Help needed!

Update: I’ve corrected the email address. It’s Sorry! And please email me so I have your contacts stored.

So as most of you know, I quit my job to do a PhD last year. What I didn’t mention was what I’m working on. I’m studying Indian chick lit novels (the Bridget Jones’s Diaries and Sex and the Cities of India, such as the books written by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan and Anuja Chauhan), focusing on how a certain kind of Indian woman emerges in the novels. Cool no? Well obviously I think so.

As part of this project, I need to interview readers preferably based in India. So I’m putting out a call:

  1. Do you enjoy reading Indian chick lit? (Basically, the popular romantic fiction with a 30-soemthing protagonist looking for love).
  2. Would you like to talk about it? (ie. talk about why you enjoy/dislike the novel/s, characters you like/identify with, etc.) It’s easy peasy.

It will be fun, I promise! I need to do Skype/telephone interviews, and I don’t necessarily need to know your personal details. You will be anonymous when I write up the research.

Anyone willing please please please email me at

Blood Moon



We recently celebrated the Mid Autumn Festival which is arguably the second biggest Chinese festival in this part of the world, Chinese New Year being the first. Mid Autumn Festival is essentially a harvest festival, with a lot of excitement centering around the moon and the legend of Chang E, the moon lady. I know this because the kids were told the story at school and we bought a very nice book about it. Kids usually take lanterns and go moongazing. Our kids had a lantern parade at school for which I got Mimi a traditional lantern in the shape of a rabbit (supposed to be the pet of Chang E). I forgot to get Nene one, and he very sweetly volunteered to take a chicken that he had made last year.

The long weekend started off well, when I decided we would go to the beach. We spent a good two hours of Saturday morning basking in water so clean that we could see the fishes swimming around us. V caught one for Nene in a bucket and he spent half an hour staring at it, trying to feed it seaweed and finally releasing it.

In the afternoon, our estate had a fun fair for the kids where for the princely sum of HK$25 they could try their hand at a range of games, including a bouncy castle. Regardless of whether they won or lost, they got little stuff like pencils or card holders. It was very well organised and for the nth time I thank my stars that we are fortunate enough to live in this building.

On Sunday, both our helpers were off and Mimi ended up not sleeping in the afternoon. Things were going peaceably enough when at 5 pm I decided to take a bath and asked V to watch the kids. Suddenly, I heard Mimi crying and V shouting. I didn’t think much of this because Mimi crying is a regular thing. Then Nene came into the bathroom saying Mimi is really badly hurt. I rushed out to find that Mimi had gashed her head and was bleeding badly.The irony was that I had just been congratulating myself on how I knew when to panic over a crying child. (Though later when I told V that I didn’t hear the shrill cry of a child in distress, he said she had initially been too shocked.)

She calmed down fairly quickly, and I would have left it at that, but V pointed out that the cut was deep and would need stitches. I was skeptical because my rule of the thumb is that if the child seems fine, leave it. Since it was a festival, our regular doctors were closed but again, we have a choice of three doctors in our immediate vicinity so got an appointment fairly quickly. One look and the doctor said we need to go to the casualty of the hospital, most likely for stitches. He was kind enough to not charge us.

Again, being a holiday, it was the worst possible day to get a taxi. Our security guard suggested there was no point calling one but we were likely to get one at the building roundabout as there were a lot of guests coming in. We managed to flag one down, but he initially said no. However, when V requested him explaining that we needed to take a child to the hospital, he agreed and drove us at top speed. I heard him call someone probably his wife, explaining the would be late.

We had a long wait at the hospital to even see the doctor, as is the case in emergency rooms. Mimi had calmed down by then, helped by the appearance of the iPad. The doctor on duty turned out to be a nice guy, but he also recommended stitches.

Then came the worst part of the night. We had to wait a hour longer till insurance cleared our claim and/or the doctor got free to do the stitches. By then Mimi was absolutely fine and I had to stop her from frolicking too hard lest she hit her head again. However, once we went into the room, they bundled Mimi into a towel and basically told V and I to clear out. I had heard about this from another friend who is quite a fighter and I had no choice but to leave. Thankfully, Mimi seemed ok, but obviously, a child alone being stitched up is NOT a nice thing. It was a 10 minute procedure but she screamed and sobbed the entire time. I had to leave the area as I couldn’t bear to listen. Hospitals do this for their ease, so they don’t have to deal with parents freaking out but I believe it’s a human rights issue. I think most parents would get a grip – or could be made to leave – and be strong for their child when needed. Instead I was outside crying for my child. Mimi was traumatised when she was handed back to me.

Since then she’s been fine save for wanting to remove the bandage on her forehead, which I think is more out of vanity than any discomfort. She’s been a bit more difficult to handle than normal, but healthwise seems fine.We bought her Elsa and Anna dolls (and Nene got a minibus just because) as a special gift.

We have to get her stitches removed on Saturday and I hope we can stay with her. Nene’s friend’s mom told me that when they tried to kick her out of the room she flat out refused and finally they let her stay. I had misremembered what she said, and now I feel guilty, but the fact is I wonder if they would have let us stay and what we could have done if they didn’t. Anyway, wish us luck for Saturday.

And of course, while all this drama was going on, I got my period.

Update: A week later, we were due to visit the hospital when Nene injured his foot. I couldn’t believe it because we were all sitting around and he didn’t jump, hit his leg or anything. V noticed that he could have twisted it. But the way he was going, it seemed like a fracture. So we had the embarrassing duty of telling the doctor who checked Mimi that our other kid needed attention too. I’m grateful that he didn’t call the cops on us. Thankfully, an x-ray showed no fracture but the doctor said sometimes hairline fractures don’t show up, but that they tend to heal on their own.

The removal of Mimi’s stitches was more peaceful and they allowed me to stay with her. Nene’s foot has thankfully healed without further intervention, though in a day or two he has started jumping around, even though he is still favouring that foot. Obviously more than a day’s rest is impossible with kids.

Application madness



I have primary school applications coming out of my ears and the process has affected me more than I thought it would. Who was I kidding when I believed I’d be able to escape the stress that is seen to be inevitable to this process? V tells me that I’m talking non-stop about it.

I have now applied to nine schools. They range from the expensive international ones to a completely free government-aided school. Somewhere along the line, I fear I’ve lost the plot and applied to any candidates that seem to fit the bill willy-nilly. Surprisingly, I’ve not spent too much money, but I’m still wavering on one whose application fee itself is a bomb (according to me). Some random observations:

  1. International school fees are unconscionable. Well, the fees are one thing, but the debentures and the capital levies and the numerous names they come up with for what are essentially extortion amounts, are shocking. I’m not shocked they are run like businesses, but that they are subsidized by the government in terms of land leases at concessionary rates. The general attitude of people is – oh, if the fees for rich kids get higher, who cares? Parents should just suck it up or use the local system. The fact that the local system is deeply flawed, so much so locals are moving away from it, apart, it is a loss to the taxpayer to subsidize institutions that are pretty much fattening themselves and serving only the rich.
  2. In contrast, the government runs a system where you get into a pool based on where you live and your child is allotted a school at random. Each child gets a chance to choose one school during a discretionary placement week (which is currently ongoing). If the school offers you a place, good. If not, you go into a central pool and are allotted a place based on some algorithm. Of course, some parents move addresses just to be in the right net, but by and large, it by force removes the stress. I experienced this system when I went to apply for a discretionary place yesterday. The form requires only basic information. I did not even have to submit previous kindergarten reports. There are points allotted based on some reasonable criteria like siblings in the school or parent working at the school. Some schools are allowed to give points based on religious affiliation or membership to organisation of the school, which I think is dodgy but it’s a colonial legacy.This is how it should be honestly. Schools should work with kids, not cherry pick kids who have been drilled and grilled before they even enter.
  3. In contrast, private schools without fail ask for parents background, including office address and telephone number. Why they require this information before the child is enrolled in their school is beyond me. Well, except that they are selecting the child based on the parents’ background. This is the one place where my child looks good – okay unfortunately we’re Indian which is not favourable racially, but otherwise working in a bank and doing PhD sounds good. And yet, it sucks, doesn’t it? To be part of this elitism.
  4. On the way to submit an application, there were a number of international school students from a school on the MTR platform. A group of boys got into the train, flung their bags down, sprawled on the floor and began chatting, eating and drinking juice. Sounds harmless, but really no one does this in the MTR in Hong Kong. It is illegal to eat and drink in the MTR because they want to keep it clean, and while I have sometimes taken the occasional sip or bite, it’s always discreetly and carefully so I don’t spill. These kids were having a picnic, and something about their audacity rankled. It made me think of the cultural difference of kids in the same city – Desi (or South Asian) kids are the most racuous, Western kids can also be quite noisy and break the rules (like the ones above), and Chinese kids (especially the majority who go to local schools) are very well behaved. On the one hand, the tendency to play by the rules is admirable because it contributes to the sense of order that the city runs on; on the other, they tend to be unable to think outside the box. Surely there must be a medium which does not involve kids sprawling with a sense of entitlement on the MTR floor though?
  5. After I submitted the application, I was waiting for a bus and some kids from the local international school (another one) passed by. The group of kids looked like they were auditioning for parts in Sweet Valley High. Also, the skirts of the girls were so short. I never thought I’d see the day when skirts for the girls’ uniform is shorter than the shorts for the boys’. V told me I’m turning into a granny.
  6. Shortly after, a group of kids from a local school passed by. The girls’ skirts were too long. Okay, I am sounding like Goldilocks here but surely there must be a mean between schools where the kids turn out completely Westernized and the follow-the-book-no-matter-what Chinese system? I have to say I preferred the the way the Chinese kids interacted. Yes, I am regressing into the person who lived in mortal fear of her kids developing an American accent and generally behaving like they originated in a television serial.
  7. While the government school (if it has a school bus that comes near us) sounds ideal (because zero fees!). V pointed out that the crucial question is whether I would be able to leave Nene there. Because we semi-tried the local system with kindy and I chickened out. Fair point. But still, zero fees!
  8. I also visited a local school that is being turned into an international school. On my way to find that school, I landed up in two other schools which I know cater to local “ethnic minority” kids (i.e. us, but with less money). The reason I have not considered applying to these schools is because the kids seem to be from rougher backgrounds. I know. I sound like an idiot even saying it. And the irony was while touring the international school, I felt guilty that the local kids were losing a school.

See it’s not enough that I have to find a school. I also have to contend with my inability to even pick a school system or a budget and then on top of that I layer it with the guilt of being elitist even as I am unable to really take a stand and opt out of the international system. Bah.

Mr Unmuddled


Nene is worried about Mr Muddle:

“Why does he live alone? Why doesn’t he have a mummy and daddy and Titas? If he holds the phone the wrong way, he needs a mummy and daddy and titas to tell him to hold it right.”

“But,” he specifies. “He’s only one person, so he doesn’t need two titas. One is enough.”

“What about a sister? Does he need a sister?”

“No, because if he has a smaller sister she can’t take care of him. But he needs and mummy and daddy and titas. To help him not to be muddled.”

Applications Schlapplications


It seems I’m destined to be drowning in applications for Nene every year. First there was the applications for kindergarten which he attended for a year, then I decided to switch to another school. Thankfully, the admission process for that one, being a new school, was peaceful. The plan was to keep him there for three years after which we most likely were supposed to move to India. For that reason, we decided he would repeat the first year of kindergarten our bases were covered till be left. This has worked out very well for him because he is doing super well in school.


Now, I find that while he could stay on at his kindergarten next year, I probably should be putting him in primary school. First because the number of students in the third year of kindergarten is low, since most students go on to international school after two years of kindergarten. But more to the point because since we kept him back a year, he has missed the age cut-off for some international primary schools. I worry that if I don’t get him into a primary this year, on the off chance we need to remain in Hong Kong an extra year, it’s going to be even harder then.

So, I decided to get into the primary school application rat race. However, I had a number of criteria that restrict my choice:

  1. We are not going to pay a debenture or a huge capital levy because we’re not sure how long we’re going to be here. We would be hardpressed to cough up that amount anyway (some debentures start at over HK$1 million) but we certainly won’t do it for one or two years of schooling. When I look at these amounts I’m amazed that schools can still register as charities, and get land from the government at discounted rates.
  2. Nene’s age means some schools just won’t consider him.
  3. Schools that are too far away. I’m willing to have him travel more now that he’s older but not way across town.

So essentially I’m targeting the less popular international schools which do not charge debentures, what are known as Direct Subsidy Schools (local English medium schools subsidized by the government) and private schools run by charities (usually Christian). The latter school fees are really reasonable and I am super tempted by them on that count, though in my heart I know that an international school education would suit my child better.

Moreover, it is turning out that many of the reasonably priced English-medium schools are run by Christian organizations. Now, this should not be a problem seeing as I was raised Catholic and went to a convent school as did the husband. However, maybe because of this, I find that I would rather avoid it. I visited one school that I really liked, and then I saw the kids singing some ‘he died for our sins’ song randomly in class with the teacher to kill time. And my eyes just rolled to the back of my head. So while I think there might not be any real harm in this – after all, we had kids from various religions in our convent schools growing up – I’m also just a tad uncomfortable with it. That school was lovely though and I might have overlooked the religious aspect if it weren’t so far away.

On that school tour, I noticed kids were already writing confidently in their first week. Which means they had mastered writing at kindergarten. My son on the other hand can barely write his name. Which I wasn’t overly concerned about until then.

Then, suddenly, last week, Nene’s schoolbag came home with homework. A lined sheet with a list of words to be written on it. While the note said “to be completed over a week”, they gave it to us on a Friday and it was due back on a Monday. Since it’s been ages since I was in kindergarten, I had no idea what the four lines were for. I had to google and ask other parents who had older kids. Then, I found that Nene had no idea how to write alphabets leave alone words.

The fact is that in the previous year they did not really do much writing, and they did not formally practice lower case letters as far as I know. So it was astonishing that they were suddenly expected to write whole words. It reminded me of Marathi lessons in primary school in my day. One year it’s all fun and games and suddenly you’re supposed to be writing sentences, then paragraphs.

I found myself getting frustrated with Nene, not helped by the fact that I had no idea how to help him. I’m sure there’s a method to the madness of writing alphabets, but that’s what we pay the school for. I don’t expect to be teaching him writing from scratch because honestly, I don’t know how to, and I somehow doubt a frustrated mum yelling “top to bottom!” or “make a cup shape!” is a valued pedagogical approach.

Anyway, I think a fair number of us complained about it, so they’re going to give them writing practice sheets first. And now they’re issued simple writing patterns for Mimi’s class. So now there’s an uproar from some of the parents in that class who feel that they are too young for homework.

I’m not one of the complainers because 1) Mimi was upset that Nene got homework and she didn’t so much so that I had to go and buy her practice sheets 2) I can see that the Hong Kong school system expects the kids to be able to write at least the alphabets (and possibly whole words) by the time they start primary school (does this seem to be getting younger and younger? will we be teaching foetuses the alphabet before they’re born so that they come out primed for nursery, no wait, PRE nursery?).

Anyhoo, for now, it appears our carefree days are coming to an end. Nene will have to buckle down, and I will have to spend more hours at the photo-copier getting packages of documents together.

And if that’s not enough, if we indeed move to India we scheduled, once I’m done with the Hong Kong primary school applications, I’m going to have to start looking into schools in Bangalore. Chop chop.

On mommy dating


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


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


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.


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



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

pretty woman

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.



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


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.



, , ,

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.


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.



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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.


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