I watched the royal wedding

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And I’m only slightly ashamed.

Here’s how it happened.

We were out at dinner and Mimi started shifting around (more than usual, that kid is a fidget) and I asked her if needed to use the toilet and she said yes.

While in what looked like an interminable queue, I checked Facebook and someone had posted a link to watch the wedding so I clicked on it, and it turned out it was right at the part when Harry and William were walking in, which meant I had skipped the waiting and people on the streets waving flags part. The next thing I knew I found myself grinning broadly as Harry gazed down upon Meghan in church (in between calls of “are you done”?) and I realised I’m not that cynical about weddings after all.

I ended up watching pretty much the whole damn thing using my data service if you please, which I have a strict rule against. V made fun of me and then gave up. I showed Mimi the couple while she was ranting about wanting ice cream now! and asked if the bride was pretty and she said “yes!” And went back to ranting.

scattered thoughts:

1. Meghan’s dress was beautiful, her train even more (though the commonwealth flowers were unnecessary).

2. Harry is really into Meghan.

3. The queen’s lime green dress was a bit OTT. Not to mention the purple flowers.

4. Ginormous hats seem to be Camilla’s thing.

5. Kate seemed to be in a bad mood. Maybe she doesn’t like Camilla or maybe she was pissed that Will didn’t change thr diapers last night.

6. I really thought Meghan’s mum should have walked her down the aisle or she could have walked herself but maybe she wanted A Man or her mum didn’t want the spotlight and Charles seemed to do a good job.

7. The camera constantly focused on her mum who looked lovely.

8. Harry and Meghan were happily chatting while the hymns were going on. Haw!

9. That guy with the cello went on too long. As did the pastor – I tuned out during the sermon.

10. In a sign of our times, I found myself scared that there would be a terrorist attack as they drove down in the open carriage. I heaved a sigh of relief when they made it into the castle.

11. In between MinCat informed me that the chief minister resigned in Karnataka. High drama all around.

Did you watch?

PS: I am aware the whole thing is ridiculous

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The picnic myth

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So my antipathy to barbeques has been documented.

Now I find that picnics might be on my scratch list too. To be sure, I’ve never been 100% sold on picnics per se. Once, Curly asked me if there was anywhere one could picnic in Hong Kong and I said, I was sure there was, except I had never actually done it, because the thought of prepping the food put me off. “You can just buy the food,” Curly pointed out, which is why we are friends, I guess.

In Hong Kong, actually picnic-weather days are rare, what with the general heat and the humidity, if not rain. So fall and spring are the only picnic windows, and lately with the weather cooperating, I had begun to notice potential picnic spots – specifically Tamar Park and the Kwun Tong waterfront, where people spread out on blankets seems to be calling out to be imitated.

Then one day when were in Central for something, V suggested instead of going to a restaurant, we could buy sandwiches and eat them in the park. Immediately, I had visions of lounging on the grass at Tamar, though we didn’t get that far. We ended up sitting on benches eating our feast, which was nice but hinted that it could be so much more. Since then, I had a hankering for a picnic.

It so happened the last month or so has seen not one, but two picnics. The first was self-inflictedinitiated, following the success of buying (admittedly pricey) food from the deli at City Super. I roped in a couple of unlikely collaborators – friends who normally like to not only sit down at nice tables but also have proper cutlery. There was an outdoor sculpture exhibition going on and I thought we could club the two. We ended up spending a couple of hours on the grass in the sun before we called it a day. Oh and I must mention while we were there, the kids found a little hole in the ground and started to dig it and I let them, but a security guard came and told them not to, which was ok whatever (there was already a hole there anyway) but it looked like a family had actually called the security guard to do the telling, and I could only roll my eyes at the stupidity of Hong Kong.

I then spent the rest of the afternoon in bed with the curtains drawn to prevent any sunshine creeping in.

In retrospect, we made a couple of rookie mistakes:

  1. We got to the park around 11 am when many of the attractive and shady spots were already taken. V figures we should have set up in the shade of the towering government headquarters – although this is a boring spot because you can’t see the sea (and then, what’s the point of being on the harbourfront). I surmise that we should have started off earlier, from say 8 am to 11 am – which precludes picnics with adults who don’t have kids, who tend to rise at 10 am on weekends. The kids would probably say there is no point going to a park without any play equipment and just lawn.
  2. I thought I had food sorted, but then realised that while the sculpture-ridden part of the park was near Admiralty, City Super was in Central. So my food source had become complicated. In the end, we picked up sandwiches from Pret at Admiralty station, which while tasty are limited in options. A picnic requires diversity of food.
  3. I ended up drinking a fair bit of wine, which is part of my idyllic picnic fantasy. Unfortunately, this gave me a terrible headache for the rest of the day. The combination of the outdoors and wine was confirmed to be deadly for me when I attended a party for Nene’s friend which was mostly held on the lawn (yes, this Hong Kong family has a house with a lawn), where I consumed one glass of wine and regretted it the entire afternoon (which happened to be the afternoon before my Phd exam).

The next picnic was organised by the parents of the kids’ friends who had moved to Singapore but were visiting over Easter. They had initially made the rookie error of choosing a part with vast areas of grass, but little shade or play areas – but to my relief changed the venue to a park with much more stuff to do.

Again, I stressed about what food to take, until V who had initially suggested making sandwiches (and kind of made me feel a bit guilty about never wanting to make anything) changed his mind and was like oh just buy something from the bakery. So that’s what I did – mini sausage rolls and mini pizzas. Not the most delicious – but whatever. We fed our kids before anyway because 11 am start times do not work for us, and they basically then just ate candy and chips at the picnic and I didn’t have to worry too much. There were few buns left over so I guess they weren’t too bad and anyway I wolfed down one mini pizza myself.

Initially, the kids were shy, but left to their own devices for about half an hour, they grouped together and played. The parents were not exactly friends, but we chatted a bit. I studiously avoided the wine. We lasted a good four hours I think, which is a record for us picnic-wise.

But I still had a mild headache when I got back. My takeaway – I’m allergic to sitting around in the heat if not exactly the sun. Moreover, I noticed that my kids tend to get kind of bored – the idea of doing indoor things, like board games, outdoors, doesn’t enthrall them. It helps to have friends around though.

Does this mean the end of my picnic career? I’m not sure. I’m not as antipathic to it as barbeques. The idyllic fantasy still holds. But I have to admit that it would probably do just as well to go to a park for a while and then head to a restaurant for early lunch.

Ok what the hell, let’s make a list:

Pros of picnics

1. There is a certain je ne sais quoi to sitting on the grass in the sunshine – for a while

Cons of picnics

  1. Figuring out food and lugging it there
  2. Lugging everything else – blankets, water, games – the number of things you need to take along to make a successful picnic is high
  3. Sitting on the floor is not one of my fortes
  4. Threat of headache after

Hmmm it looks like the cons are winning.

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A random baby on a sculpture. Guess what it (the sculpture not the baby) is made of?

 

Yay me

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So part of the reason for the silence is that I had to start prepping for my PhD oral defence in a hurry. I submitted my thesis at the end of the August last year and hoped I’d be done with the exam by the end of the year. Our department is notoriously slow about arranging the exam – which involves getting together a committee of two external examiners, two internals, one chair from the faculty and much coordination with the graduate school. To speed things up my supervisor and I identified the externals and got their agreement on being part of the committee before I even submitted. And yet, it was months before the committee was officially even formed.

At some point I gave up. I realised that I was too busy with teaching anyway to focus on an exam, and it would be better to have the exam around February, once I had settled into my new job. But when I checked in February, the admin guy told me it didn’t look like it could happen in March. So I was like whatevs, la la la while my parents and in-laws seemed more anxious about when I would finish than me.

Then suddenly I got an email from the admin guy informing me that my exam had been scheduled. It threw me into a panic. The first thing I had to do was get leave on the day. I had two weeks to prepare, which was not too bad but work turned out to be fairly busy and I had stuff lined up for the kids on the weekends leading up to the exam, so it wasn’t ideal.

I found myself thrown from the developments on the Korean peninsula and Trump’s threat of trade war into my own thoughts on single women and chick lit in India. I felt somewhat detached from the whole thing and was struggling to care.

However, I know from watching other people’s defences that this is a subjective process that can go badly wrong if one says something that ticks off a particular examiner and that the only defence is to prep thoroughly. I had had feedback from the two external examiners and there were a couple of sticky things that I did not relish the need to deal with.

I warned V that I was going to be missing in action the weekend before the exam, and cancelled a girls night out on the Friday with some regret. I barricaded myself in my room and plugged away at my presentation. I had to somehow whittle down three years’ work into 15 minutes. And I had to anticipate questions on and around the 80,000 word behemoth.

I allowed myself one social gathering – a party for Nene’s kindergarten friend – that weekend, at which I stupidly drank a glass of wine. I was fine until I got home and then had the worst headache, that prevented me from rereading my thesis as carefully as I would have liked, with the added irritation of V shaking his head and going “I told you not to drink.” (I mean, ONE glass). Finally, I turned in early, only to wake up at 2 am with the runs. So I guess I was nervous.

In the end, it went off rather well. The chair of my committee was someone I was comfortable with, the technology worked so that the external Skyping in could hear me and I her and the admin guy stuck around to switch between my slides and the examiner (something I had been worried about), and the external who I thought might be tough, was measured and polite. I had slides anticipating some of their questions, and by and large it was a good discussion, although I didn’t agree with all the feedback.

The result – passed with minor revisions.

So yeah, I’m basically there. I have to submit revisions and I should be working on that instead of typing this blog, but I’m hoping to get clearer idea of what I must do from the committee report. Then, it gets approved by my supervisor and the chair and goes to the senate for stamping.

The exam is the hardest part and I have to say that passing is a major relief. Although I had been teaching just a few months ago, I felt out of practice when it came to presenting. I hadn’t been in touch with my own thesis either for ages. But I survived, relatively unscathed.

I must have done something right because after the exam, the examiner I had been worried about alerted me to a job at her ink and pretty much told me I’d be perfect for it. You’d think as a newly minted almost-doctor I’d jump all over being on the inside track to a full time position. But I thought about it, discussed it with V (who was more into the idea than I thought he’d be considering what a mess I’d been during my teaching stint) and decided nah, I’d rather be a sub at this present moment. Being a highly paid minion suits me, and I’ll just have to find some other way to share my ideas than the prestige of academia. Not closing that door, but just sticking with what I’m enjoying right now.

Indian chick lit hall of fame

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I am starting a new series on Indian chick lit authors/books that I love. It was something I thought of doing during my PhD but basically didn’t have the time. Honestly, I don’t know if my love of Indian chick lit has waned or not. Definitely, some authors will stay with me but maybe I overdosed on the genre during my PhD or the books themselves have petered out and become repetitive. Nevertheless, since I am a minefield of information on this topic, I might as well share my hard-won gyan.

How do I define chick lit?

Having read almost all scholarly work written on chick lit up to 2017, I found the most satisfactory definition in an ABC news article by Heather Cabot: “The books feature everyday women in their 20s and 30s navigating their generation’s challenges of balancing demanding careers with personal relationships.”

Thus, chick lit has a few defining features:

  1. The protagonist is an ordinary woman in her 20s or 30s. Some books feature a group of friends as protagonists.
  2. The subject matter of the book primarily concerns this woman’s pursuit of: a) romance b) career. Both have to represented here, though the focus may be on one or the other
  3. A light-hearted tone. This is an addition to Cabot’s description and differentiates chick lit from romance novels, such as the Harlequin or the 80s bonkbuster (think Jackie Collins)

Classic (Western) chick lit

The book that launched the genre was Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, that I basically consider my gospel. There may have been books with the same sort of story before that (e.g. Mariane Keyes’s novels) but Bridget Jones became a popular culture phenomenon. The genre’s sensibility – stories on the lives and times of single women in the city – soon spread across the pond and to television and film. Along with Bridget Jones’s Diary, the holy trinity of chick lit comprises Ally McBeal and the Sex and the City television series. The SATC TV series was predated by a novel of the same name by Candace Bushnell, but it was really the TV series that became the pop culture phenomenon and that inspired in turn popular writing, including Indian chick lit.

How do I define Indian in Indian chick lit?

My PhD thesis covers women of Indian nationality living in India. While the first “Indian” chick lit books were published in the West (e.g. Nisha Minhas’s Chapati and Chips), I believe the concerns in the books written by NRI women and women in India are slightly different. Both have the pressure to get married, but the NRI books stress cultural conflict (coming to India during the groom search process and having a culture shock of sorts) while the novels published in India from 2006 onwards describe more broadly living as single women and building a career in India as well as the romantic shenanigans. The interest in my PhD became how economic liberalisation generated a new type of young Indian woman who is presented in these novels. However, in this series, I will also cover some NRI chick lit books.

The heydey of Indian chick lit

In my thesis, I propose that the golden era of Indian chick lit was from around 2006 to 2015. This was the time when Indian publishes woke up to the potential of locally produced commercial fiction – the period before this was described by one publisher as “before Chetan” – and foreign capital via mergers with the big foreign publishing houses began to flow into India so there was money to invest in these upstarts. Indian chick lit was one of the first- if not the first – Indian commerical writing genre to be succesful.

Indian chick lit – sub-genres

Initially, Indian chick lit novels were somewhat imitative of the Western formula – particularly Sex and the City. However, writers such as Anuja Chauhan have developed a unique writing style and forged something new.

Like the Western novels, Indian chick lit as it matured could be split into sub-genres: career lit (e.g. Nirupama Subramanian’s Keep the Change), mommy lit, divorcee lit and inevitably lad lit (the likes of Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh that seem to have eclipsed the writing by female authors).  A number of writers who cut their teeth in chick lit have moved on – Swati Kaushal has an excellent detective series, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan did a lovely couple of young adult novels and now is on to a mythological series.

Why do I insist on calling it chick lit?

Yes, chick lit sounds disposable. Yes, authors don’t like it. However, it is now the accepted term, and given the droves of fanpages using the term, it has been reclaimed, or at least readers who love the genre have stopped caring that others find it trivial. The Guardian uses the term in its coverage of the genre; it’s a keyword in academia. And frankly, I like how it sounds – writing that’s fun and about women.

What do I plan to do with this series?

I don’t intend this to be an academic discussion, though I might include some insights from my PhD. I don’t intend to do book reviews either. I just intend to share – as I usually do on this blog – what I like/dislike/generally think about books in the genre.

 

 

Oscars frocks

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As ever, I am not as interested in the movies as I am in the clothes. So here are my picks:

Loved

gretagerwig

Greta Gerwig

kellymarietran

Kelly Marie Tran. Weirdly the gaping neckline is not
making me cringe as others have

lauradern

Laura Dern. She’s not a classic beauty but there’s just something about her.
This old school glamour look makes her seem like a classic beauty though.

kellyrippa

Kelly Ripa. Fun, fun, fun.

helen

Helen Mirren. I love that she is giving the young ‘uns a run for their money.

zendaya

Zendaya Coleman. Undecided on whether I wish it wasn’t brown.

andraday

Andra Day. Most of the gowns I loved were fairly traditional.
This though. I had to google who she is.

From the parties

allisonjanney

Allison Janney. Everyone went on about the gown she wore to the main event, but I like this better. I’m a sucker for white shirts though.

allisonwilliams

Allison Williams. Lots of people wore red. This is my fave.

ava

Ava duVernay. Something about the hair and the dress.

galgadot

Gal Gadot. I think I have a girl crush on this one. Aesthetically unrelated, but I recently watched Wonder Woman and after the initial part on the Amazon island, I was not that engaged. The whole helping the Brits win the war left me cold. Maybe I should have watched on big screen.

Popular choices I did not like

meryl

Meryl Streep. It’s red. So? I wish people would stop fawning over her unnecessarily.

nicole

Nicole Kidman. Okay she does look better than she has in ages, dress wise. But I cannot get beyond how thin and pale she is.

Best Boy

tomholland

Tom Holland. Although it’s fashionable to go on about men’s fashion, I normally find it boring, because, well, suits, and the occasional slouchy thing. But this one convinced me a little bit that stuff can be done even with a suit.

Which were your favourites?

Go-to authors

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Note: I might keep updating this post, so if you don’t care to see the updates, just ignore it if it pops up on your reader.

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys, which is basically about high frequency trading on the stock exchanges. I highly reccommend this book if you want to understand some of the terms that are bandied about in relation to the stock market, such as HFT and algorithms. And if you want to understand what went down in the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short, which is now a movie, is the go-to book. Lewis has a way of laying out these complicated topics in a way that is engaging, but also lucidly explanatory. The interesting thing about the HFT development is not so much that essentially they thrive on unfair access to market information, with several big banks colluding, not how not transparent the market is, more so since the 2008 financial crisis, not even that they thrive on speed, but that while our common perception is that the stock market has become a virtual mumbo jumbo of computers and formulae – in effect, virtual – it turns out that to achieve this, they had to go back to basics. To wires and cabes and switches and digging trenches in the ground to achieve those extra microseconds that would give them the market advantage. That even the virtual comes down to what the poet Gertrude Stein called, the thingness of things.

And that while we nowadays think of Wall Street as full of big bad wolves, in this jungle, there are some outliers and sometimes even the big banks can become forces for good. Heh. It strikes me now that even the last book, The Big Short, was about mavericks who had some sort of moral fibre mixed in with the moneymaking.

After finishing Flash Boys, I began to think about how Michael Lewis was now an author whose work I would read just because it is written by him and bound to be good. And I thought about which other authors have this status in my book. For example, as much as I love Pride and Prejudice and count it among my favourite books, I have never been able to read another Austen novel – though I am determined to persist with Sense and Sensibility. Here is my list of authors whose work I pick up on spec:

  1. Salman Rushdie: I have read almost everything by Salman Rushdie and enjoyed almost everything except East/West *(non-fiction), Fury, and the Ground Beneath Her Feet (which I ditched halfway through and must return to someday). The lesson from the two I didn’t read is that I prefer his novels that are primarily set in India and do the magical realism thing.
  2. Anuja Chauhan: Chick Lit writer extraordinaire and never fails to disappoint. I have reread her novels with satisfaction and basically she features heavily in my PhD so no surprise there.
  3. Helen Fielding: Well, Bridget Jones’s Diaray is my gospel, so. But I even liked that Olivia Joules novel that noone else did. And I want to buy it. When I have bookshelf enough and time.
  4. Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan: This one is a surprise to even me (though she too features heavily in my PhD) but I have enjoyed everything she writes and will buy anything new she comes out with. I surprisingly loved even the YA book.
  5. Allison Weir: I read these fictionalised Tudor histories (she is a historian so she is drawing on propositions in Tudor scholarship and tend to be grounded in fact).
  6. Sophie Kinsella: Admittedly, even the Shopaholic series is beginning to annoy me now (Becky really needs to show some growth) but I’d wager I’d still pick up anything by her. Though I’m uninterested in her Madeleine Wickham stuff.
  7. JK Rowling: I even loved the Casual Vacancy and her detective series under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym. I draw the line at all the Beedle and Bard spin-off stuff though.
  8. Michael Cunningham: I have read two of his novels – The Hours (which counts as one of my favourites of all time, as well as the movie) and By Nightfall (which I borrowed in lieu of something else by him that was recommended and that I couldn’t find, and which I ended up loving) – and I’m pretty sure I’d love anything else by him, though I have not actually gone out looking for it.
  9. Rainbow Rowell: I wrote about her here.

Authors I will read only a specific series of:

  1. Indu Sundaresan: Any of her history books. Similarly, I loved Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions but I don’t feel inspired to pick up any of her other books.
  2. Janet Evanovich: The Stephanie Plum series. Even when they get repetitive, I will follow this one through to the end. But I’ve tried and failed to get engaged in the other series.
  3. Hilary Mantel: The Cromwell Trilogy. Although it is obvious she’s a very fine writer, I don’t feel particularly desirous of reading her other stuff. Though I might.
  4. Patricia Cornwell: Kay Scarpetta series. I have tried the others and they failed to captivate me. Even the Scarpetta series has gone tired, but I am still caught up with the characters.

Who are your go-to authors?

 

Elena

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When I read Elena Ferrante’s novels, I feel like my nerves are on edge, like I’m in a world of complicity, that they are – through strangers in a strange land – saying what I feel, telling my story. For the one and a half day or so it takes me to inhale the novel, I am in a fog, emerging only reluctantly to the ‘real’ world. V senses this, maybe I get a certain look, and he gets angsty. This too mirrors the world of the novels.

I was predisposed to like Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Books about the strong bond between two girls – it sounds quotidian like this, but I know from experience that it is always more – sign me up.

But it was The Story of a New Name – which ironically is the story of an old name, the names that both girls keep – that really swallowed me. My Brilliant Friend seems almost like backstory, the childhood of poverty and the family and neighbourhood connections that made these women who they are. I did not love the writing, which I suspected would be better in the original Italian. There were powerful sentiments in that novel and the writing conveyed it, despite itself.

[spoilers alert]

The Story of a New Name yanked me in from the start. I’m glad it began where My Brilliant Friend ended – at Lila’s wedding. As we learn what happened to her in excruciating detail, I have flashbacks of my own. No, I was not beaten bloody on my wedding night, but I did have a similar sense of disconnection, this idea that the one one had chosen for stability, for being different, after a heady and charmed courtship that only soured towards the date, was more of the same and the only way to cope, was to detach emotionally if not physically.

Which one am I? is the obvious question, the question a female reader would ask, a tradition at least as long as Little Women, a book Lila and Lena too discovered and that triggered their ambition to write themselves to a better place. The two girls are distinct and yet their names lend themselves to blurring. Lila is Lila only to Lena; she is Lina to everyone else, just as Lena is Lenu.

I identify with Lila’s cold rages more than Lenu’s self doubt. But overall, I’d say I’d identify with Lenu, the bookish wallflower who slowly discovers her place in the world. I’m not sure I had a longstanding Lila. I did have one friend who would qualify in terms of both looks and impetuosity if not intelligence (Lila is a prodigy). In a sense, it is both their intelligence and their emotional complexity that defines the two girls.

In the matter of love, I am more Lila. Lenu stays with and makes out (for want of a better word since they significantly did not have sex) with Antonio although she considers him her inferior. She likes and is attracted to him but balks at committing to him forever. Been there done that.

But Lenu has her sights on the cultivated, intellectual type symbolised by Nino, and it has always puzzled me how I do not share this attraction. From early on, I saw Nino for the self/absorbed brooding intellectual male that he is and hoped Lenu would not pursue him. I was almost relieved that he met his match in Lila, though I empathised (somewhat) with Lenu. Why she didn’t just tell Lila early on or even a bit later what her feelings were is one of my frustrations with her, but I guess that’s how people are. They don’t always do the logical thing and sometimes the face-saving gesture turns into quicksand. But apart from disliking the arrogance and essential selfishness of the intellectual male type, I’m also rarely attracted to that type at a baser sexual level. It’s like a mind body split with me. Or maybe at some level I’m just scared of a competition I will lose and prefer to be the admiree not the admirer in love?

Like Lila in her choice of Stefano, I tend to choose the classically masculine and seemingly safe type. That this safety does not always last is probably part of the package and our (Lila and my) outsized drama at its crumbling is also of a piece.

I am all about female friendships and yet I have only once had that kind of intense singular bond with a woman. Maybe the intensity of it is why I have usually deflect the possibility of such relationships with women, because the potential heartbreak so much more searing.

The thing that set me apart from these characters is of course their poverty. The book makes the reader identify with Lenu and so with her struggles to make it through the upper middle class milieu or academia. Her realisation is of lacking what Pierre Bourdieu called the cultural capital of the middle class; her experience is akin to that described by Dalit students in India, the feeling that no matter how hard you try, you lack something undefinable that is essential to success. Ironically, the reader would have to be of the privileged class, just to be reading the book.

This book engulfed me so totally that having digested and spat me out, my nerves tingling, I’m actually holding back from reading the next one. For one day at least.

Race day

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My kids had their school sports day today. There had been no school for nearly month before this due the flu raging in Hong Kong. My two had just finished bouts of flu before the government ordered the school closure so I was like hmph, but in a way, I was glad that they would be away from the chance of relapsing and the holiday sped by without much intervention from me (I didn’t bother organising playdates or arranging activities, and in fact I was ill over the Chinese New Year break and then V the week after me, so even some weekends were blah). Thankfully, the kids entertain themselves, there were other kids at a loose end, and I guess they’d rather be hanging out at home than at school overall. It made me think that homeschooling could be a thing for us – if I had the energy for it.

Anyway, a week before school was due to start, we began waking up to the prospect of sports day, and by we, I mean Nene. To add to the fact that he is sporty and competitive by nature, there is the prospect of medals i.e. shiny things. Silver! G.O.L.D! (he is convinced they are ‘real’ and I don’t have the heart or rather the energy to convince him otherwise). He informed me that he was not the fastest in his year, but third I tried to tell him that he should do his best and that’s what mattered, but he shrugged me off.

Then, we were in the park on the weekend, and we saw a kid jogging, and I explained to Nene that although he makes fun of me jogging (“so slow, mom!), to win races you had to build up your strength by going slow many many times. So he did a round of the park and realised that it was hard, and then he realised that maybe if he wanted to win, he had to practice. Though we probably should have done this earlier.

Leading up to the sports day, it was all he could talk about and I began to think I should manage his expectations. Mimi, throughout all this, was blithely unconcerned. She was roused briefly to running around the track with Nene, but is honestly so slow that I wonder if she has problems breathing. “There are some people who can’t run fast, you know,” V said to me, but I no, I don’t know. Everyone in my family is athletic – my parents, my husband, my sister, me, my sister’s daughter, my two sisters-in-law and my sister-in-law’s daughter, though come to think of it, Mimi might have a companion in my eldest niece. Like loving animals, being sporty is not something I thought my kids wouldn’t be.) I’m not naturally athletic either – but my parents enrolled me in athletics training with my sister to build up my strength since I kept falling sick and the fact that I’m naturally stubborn, especially about things that my sister did, that it grew on me. I also think that it’s important for girls to be sporty, because when they’re adolescents they can take pride in their bodies in a different way – in how their body moves and feels, and not how it looks. That said, I don’t have it in me to force Mimi into sports classes where she would be forced to exercise, because… I’m lazy.

Anyway, so sports day. Last year, it was just different house games for the Year 1s. This year Nene would have proper races. I was nervous for Nene because I knew how much he wanted to win. In the heats, he came first and second in the hurdles and sprint respectively. Then there was a surprise event – the 400 m – and to my surprise, he came second and got a silver medal. Having broken his arm and had the flu, he wasn’t up to is optimum strength and having watched him run the 60m races, I didn’t think he’d have the strength for the full round. I counseled him to stick to the inner track, not to push himself in the beginning and to pump his arms if he got tired at the end – yes, this is a mum who has run track events talking. He was great in teh event, I think he followed my advice and hung back, but it was his long strides that convinced me that this might be his event. In the sprint event finals he struggled, but he got a bronze in the hurdles, which was good enough for me.

Before the final sprint, he said – I’ve got bronze, I’ve got silver, I have to get gold. But in that race, he didn’t even place. I was pleasantly surprised that he swallowed his disappointment, at least for a while. For someone who insisted he wanted to win, when he didn’t he handled it, he talked over it, even though he did snap at a little girl who said “I got gold in everything”.

There were kids who were really good, I could see that. And then, most of the kids, didn’t really win anything. The same few kids dominated the races, and I was fortunate to be the parent of one of them. After the first race, I had to tell Nene to play down his victories in consideration of his friends, though he didn’t entirely succeed. And then there was Nene’s bestie who came up to him and said, “Nene, I’m cheering for you, okay?”

Mimi’s class didn’t have races but collective activities that she was frankly bored with. I bought her a toy at the concession stand that amused her. And I was the bad mum, who got my kids McDonald’s as a snack as I could see that they were starving.

Sitting under the bright blue sky, watching small humans in colourful t-shirts zip past me, this was one of the happy days. Watching my son do well on the field, part of the pleasure of that was reliving my own glory days (Sports Day was the high point in the school calendar for me, even though I actually never won anything. I always qualified for the finals, and at best may have got a bronze. But my sister always came home with medals, and I loved the excitement of it all. I’m a good spectator). But more of it is a pleasure I only discovered with kids – experiencing things through them, the pureness of their excitement and joy, the trust of a small boy’s hand in yours as you help him find his water bottle since his mum is not here, the beam from your daughter when you are spotted, the chants of support, the little kindnesses (amid the ever-present penchant for meanness), a group of older kids who went back and almost carried a classmate to the finish line, the differently abled kids loping to the finishing line helped by their parents. Being immersed in this world of small people, it is a pleasure I never imagined.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice dreams

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I’m currently obsessed with the figure skating at the Olympics. Thankfully, I’m now sorted with a local app on which which I can watch the event on my phone. Not ideal, but at least I can catch up on all the competitions, and the commentary is in English and good too boot.

I’ve managed to get the kids, especially Nene, interested too. Maybe it’s because Nene actually took the ice fairly easily the one time we tried it, as opposed to Mimi who fell over a few times but persisted, and me who clung to the side of the rink and am determined never to repeat the experience.

Like diving and gymnastics, I love figure skating because it’s both athletic and aesthetic. It takes huge strength and skill to do the kids of jumps and lifts that figure skaters do, and to look graceful while at it. Having experienced firsthand how treacherous the ice is, the thought of people leaping up, twirling three times, then falling over and getting up and attempting another jump, leave alone lifting another human being and holding them in the air with just their hands, astounds me.

I’m not an expert by any means and trying to read up on the jumps has only somewhat enlightened me, but I have my favourite performances.

There is of course the masterful Yuzuru Hanyu, only the first male skater since 1952 to win back-to-back Olympic golds. There was Nathan Chen’s six quads (rotating in the air four times) in one routine feat. There was Mirai Nagasu, who made American history with her triple axle. Jumps, especially, quads have become the focus of the figure skating, and the ticket to winning medals.

This was evident in the women’s competition, with its head to head rivalry between Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, so that the rest of the field basically has to compete for bronze. Alina is known for her jumps, Evgenia for her grace. In the end, Alina edged out Evgenia by a hair, probably on the strength of her jumps which were backloaded into her programme to earn her bonus points. She got flak for that, but it takes strength to land jump after jump perfectly at the end of a programme when you are tired. In the short skate, Evgenia broke her own world record, only to be bested by Alina five minutes later by a mere 1.31 points. Those points proved crucial, because in the free skate the two women tied, basically giving Alina, at 15 years old, an Olympic gold. It was a heartbreaking moment for Evegnia, who was until recently the unbeaten world champion. Although Alina gets criticized for being basically a jumper – an astounding one – when I first saw a version of her winning routine in the team competition, I was gobsmacked and thought she was indeed slightly better than Evgenia. Overall, though, I’m Team Evgenia, and I’ve been fangirling on instagram ever since the women’s competition ended.

In the pairs, there were the amazing Shibutani siblings who I am convinced deserved gold just for their amazing twirling. Though Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were stunning too, and speak to my conviction that Moonlight Sonata should be the go to music of choice for anyone in doubt. Gabrielle had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction in the short skate, that could have cost them the gold. I’ve always wondered at how skimpy the women’s costumes are compared to the men, and while there’s an argument made for them looking pretty, I’ve seen full sleeved and even some leggings and they look amazing too. I’ve also been thinking about the inherent heterosexism in the pairs routine, the routines are predicated on romantic love. I’ve been wondering whether we might ever see two men or two women in the pairs. I’m sure men can do lifts with other men – there’s actually a Yuhuru Hanzu video fooling around with another male player, but would women’s only pairs work. It would be great to see.

Winners aside, my favourite performance of the whole competition, the one that made me gasp and hold my breath in equal measure for its sheer artistry was Adam Rippon‘s free skate routine in which he pretty much became a bird. Another memorable performance was Ivett Toth’s goth routine – never thought I’d hear AC/DC at a competition at that level.

Can’t believe I’ll have to wait four more years for this. In the meantime, there’s this Yuzuru Hanyu/Shoma Uno tumblr.

 

 

 

Non-negotiables

  1. That colonialism was evil. There seems to be some resurgence of a need to propose that there might have been some good in colonialism after all. Sorry but no. Accidently, the odd good thing might have happened. But that is no justification.
  2. The Holocaust happened and was horrific.
  3. The atom bomb was inexcusable. (even if, you know, the war would have gone on and the bad guys may have won, so it’s okay that we condemn generations of them to cancer).
  4. The caste system is wrong (no, it was not just assigning people to different occupations. Please.)
  5. That slavery was a blight on human history (No, African-Americans should not get over it).
  6. People have the right to body autonomy at the very least.