was it. The culmination of a general debacle. I asked for and got thrashed by one of the biggest names in the field.

Sha Tin Staycation

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This seems to be the season for staycations. Well, it is summer.

So V had some points on his Hyatt membership, so we booked ourselves into two room at the Hyatt Regency in Sha Tin. We had the option of Tsim Sha Tsui but I insisted on Sha Tin because I thought it would be more fun for the kids than TST which is pretty much city life.

We took a bus to Sha Tin Town Centre and the kids spent some time at the Snoopy Park at the mall there, while I did a whirlwind trip through H&M which is on further sale. Unfortunately, V was grumbling about lunch in the background and I picked everything in the wrong sizes and didn’t have time to queue up again, so I dropped the idea. We had a very nice lunch at Pizza Express and then headed by train to the hotel which is right next to University station (adjacent to the Chinese University campus).

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Tolo Harbour in all its glory

We had one room on the executive floor; the view from the lounge amazing. The views in Hong Kong never fail to excite me, so much so that I’ve resolved never to pay for city views anywhere else.

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View of room

Our room was very comfy, and the helpers’ room on the ninth floor for pretty much the same, except, well, on a lower floor without access to the lounge.

My main agenda for the trip was to go cycling as Sha Tin has a renowned biking trail alongside Tolo Harbour. The hotel rents out bikes but alas the kids woke up too late for us to avail of that facility since they require the bikes to be returned at 6 pm. So we took the train to Sha Tin town again, and thanks to directions on this website, I found the bike kiosk in Sha Tin Park that rents out bikes.

We got a four-wheeler for Nene and a bike with a seat for a kid at the back for me for the princely sums of HK$30 and HK$60 respectively, and set off. It’s been ages since I biked and I’ll admit I was wobbly at first, not least because Mimi was at the back. Also, there are loads of people on the trail and I had to keep an eye on Nene in front of me. Nene, however, was super confident on his bike and could have pedaled on endlessly. I, on the other hand, bumped into a wall and scraped my elbow. However, overall, it was a fun experience and I got in some exercise to boot. I wouldn’t mind a repeat, though we could probably do it closer to home since we have a bike trail right opposite our house too.

For dinner, we went to Maxim’s Palace, which is normally quite hard to get a table at. We had a very nice Chinese dinner, polishing off every last morsel since everyone was starving after the biking.

Back at the hotel, I had a relaxing soak in the tub while the kids watched cartoons before bedtime.

In the morning, V and I had breakfast in the lounge. We took Nene along (Mimi was asleep), and frankly the luxury was completely wasted on him as he barely even ate the chocolate croissant I picked for him. Finally, he ate the egg of the Egg Benedict we ordered. I stayed on breakfasting and reading the newspaper (to V’s annoyance) for over an hour, while he headed down with the kids to rent a cycle again.

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Kids checking out mimosa

They spent an hour cycling along the track near the hotel, at the end of which Nene tripped on the edge of the track and scraped himself quite badly. That did not deter him from jumping in the swimming pool though, which was next on our agenda. I normally skip the hotel pool because our estate pool is actually better, but we had a few hours to kill before checkout and in the end, the kids’ enjoyed the pool while I got some exercise in.

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You can just about see the East Rail train in the photo.

Although the hotel offered us a 1 pm checkout, we were out of there by 11.30 am because we wanted to be home by the kids’ naptime. We took the train back all the way, and I have to say, the kids enjoyed looking at the trains (without the platform screen doors) and riding the East Rail Line quite a bit.

Of course, in the evening, we had the inevitable tantrum from Mimi who wanted to go back. Normal life is just not good enough for this little princess.

Luck of the Irish – 6

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My last and final day in Ireland. Got off the train in Dublin and rushed out of Heuston station to drop of my luggage. I had only an hour to do that and get to the meet-up point for the tour I had booked. The drop-off happened quickly, but I took a while to figure out the bus stop to the meet-up point. When I did, guided by friendly folk once again, the bus ride was extremely quick and I was there early.

City Hall
I took a Sandeman’s free tour (where you tip the guide whatever you like at the end). It was a three hour tour and promised to hit all the main spots, which I thought suited my needs since I was pressed for time and couldn’t afford to do my usual getting lost schtick.I wavered over the tour quite a bit, and finally decided to leave it up to fate whether I made it in time or not, which I ended up doing.

Dublin Castle
The pros of the tour was that the guide was very into historical details, though he did use humour to keep the less, um, intellectually inclined on the tour happy. He also chose his stopping points carefully so that there was usually place to sit down while listening to him. The cons were that I don’t think we covered as much as we could have, and not in enough detail. Like we just got a glimpse of Trinity College, when I would have liked to go into the Long Room of the library. Maybe it was ambitious of me to expect that of a three-hour tour. There was also a bit of selling their other paid offerings, but that is to be forgiven given that they have to earn their keep somehow.

Trinty College. Was surprised how gravelly it is.
In retrospect, I probably should have stuck to my alternative plan of doing an individual tour of Trinity College and one library, and doing general wandering. Since my interest is literary, I feel I didn’t do enough darshan to the holy sites of great writers. I’m so glad I did the James Joyce tour on the beginning leg because otherwise I would have had major remorse.

Guiness. 
I met a really nice girl while waiting for the tour to start and we hung out together throughout. To look at, you’d think we had signed up together, but in reality we had just met. When the tour took a break at a pub, we had our first Guinesseses together. It wasn’t half bad, better than beer anyway.

Sculpture outside Christ Church
After the tour, I had planned to catch evensong at Christ Church cathedral, where I heard the choir performs Handel’s Messiah for free. Unfortunately, we got there late but it turns out they don’t have evensong in the summer as their choir is touring. And they charge to enter the church which I find a bit rich. What if we wanted to go there to pray?

St Patrick’s
My newfound friend and I then went off to St Patrick’s Cathedral, where Swift was dean, to click a photo for my colleague in Hong Kong who is researching him. I would have liked to visit the grave but we couldn’t find it and anyway, I wasn’t about to pay to enter the church.

We then headed back to try and buy souvenirs and for some weird reason just could not find the Carroll’s shop we had spotted on the way to Christ Church. Finally, I bought a rag doll for Mimi and an Irish fire brigade for Nene at the Tourist Office. Said a hasty goodbye to my friend and rushed off to catch the bus back to the train station where I needed to pick up my luggage and catch the bus to the airport. I was rushing, but in the end, I made good time.

We had to actually get onto the tarmac to board the plane Never experienced this on an international flight.
Got to the airport in half an hour, and frankly could have spent another half hour wandering in Dublin. Hmph. But I guess it’s better than panicking because I’ve cut it too fine which has also been known to happen. I changed my clothes, and explored the duty free where I dropped some euros on Irish single pot whiskey and chocolates for the office and the helpers as well as two mighty slabs of Galaxy for me.

Was checked into my flight by the hottest guy, a David Beckham lookalike with an Irish accent that I still see in my mind’s eye and smile sometime. Suddenly, while waiting for my flight, I had a panic attack realising I hadn’t gone through immigration. After sitting around dithering over whether I should sit pretty and see if I was ‘caught’, or ask someone, I spotted the same hottie who had checked me in, and asked him. Turns out they don’t have immigration on the way out except for the flight staff checking your passport again before boarding, which they barely do. Heh.

And that, me darlings, was the end of my Irish adventure. I flew nearly 40 hours both ways to spend a total of four days in the Emerald Isle. And you know what? It was worth it.

Luck of the Irish – 5

Was knackered when I got back from dinner. It was about 11.30 pm. But of course, I couldn’t sleep. Finally, crashed out, only to wake up at 3 am and toss and turn unable to sleep.

At 5 am, woke up and Skyped with the kids. Was soo hungry that at 6.30 decided to wander around. Wondered if the English Market might be open and I could get something to eat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t and neither were the convenience stores or the McDonald’s I could stop. While wandering spotted this huge bird (a heron?) just standing about on the street. I clicked a photo and the butcher type loading his truck nearby laughed.


Waiting for the convenience store, I noticed an Internet cafe that was open and that might have food. I needed to print my itinerary and boarding pass, so I entered. Only after I had paid for the use of a computer (for an hour!) I realised that I couldn’t check in so early, and I probably should have just asked the conference organiser to help me print out my itinerary (later, I realised that I could have printed at the airport. It’s not like Bombay airport where they ask you for a printout to enter.) Instead, I chatted with MinCat which I could have done from my room only, wrote blog posts, and finally got a print-out on the best quality paper I’ve seen in a long time.

By then it was 8 am so headed back to the English market, where the bakery was just opening. Though the breads were still not on display, the friendly (this word is now becoming redundant in this country) girl at the counter moved things to show me what I could buy. I got one of the best chocolate croissants I’ve eaten in a long time and a croissant, which I wolfed down, and then washed down with tea when I got back to my room 15 minutes later.

Was knackered by then, but had to get ready for my presentation. Murphy’s law – the hot water in the shower wouldn’t come on (had just told the girls the day before how I appreciated the really hot shower) and I had to bathe gasping and jogging in the cubicle. Oh well, at least it warmed me up. I told the lady at the reception and she said I was the second person to bring it to her notice and she’d check.

Made it to the conference venue in good time. Well, I was the second person there and was beginning to think noone would show up after the festivities the night before. People had been drinking hard with dinner which I refrained from because my tummy was already not functioning well out of sleep deprivation and nerves. I had been pleased my talk was scheduled in the morning because more people tend to be awake then, but I realised first session in the morning of the second day might not be best time.

Funny thing about my presentation, the other girl who was supposed to be in my panel just didn’t show up. I had kept a lookout for her since the start and hadn’t met her, and then on the morning of the panel, I asked the organisers and one of them was sure she had met her, but basically, she didn’t show. That’s been one of my nightmares, the alarm going and hitting the snooze button and missing my own presentation. I also worried about her – what if she was lying in a ditch somewhere? Noone else seemed overly concerned though.

I didn’t get as many questions as I would have liked, though I did get one challenging my thesis, which I actually appreciated. I know I’m walking a fine line, so it’s helpful to get a sense of what people are thinking and to be forced to elaborate and justify. And the conversation after convinced me that one of the ideas I’ve been planning to go with is worthwhile.

By day 2, we had established our clique of sorts. I felt enough loyalty to the Japanese and Spanish girls to go to their presentation over the other one I really wanted to. I did not ask difficult question to Japanese girl during presentation, but after over drinks. I had mentioned my intense desire to go to Irish pub and we did. The pub (in blue), home to the charming bartender

It was such a cliche of the Irish pub.The bartender was drunk and chatty and flirty. He asked us where we were from, what we were doing, making jokes at the other guys around the bar. In the end, I chickened out of Guiness and plumbed for a whiskey. This got a whistle, but really Jameson’s is very smooth. It went down like mango juice. By now we were comfortable with each other, and I was with the four most down-to-earth of the group, so we just chatted up a mix of academia and nonsense. Then we went to gallery for official drinks and talked up a storm. I had to pull myself away and get home.

Stopped to buy a sandwich for dinner and croissants for breakfast and met the Spanish girl. We hugged goodbye and then after walking a bit there was panting behind me and the Scottish girl had caught up with me out of breath. I felt nice that she had hurried to catch up with me and say goodbye. We’ve all promised to stay in touch, and I’ve already on FB with one, but I don’t know how far it will go.Nice while it lasted I guess.

Slept well that night and woke up rested so I guess it really was the nerves. Or maybe I’m only entitled to sleep every alternate day. Had a leisurely breakfast of croissants and tea, bathed, packed, and pottered around delaying my inevitable departure. On checkout, the sweet lady was fascinated by what I informed her was my “wrap dress”. She insisted on me turning around so she could check the maker of the dress and read G200 as Gucci. I hastily informed her that she should be able to find this design anywhere. We said warm goodbyes and then I got cab to the train station. The cabbie was chatty and told me all about the Shandon bells which I did not visit. At the station, got another sandwich (I basically sandwiched myself the entire trip) and sat down to check in. Noticed professor types from conference and was tempted to be groupie-like and pay darshan but they were involved in conversation and I had nothing stellar to say so I went to the loo instead.

In the train, bag lady elderly lady with lots of bags got in and sat opposite me. She took out some bookmarks with a prayer on them and started telling the girl opposite me how she is selling them in aid of some blind children. It was all very vague. The girl gave her three euros and then she turned to me. “I rather not” I said weakly but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, gave her the money to shut her up. Which is what the other girl must have done too, only earlier. I figured that the Irish had been so damn nice to me, this was the toll I would have to pay, and all things considered it came cheap. That was the end of my Cork adventure. I wanted to nap on the train but of course didn’t. Instead I gazed out at the countryside, which this time around seemed prettier.

Luck of the Irish – 4

So conference. My first impression was not favourable. Ok backtrack. My first impression was favourable because the university is beautiful. Like straight out of a picture book, the kind of campus you dream of when you think of universities. Why is it that the word university conjures up exactly these kind of images in our mind, like our idea of a village is also a certain kind of green with black and white picturesque looking cows in it.    Entrance to the University 

My second impression was so-so. People were medium-level friendly. It is muchos liberating to not care that much. To be okay with just standing or preferably sitting down on your own. It would help to have a phone to check, but I didn’t because guest wifi has to be applied for in advance at first-world university. The first session was okay, I think. I felt like some of the papers were borderline master’s level. Maybe I was being unfair. The fact is my paper for this conference isn’t stellar either, but I know that. Then again, I won’t let on that I know that when I’m presenting so maybe that’s what people are doing too. I think I offended one girl by not couching my critique quite properly. It was very badly articulated. Ouff.

It appears that the dominant aesthetic in the Humanities these days is piercings, preferably of tongues. It is funny how many people here have tongue and/or nose piercings of the bull ring kind. Also bright led lipstick. I too favour this shade. However, before the conference, I wondered whether it would be too much, and then finally put it on because I was too lazy to reach for the magenta, my other choice these days. Turns out everyone else did the same unabashedly though (I’m assuming). How does this happen? Does a memo go out? “Young sprites of the humanities, please note if you wish to retain your street cred you must pierce your tongue and preferably wear bright red lipstick.”

Also, the majority of the women, and we are a majority of women at this conference, are pretty. Unusually pretty, and not afraid to show it. Also, all the girls wear dresses, some of the kind that one would wear to a party. I wore a dress too, but from my office days, with a jacket. I might have stood out a little, looking older than the other ‘girls’ but I didn’t care too much. It amused me. Like when I was heterosexual and on the cusp of marriage in my Master’s and everyone else was committing to being gay. I hope I queered the queerness a little bit.

I had brought a dress for the dinner, but then thought fuck it, I’m too knackered to change, and my dress was in the same vein as my conference dress only the day dress was brown and the night dress was grey. However, some of the others did change, into skimpier outfits. Little edges of lace bras on view, for example.

In this, there is a divide between the older women there and us, the PhD students. I wonder what they thought of us. Well, I was somewhat in between so what they thoguht of “them”. Were they rolling their eyes at the third wave? (I liked attending the papers of the older women, I got more out of it.) At one point there was a conversation I overheard between a keynote speaker and two of the younger women, about what to wear. Clearly this was an issue people had given some thought to. “Just wear a dress. You’re a girl, dammit,” someone said someone had told her. Interestingly, the older, seemingly very pragmatic older woman, had changed into a skirt for a keynote, admittedly a fairly staid one. She was cool that woman; she’s a fairly big deal in this admittedly small circle but I had a nice conversation with her. Some of us are mothers and that breaks the ice. Also the fact that I’m flown here from Hong Kong and the jet lag. I also liked that as time wore on, we were frank about how nervous we were.

I didn’t think I was that nervous, but I was because I woke up at 3 am the night before the presentation (when I had slept at 12 am) and couldn’t sleep after for thinking about it. Jet lag may have played it’s part, but the other thing that threw me was that people were pretty much just reading their papers. I had prepared a full PPT with … wait for it… pictures. What? I like pictures. However, this might not be viewed as very … academic. However, in the end, after a short poll (of V and MinCat) I decided to just do my thing. I felt that if I scrapped the PPT at the last minute, it might throw me off because I had rehearsed with it. Sure it would be easier and less time-consuming to just read like an automaton, but that is frankly…boring. So yeah, I did the PPT and it was fine. I think people enjoyed having some to look at, though they would never admit it. I like that PPTs are not mandatory, but I actually prefer when they’re there. Later, the cool older lady, had a PPT with pictures, though smaller, less attractive ones. Why do we play down attractiveness? Clearly, the younger set don’t do this with their bodies, only their presentations.

The dinner broke the ice. Some of us ended up sitting at one end. A very cool Scottish girl with bright red hair, a Japanese girl with a thick North (?) British accent, a Spanish girl and the American diva, who for her presentation had hopped onto the table and crossed her legs. The girl at whose presentation I asked awkward question nearly sat next to us but then chose to sit at another table. Unfortunately, Indian lady came sat next to me. Did I mention her? I was very happy to know that another Indian was going to be the conference – it’s weird, I find comfort in seeing Asian or brown or black faces at this very white destination – and also her topic was relevant to me only I couldn’t attend her talk as it was at the same time as mine. She turned up in the afternoon, and from her body language I had my doubts about her. Then she asked a question at the presentation and it was worse than the poorly worded one I had asked. Then I actually met her and my suspicions were confirmed. She was one of those with a big ol’ chip on her shoulder. Everything she said to me was heavily patronising or critical or both. She criticized the food and that they were giving us enough free stuff and the presentation and oh god. Are Indian supposed to get together and just bitch about everything at these events in the Western world? Ugh.

And at the conference dinner, she wanted to do more of the same. I mostly tried to angle away from her and talk to the person on my other side. Also, I just hmmed and nodded to things she was saying which probably made her think I was an idiot, when actually I already knew the obvious points she was making about Indian womanhood, not all of which I agreed with but which there was no point articulating to her because she is already sure she knows because she’s been around the block (though in a different field, which apparently people are turning to now because feminists have failed to answer these questions. Ahem.)

One of the things that came up was how good it was to just matter-of-factly air feminist views and not get the inevitably pushback or be treated as some kind of niche specimen. I found that Irigaray, the theorist I love, is not unfashionable at all like I had been given to understand. There were at least three fangirls in our group. We took a picture and added each other in Facebook. See, even academics do normal things.

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