Thursday, July 30, 2009


This is true. Admit it.

...And That Night, My Arteries Wept

Before I went to the dentist, Ate took me to Mongolian Quick Stop in Festival Mall, where I filled my bowl with rice, noodles, lettuce, cabbage, bean sprouts, red bell peppers, and carrots. Then I handed it over to Meat Lady, who dutifully added squid, chicken, beef, and Unidentified Sea Product. Finally, Sauce Guy read my mind ("Spicy, mam?") and topped the overflowing bowl with spicy goodness before handing it to the Grill Man who would ensure that I did not get salmonella from eating raw foodstuff. Here's a picture of the finished product. It always gets smaller after it's cooked, which is why we all make sure the contents of our bowls resemble a small mountain before passing it on for grilling/frying.

I then went to the dentist's office, and almost stormed out of there after being made to wait for an hour and a half ("Mam, naipit siya eh." Hah!!! Although, must remember to be like my dentist's assistants and use the phrase "lunch meeting" more often, as it sounds like a legitimate excuse.). It's not a good sign when the assistant is frantically whispering on the phone: "Yes, sir, it was a 1:30 appointment," and it's already almost 2 pm. Anyway, long story short, I waited a little more, got my teeth cleaned and two "incipient" cavities filled. The dentist said, "Nicole, you have great teeth!" and all was forgiven. Hey, the whole shebang only cost US$70! Last time, Harvard Dental gave me a special discount package of $175 (plus tax), and that didn't include the fillings! Yowwwwch.

After I got home, I hopped on my bike to get some dried mangoes for my Japanese colleague K, who says "Mangoes!" every time I say, "Philippines." I believe it's a conditioned response from when she spent time here. As always, the little grocery store near the park was full of mommys and yayas and their charges. I had a brief "uh-oh" moment when I realized that I didn't have a bike chain, then I remembered where I was and I just parked my lovely pink transportation near some kids. Naturally, it was still outside when I finished buying.

Then I wandered over to the church. Here's St. James Parish. Someday I and all my siblings will be married there.

Ha! Ha! Ha!!!

In the evening, I had a craving for dinuguan, so Ate took me to Kanin Club at Westgate. We ordered crispy dinuguan (a speciality), garlic rice, lumpiang hubad, and turon. I had bottomless lemon iced tea with the food, and Ate had ripe mango shake. I attacked the lumpia first, with the vague notion that vegetables must be destroyed instantly. And then I bit into the crispy dinuguan. It was yummy. It was deep fried pork in blood. It was like eating sin. I had a second helping, at which point my arteries began crying softly. I ignored them and soldiered on. And then, when I finished, I had the turon, which had saba, ube and langka inside a crepe-like wrap that was itself coated with melted brown sugar. While I was eating the turon, the singing of my soul overcame the weeping of my arteries.

We took whatever we couldn't finish home with us. Ate remembered that she wanted to give me some Filipiniana outfits, so here I am modeling the one that DOESN'T make me look like the victim of an attack by mutant flowers and butterflies.

Gosh, look how thin I am. It must be the lack of beer from the past two months. No fears, I will be back to being pleasantly plump after I get back. Wow, how repetitive. Also redundant. All the fat from dinner must be constricting the blood flow to my brain already... can't... type...


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Book Review: The Devil and Miss Prym

To my delight, my sisters have a collection of Coelho books. On my last visit here, I read The Alchemist, which was a thoughtful little tale of a young man's search for treasure. I especially like the part when he was in the desert and meets the alchemist.

I like reading Coelho's introductions. In The Devil and Miss Prym, he tells readers about the Persian myth of the birth of good and evil, and also recounts Adam and Eve's fall. Coelho says that he believes that profound decisions and their corresponding consequences take place within a short time frame, and so the events in this book, as in the previous two, occur within one week. Or did Coelho also anticipate the ADD of today's youth? Perhaps... Anyhoo, The Devil and Miss Prym, according to the author, is the third part of a three-part series, the first of which is By The River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept, which I reviewed earlier. Now I must find the middle book, Veronika Decides to Die.

Here's the plot of this book: a man with a giant chip on his shoulder ("the devil"), owing to a personal tragedy, comes into Miss Prym's village, intent on conducting a social experiment to prove his belief that humanity is basically evil. The stranger wants the country folk to commit a murder in exchange for the ten gold bars that he brought with him. Miss Prym, who initially believes in the goodness of her people, becomes the mouthpiece for his scheme after he invites her into the forest to show her where he buried one gold bar. Berta, an old widow who still speaks with her dead husband, becomes at once irrelevant and instrumental to the stranger's plans, and to Miss Prym (Chantal)'s ambitions and growing self-awareness. Miss Prym, of course, is agonized by her fear and her desire; on the one hand, she wants to take the gold for herself (only she knows the location of the one gold bar that the stranger showed her), but on the other hand, that would be stealing, and would have both moral and practical consequences.

It's a simple plot, but Coelho's narration and his characters' dialogues create a layered story that portrays a number of dichotomies: good and evil, saints and villains, angels and devils, and faith and despair. Coelho also uses the theme of vengeance to highlight the human tendency to confuse payback with justice. There's also a great story-within-a-story, as both Berta and Miss Prym describe the history of the village, which involved a saint converting a ruthless bandit. Interestingly, this bandit does not support the church, and instead commands an annual Day of Atonement, where everyone privately reads out loud from two lists: the first is a list of sins committed against God, and the second, a list of sins committed by God against that person. Afterwards, the individual and God call it even. This is unilateral, I'm almost sure.

Of all the characters, I like Berta best. She's wise and wily, and utterly convinced that her dead husband is still with her, which, in the book, he is -- he warns her of the coming danger, and tries to make her run away when the villagers come to take her. Miss Prym, or Chantal, is likeable because she's intelligent and can interpret her angel's "symbols" in a very realistic way (e.g., if all the villagers get the ten bars of gold, the authorities would be suspicious and ask for the ownership papers, etc). Meanwhile, despite his tragedy, the stranger comes across as cold rather than sympathetic, likely because Coelho presents him in an almost clinical manner. The stranger is really just the instigator for Chantal's awakening.

All in all, a good read, because you're always kept guessing about what the characters would do, and whether, in the end, good triumphs over evil, as we hope.

Two Days Later...

Yesterday we ran errands -- I had to get a bunch of bilins (note to self: never say, "I'm going to Manila, do you want anything?") -- and we also had to grab some booze for the evening.

We had lunch at North Park, a chain restaurant known for its delicious noodles. We shared a Century Egg and Seaweed Salad, and I had the Wonton Noodle Soup with Hong Kong Noodles, plus some siomai. My god, I have eaten more pork in the few days I've been here than an entire year in the U.S. If swine were indeed filthy and possessed by demons as some religious texts say, I would be doing an Exorcist impression and projectile vomiting on the cat right about now. Happily, this has yet to occur. Anyway, to top it off, I ate halo-halo, which is a dessert with crushed ice and condensed milk, with native beans, a dollop of ube, and, of all things, corn flakes.

Later on my old high school buddies came and we stayed up drinking and chatting until whatever hour the birds start chirping. It's now 9 pm and I just woke up. No, no, kidding, I woke up at 1 pm and had a productive day. I took my newly cleaned and repaired bicycle around the village! And what a pretty village it is: tree lined, full of birdies, and breezy. You know you're in the lap of luxury when your streets don't have bike lanes; they have bike/golf cart lanes. I had borrowed my sister's iPod Shuffle for the ride, and I clipped it on my shirt so that it looked like I was grabbing my boob every time I changed songs. You know, you gotta give 'em something...

Just came home from watching The Proposal, which was a "meh" movie with some funny bits thrown in, like Sandra Bullock shaking it in the middle of a forest to "Get Low" by Lil Jon. Ha! Ha! Ha! My advice: just get the DVD, or whatever the extralegal equivalent is in your part of the world.

I end this post with a challenge: come up with a caption for the picture below. Mine is: "AAAAH IT'S COMING CLOSER!!!"

You can definitely do better than that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

27 on the 27th!


I woke to the sun streaming through my windows, banishing my fears of a thunderstorm that would cancel our trip to Lago de Oro, a place in Calatagan that my sisters had been chirping about since I got back. Here's Priscilla helping me pack by double-checking the contents of my handbag.

It took us a couple of hours to get to the place, and we all had to rush to the bathroom as soon as we stepped out of the car. The girl bathroom featured this sign, which sent me hunting for "foreign matters" the whole day.

Here's my birthday pizza. It had a super thin crust and had the yummiest cheese EVER. I had two beers with my slices, but only out of necessity -- a fly had landed in my first glass, and it was too drunk to get out on its own, so I had to get a whole new glass. I got a complementary iced tea as well, which Ate Au promptly chugged.

After eating, we trooped to Lago de Oro's main attraction: wakeboarding! Here's Ate Raine:

Ate Au and I are wussies, so we only did the "kneelboarding," where you kneel down on the board, pull the strap across your thighs, and hold on to the cord for dear life. On my first try, I got all the way to the first corner before the line suddenly snapped taut and the handle flew out of my hands, leaving me to sink to the muddy bottom. Fortunately, for the uncoordinated, there is a modified tractor that ferries you ever so slooooowly around the man-made pond back to the launching site. The boy who drives the tractor is full of helpful advice: "Next time, mam, kelangan diinan mo, etc etc." How to tell him that my triceps are completely unused to exercise, and it was a birthday miracle that I didn't drown on my first try?

We eventually finished, showered, and went to Tagaytay for dinner at Josephine's. This restaurant has a magnificent view of Taal Lake, but I had eyes only for the food: kilawing talaba, chicharong bulaklak, kare-kare, fired kangkong, and lechon kawali. We topped it off with a cappuccino cheesecake.

On the ride back home, we discussed the book "Who Moved My Cheese?" and I asked what exactly "Cheese" was supposed to be. It turns out that it's something that you pursue that makes you happy (or you think makes you happy). For example, for some people, it's their career, or their personal relationships. So they spend time running around looking for it, and when they find it, they get a sense of entitlement and become unable to adjust when the Cheese is gone (in the story, it gets eaten up). When my sisters asked me what my cheese was, I said, "Laughing Cow." Sadly, they were too engrossed in the conversation to notice my lame joke, which was an attempt to cover up the fact that I have no cheese. Boo hoo hoo. Something I pursue that makes me happy? Er?

Anyway, I like the question posed in the book: What would you do if you weren't afraid?

Right now, I'd stalk Jude Law.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

This is the story of Pilar, who has her sights set on the usual things -- marriage, a career -- only to have her childhood friend come back into her life and disrupt her plans, her preconceptions, and her goals. Pilar spends most of the book fighting against her emerging (re-emerging?) love for her nameless friend, and she only grows when she finally surrenders to her heart.

Throughout the story, Coelho draws parallels between human love and the Immaculate Conception -- Mama Mary submitted to the Lord despite knowing the persecution and fear and pain that she would suffer; and in the same way, those who love submit to it despite the possibility of rejection and loss.

Coelho also introduces readers to "the feminine aspect of God," which I interpreted as the life-giving and forgiving force in nature. Through one of his characters, the author distinguishes between the religious life and the spiritual life. He makes the point that all the major religions continue to be controlled by men. Perhaps the author is suggesting that the spiritual life, being more private and personal and individualized, is the one more likely to experience the miraculous and the divine? Is this where the "feminine" aspect comes in?

In any case, I concluded the following from Coelho's book: God is everywhere, She is in everyone and everything, and we don't need rituals to know Her grace; all we need is to be open and to listen to Her message, which comes to us always, from everywhere. I remember being taught this as a child: that in the silence of our hearts, we can speak with God. Coelho adds to that, and says: delight in the everyday, because in every moment God is with us. Like Pilar, we must accept love when it comes to us, even when we are fearful of losing it.

My favorite sentence in the book: "All love stories are the same." Because God is love. Amen.

A Visit to Lola and the Hairdresser (Not at the Same Time)

Today is Sunday, so it was time to visit Lola in Quezon City. She very thoughtfully made a little sign for me, and here I am posing beside it. For future reference, this is my "touched" face.

Lola had her little minions prepare a spread for us. We had two plates of lumpia (instantly demolished), veggie soup, pakbet, boiled saba, adobo, and chicken. Dessert was ice cream and the ube cake that Ate Au and I bought at Red Ribbon... because everything tastes better with a red ribbon. Even flip-flops.

Here's a picture of me with my two sisters (flanking me), and my cousins. After eating, these boys busted out the chess board. I ran away in fright (noooo! Anything but STRATEGY!!!!).

Picture of me with Lola, who turns 88 this year. She remembers all our birthdays. I believe she also dropped hints about becoming a great-grandma, but it was directed at my little brother, proud carrier of the family name. As a girl, I don't count. I did offer to find a husband who would take our family name, but lola said that the poor man then wouldn't get his inheritance. Er? Inheritance? Do I get one of those? Please?

*** QUOTE OF THE DAY: "When in Rome, be a Roman. When in Bangladesh, be Indian." ***

It rained SUPER HARD when we were there. We had to shout to have conversations. If I were to employ pathetic fallacy, I would say that God wept with me as I bit into my first ube cake in two years. Yes, in my heart, I cried THAT hard with joy as the flavor of a purple ground root baked into fluffy goodness exploded on my tongue. I heart ube.

I had one more adventure left: a haircut. I hate having long hair, plus I was getting split ends. Here's me now. Ate Au took me to her Korean hairdresser in Festival Mall. The hairdresser is so awesome that she had her own little minion who could vaguely speak Korean. Anyway, I was hoping to look like a Korean pop star, but ended up as a Japanese man. Oh well, close enough.

I ended the evening by watching Transformers and losing 50 IQ points. Megan Fox is boses ipis; I never noticed that before. Fortunately, we went into the theater with super low expectations, so we ended up enjoying it. Well, we didn't enjoy it so much as we didn't find it repulsive/boring/annoying enough that we had to leave. I am now firmly convinced that the U.S. military is fully capable of defending us from alien robot invaders. In the meantime, I suppose we can just keep shooting and bombing each other.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Manila: Day 2

Spent most of the day sleeping to recover from the past month of working from 8 am to 1 am. After I shclepped out of bed for my breakfast of fried pork links, I thought to myself, Ah, what a great country. Rice, meat, and not a vegetable in sight. I then went straight back to bed and only got up at dusk, like a proper vampire.

Here's a picture of Priscilla, the little kitten I adopted (stole from her mother) back in '07. Thanks to Ate Raine's obsessive mothering, she's now enormous and sleek. She's also hostile, I can't imagine why. It surely couldn't have anything to do with being deprived of her true mother at the tender age of two weeks. Anyway, unlike Sheba, she is totally NOT into me, or any human for that matter.

The highlight of the evening was The Tres Marias Hula Hoop Extravaganza. All three of us obibahito bone (Bangla = unmarried sisters) made our very best attempt at mastering this noble art. As you can see from the video below, Shakira we are NOT.

Anyone else notice the cat running away when I started gyrating?

But don't worry; we will persevere! Every day we will hula hoop our little hearts out. I recommend this activity to anyone who's feeling down, because it's impossible to take anything seriously when you're doing your very best impression of that dancing Coke can from the nineties. Also, you're gonna work up a sweat from all the manic wiggling and howling with laughter.

I end this post with a picture of this child I also "adopted" -- no, I kid, I kid, this is Carmen's nine-month-old baby, nicknamed Tikay. Awwwwwwww

Friday, July 24, 2009


Made it back home! No misadventures to report, although I was a veritable wellspring of inappropriate creativity during the waiting periods. Only the lucky ones will get to view the finished product.

Here's picture of me and Ate Raine after I got back. I wore a kameez and an orna so people would be so weirded out by me that they wouldn't get friendly. It worked!!! Or was it my face?

I had an extremely productive day where I got some pesos, tinkered with my iPhone (OMG they have SIM cards in there! I thought it all ran on magic!), got my zits zapped, and watched the latest Harry Potter. An excellent start to a long-overdue break.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rickshaw: The Wobbly Ride of Death

Here's a video of what I go through every time I take the rickshaw:

I tried to keep the camera steady, but it wasn't possible.

FYI - this is the road from school to home.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Total Eclipse of the Heart

I encourage all fans of Ellen and the delectable Josh Groban to watch this awesome duet. I think watching this just cured my diarrhea.

Whoops... TMI?

Monday Madness

After a whole day of being crushed under the sandal heels of the bosses, I returned home to find all the furniture upside down and my roommate and her friend busily plugging all the carpenter ant holes in the wood with some cancer-inducing substance. After making sure the kitty was safely out of the way in a kind family's apartment, we finished killing ants and I went for a run, as a group trooped up the stairs to watch the "Batman fruit bats, they're THIS BIG!" I saw the flying rodents and I was not impressed by their size. Afterwards I had to reassemble my bed plus mosquito net stand, cleaned the whole apartment, had leftovers, had diarrhea, had tea, and grabbed kitty back. He's been playing with the stuffed cat, Jiji. Just watch the video below and imagine him doing it for a whole hour. I love this kitten.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Abs & Ants: A Treatise


The prevalence of abdominal muscles can serve as a measure of national development, which for the purposes of this blog post will be defined as a country's ability to provide for the social needs of its citizens, including education, healthcare, housing, and so on. The ubiquity of these muscles, or abs, is inversely proportional to national development. Thus, Bangladesh has a low level of national development, given the fact that a large proportion of its male population has six packs.

It must be noted that abs can be used as an indicator only if they come as a result of manual labor. In Bangladesh, the rickshaw drivers represent the majority of the so-called Ab Group (cf. Dr. Santa Maria, Abs is Fabs, 2008). The amount of physical force necessary to propel an unoccupied rickshaw up an incline is considerable; more so the strength required to ferry a maximum of three passengers, or six sacks of grain products, around the city under the hot sun.

Strangely, the generally mild attitude of rickshaw drivers stand in marked contrast to their counterparts in developed nations -- the taxi drivers -- who are usually surly and/or chatty. In any case, the physical characteristics of the Ab Group clearly demonstrate the inverse relationship between abs and national development.

As with abs, the health of the ant population stands inversely proportional to the level of national development. The existence of a variety of ant types, coupled with the sheer number of ant nests in typical households, indicate the inadequacy of Bangladesh's social structure, as well as the yielding quality of its wood products. Similarly, the number of ant bites that one experiences at night in one's own bed makes it clear that Bangladesh, as a nation, is still in the early stages of development.

Bangladesh (from "bangla," their language, and "desh," meaning country) has only been in existence since 1971. To make an analogy appropriate to the patriarchal structure of its society, Bangladesh is the awkward, dowry-less and therefore unattractive little cousin of India. Its status may change in the future, but in the meantime let's enjoy the abs and revile the ants.

Cat vs cat

Shannon gave me a stuffed cat (Jiji from Majo no takyuubin) that now serves as Disco's playmate slash biting bag. Funnily, they're roughly the same size. I usually toss Jiji at Disco to keep him occupied with biting and kicking for half an hour. The purpose of this exercise is to train Disco to become a good mouser, once he finally becomes bigger than the rats here. Currently the rats would laugh him out of their hole. Maybe in a few months...

A Short Poem for Fuchska

Fuchska, my fuchska
Brimming with shredded boiled egg,
Chickpeas, and mandatory onions
Mahal na mahal kita.

You are crunchy like a taco
But lacking the juices from dead cow,
You compensate with spicy tamarind sauce
Anchalap mo.

Fuchska (sp?) is Bangladesh's secret. Heck, it may be a Chittagong thing. But if you Google it, you won't find it! You'll get some Eastern European thing! So you must come here to eat it. Come onnnnn, Bangladesh is funnnn...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Carpenter ants woke me up

Woke up at 7 am today because, apart from Disco chomping on my fingers, carpenter ants were also joining in the biting fun. I yelped, hopped out of bed, washed my sheets, and prepared for a busy Saturday.

Here are a couple shots of me attempting to play tennis at the Chittagong Club. I look so thin! Black is slimming! (Or, as the print ads around here claim, "sliming.")

I also took a short dip in the green swimming pool. Since I had no swimsuit, I just hopped in wearing a sports bra and my Vickies. Hah! Who can tell the difference here?

The activities were followed by lunch (the longest lunch of my life, as usual), and then I went to Central Plaza to get a couple blouses tailor-made, and finally off to Alvira's for my weekly facial.

Then I incurred some divine wrath or something, because Disco decided to (a) stink up my room, and (b) poop on my lovely new foot rug in the bathroom. And then we had a disastrous dinner at a new restaurant that opened up next door -- we tried to explain that we were ordering one dish "for all of us," and what they heard was "four." So we got four chicken kabobs. Er? And to top off the evening, I had to make more binders, which meant more photocopying. It is now 1:30 am and I just spent the last two hours fighting with the xerox machine.

This made me think of a comment one of the expats made about finished goods here in BD: "Everything is good enough." Say you ordered 25 items, and 1 is flawed, that's good enough -- for the locals, at least. But the people from developed nations see it differently. They want everything exactly the way they want them. Well, after my heroic struggle with the photocopier, I realized that with the lack of resources here, it is good enough. I just spent two hours copying at least a hundred sheets of paper on a machine that kept getting jammed and telling me it needed maintenance, and I will definitely turn a deaf ear to whoever whines about the two pages with ink smears on them.

It's a numbing experience. Boy, what a Saturday.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Suck at Life

Paraphrased from

To suck at life means:

1. (v.) To fail at every attempt to contribute to society, or any attempts at talent.
2. (n.) A phrase used when someone does something terribly wrong that frustrates another.
3. (adj.) To be naturally unlucky. To suffer constant misfortune.
4. (v.) To make a decision which seems to be innocent, but actually leads to undesired consequences and often catastrophic misfortune.
5. (n.) To be completely without people skills.
6. (n.) Totally lacking in every single aspect of life.
7. (n.) To be completely oblivious to the actions, thoughts, and behavior of others as well as themselves.

I think I'm numbers 1, 2, and 3. What about you?

The Joys of Pet Ownership

I named my kitten after I gave him his first bath in the guest bathroom sink. As I held his tiny wet shivering body under the forearms, I had an epiphany that I then spoke out loud: "I shall name him Disco."

Disco has a streak of pink on his left side that we have decided is paint and not, in fact, ring worm. Two ringworm experts (=they've had ringworm before) judged it so. Still, to be safe, I scrubbed the sucker again yesterday. Still pink.

Disco seems to be a good boy. When I'm in the shower, he walks into the bathroom, politely turns his back, and guards the door. When I'm in the kitchen, he will sit in the middle of the floor and patiently wait for me finish. He does not, like other cats in my life *cough*Sheba*cough*, orbit around my head at 5 in the morning. Instead, like me, he will laze in bed until food magically appears.

Speaking of bed, he doesn't actually sleep with me per se. He can't figure out how to get past the mosquito net. So he steps on top of the net and settles down near my head, and I'm sure the mosquito net prevents flea transference. Right? Right? Not itchy yet...

Of course, the boy sometimes acts like a bat out of hell. Yesterday I discovered that the little bugger had pooped on my orna, which I'd left on my computer chair. I'm still soaking it in a bucket. Then last night, our flat completely lost power because our fuses blew. So I was sitting in the darkness, illuminated by the light of my laptop screen, writing a report, while Disco gamely tried to eat all my fingers. As my roommie put it: "ah, the joys of pet ownership." Indeed.
The culprit sleeping peacefully on the innocent orna before The Incident.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My New Kitty!

Bright was the day and glad our hearts
When events eventuated as I shall now relate.

Okay, I'm done. Summary: found kitty on stairs. Gave kitty three shampoo sessions and de-flea'd. Trained kitty to use litter box. Kitty now passed out behind me, hogging my computer chair so half my butt is hanging off. So worth it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What the heck did I just eat?

Oh, it was betel. Betel, I learned in my Vietnamese History class, was traditionally chewed by the folks who liked having red teeth. Also, Wikipedia informs me that betel (aka paan) is a stimulant, an antiseptic, and a breath freshener. Sure.

What they DON'T tell you is how NASTY this stuff is. It tasted like a leather shoe with a touch of cheap menthol. I unwrapped it to see what was inside: little shavings of cardboard?

Funny thing is, I see the leaves for these guys everywhere on the streets. They're usually in a high pile in some basket.

Take it from Auntie Nikki: DO NOT EAT THIS STUFF. IT IS GROSS.

You've been warned.

The Long Day Wanes

Wikipedia says that Burgess intended his Malayan trilogy, The Long Day Wanes, to be the definitive novel about the expatriate experience in Malaya around the time of its post-WWII independence. Burgess was stationed there in the fifties, and became fluent in the language, a fact amply demonstrated in the novel.

The author's cynicism colors everything in the novel(s), from the hopelessly corrupt protagonists and minor characters, to the description of small towns in Malaya. In fact, I'd borrowed this book from a Malaysian, who couldn't finish reading it because it contained so many stereotypes: the bookish, cunning Chinese; the lazy Malays; the warlike Sikhs; the effete Englishmen. I think this is an accurate statement about the first two novels, but the third one (Beds in the East) is different.

The first two novels (Time for a Tiger and The Enemy in the Blanket) follow Victor Crabbe, idealistic schoolmaster, shoddy husband, and all-around lame human being. Time for a Tiger opens with Nabby Adams, a gigantic, dishonest, hard-drinking Transport Police officer. Nabby and Crabbe cross paths, drink and horrify Mrs. Crabbe, and [SPOILER ALERT] eventually Nabby gets to return to his beloved India thanks to a winning lottery ticket. Meanwhile, Crabbe leaves his Malay mistress and gets transferred. In between are bits about the flamingly gay houseboy, the married Muslim who thinks he's in love with Mrs. Crabbe but was really just looking for another exile, and the menace of the communists hidden in the jungle.

The Enemy in the Blanket isn't too remarkable, and just shows how Crabbe becomes more of a douchetart while ethnic tensions begin to come to a boil. In this novel, everyone sleeps with everyone else's spouse.

The final book, Beds in the East, focuses on different characters of varying ethnicities. Again, the characters are almost caricatures: the whining Malay who thinks he's downtrodden; the Tamils who stick to each other and beat up everyone else; the formerly idealistic but now bitter ex-colonialist (Crabbe, now soon-to-be-divorced). And then there's the beautiful Rosemary. She's Tamil as well, but ADORES Europe and can't stand brown men. She's so psychotic that she creates fantastical lies about herself: she's Eurasian, a princess, and so on. I think Burgess intended her to be a poster child of colonialism, the self-deluding, smiling, harmless counterpart to the angry Malays sharpening their kris and talking about Malaya for Malays.

All in all, a good read for cynics, who will smirk at the characters and their shenanigans. This is fiction, after all, and hardly an accurate description of Malaya during its initial days of squirming out of British rule. Read it because you'll see exaggerations, amusingly dark human emotions, original descriptions of nature scenes, and you can learn a little Malay, too.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Saturday of Lameness?

Couldn't sleep last night, so I opted out of the 7 am trip to Cox's Bazaar. I then spent the morning in bitter self-recrimination, but thanks to my friend the treadmill, I eventually got over it. Spent the day passed out instead of romping on the beach in my kameez. Sigh.

The day perked up as I was tromping down with my laundry basket and a gracious smiling young lady in a flowing skirt offered me some jackfruit -- apparently she and her friends had overstocked on this slimy delight, and were running around the apartment building trying to unload the rest. Fortunately the bottomless pit aka me happened to pass by.

So anyway, instead of pics of the longest natural coastline in the world, I present to you, my dismayed audience, pictures of my new room. And another one of the cat.

I upgraded myself to the Room with A/C, which I shamelessly used today during my naptime. As you can see, the view outside my balcony is that of the building next door. I daren't open the curtains in the morning, lest the construction workers next door get a show.

Here's my nice bathroom. This shot is dedicated to Ate Au, who loves nice bathrooms.

The view from outside our gate, where a dozen rickshaws usually chug by and the same number of CNGs rumble along at speed.

The cat downstairs finds an alternative use for the newly-delivered curtains. I can has bed?

Thursday, July 9, 2009


Here is the butter masala dosa at Impala, the friendly neighborhood restaurant that is now getting used to foreigners chowing down regularly. Impala specializes in Chinese and South Indian cuisine. The other dosas are the length of my arm. This magnificent dosa is but one of the many delights that await visitors of Panchlaish. Yum yum, come on over!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Our girls had traveled so far and endured so much and we celebrated them today. Another chance to do photo ops!

I have never seen so many beautiful saris. Our students and staff were dazzling. Even the shalwar kameez were gleaming.

Not to be outdone, I decked myself out in baro't saya. Throughout the ceremony, I flounced down the aisles and proudly replied that, yes, this is our traditional formal wear, and no, I am not Malaysian.

The ceremony itself was perfect. The gratitude that the students felt for their teachers was palpable, and there was so much love and goodwill in the air that I didn't break a camera over the obnoxious press people's heads.
The girls did a slideshow presentation to what seems to be their favorite song, something about "you lift me uuuup," and everyone started WEEPING. I mean, this was basically the Estrogen Zone. Fortunately, the Chair of the Graduation Planning Committee had the foresight to appoint a Tissue Committee (which turned out to be the Table Napkin Committee, but I digress). We had tissue/table napkins for all.

The main reason that the ceremony was such a success was that the Chair and everyone on the Committee worked insanely hard to get everything organized. OMG, committees actually get things done! An important life lesson, I'm sure. One day I will assign someone to be Chair of My Wreck of a Life Committee. Then I can blame it on that person! Brilliant~!!!

Here, Mama, all these pictures have me in them so you can see how cute I still am. Apparently I look like a student, so the Cambodian students declared that I am their 9th member. Don't I look just like them?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Midnight call???

So at around half past eight last night I called the tailor to remind him that he was meant to deliver the finished goods (academic stoles) to me soon. "Yes mam!" he chirped. "Half nine mam!" I figured that this was Bangladesh, therefore 9:30 pm = 10:00 pm. At the earliest.

But I was suuuper sleepy last night. Finally, at 10:30, I locked the main door to the flat, sent him an SMS telling him to come to the office tomorrow instead, and passed out.

The phone rang later -- tailor man! "Mam, where is your flat?" he asked. "It's late," I told him, as sternly as I could manage while unconscious. "Sorry mam, sorry mam," he said. Well, heck, he was here anyway. I told him where I was, then checked the time after hanging up. 11:48 pm. Brilliant. I put on my robe (rumored to have been stolen from a hotel, but really a gift from Mama), let him in, got the goodies and paid him and ushered him out. It was five past midnight by then. My beauty rest interrupted for strips of cloth in McDonald colors!!!

If I run amok with a pair of scissors one day, this post will reveal one of the many reasons why.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Prom Night

Our girls had their "prom without boys" tonight. On the way to this social event of the season, P and I on our rickshaw got smacked by a CNG. Ouch! The impact made me drop my purse and I immediately dove after it. P hopped out and then fell. Ha! Ha! No one was hurt, although there was much shouting -- from the drivers, not us, as we'd scooted off to safety by that time. Note to self: never ride a rickshaw after dark.

We got there and it was, indeed, just like prom, with pictorials going on everywhere and squealing girls scattering and reforming into groups for more picture-taking and mutual admiration. Some of the girls went all out and had tailors make their evening wear. There was much makeup in evidence, and so much face and body glitter that my skin absorbed some just by walking through the venue. I think my lungs are glittering right now, actually. Anyway, all this posing and giggling made me realize that prom really is an estrogenic activity -- the testosterone carriers are mainly there as accessories, as awkward drab penguins setting off the gleaming butterflies.

A program had been prepared: a "small dance," followed by a fashion show, and the grand finale: Miss Access Academy. (Little do they know that I am Miss AA. As in Miss Astoundingly Alcoholic.) The dance, naturally, was interrupted by a power outage, but, encouraged by their teachers, some girls got together and kept bopping and whooping. Soon came the fashion show, and when I get the videos up on YouTube (after I return to the US, because the bandwidth here is tiny), I will totally get another exquisite Best Video Award from Miz Tamanna at the office. (I should really post a picture of my first award here, as otherwise the world will never see such creative use of post-it, paper clip, binder clip, and a lollipop.)

The cuteness factor in there was ridiculous. The sides of the room were practically melting into a sweet bubbling goo of adorableness. It was FUN. The girls got to show each other their legs! And arms! And boobs! And cleavage! You know, the stuff you see on the streets everyday in the summertime in other places. One girl was utterly stunning in a custom purple silk off-shoulder gown, and her little friend (pictured here), was asking me how I felt about seeing all that skin. *snicker*

Back to the fashion show: it was clear the girls had rehearsed, and a number of them were gracefully swaying and sashaying and pouting in their shiny traditional costumes or tailored outfits. There was CHOREOGRAPHY. And then came the the goofiest group EVER (I was later told they were Cambodians), who were just beaming and bumping into each other all over the place and having the best time.

Any woman can get on a runway and feel like a supermodel, and it's even better when it's your friends down there cheering you on. Being heartless and evil, I will never be a teacher (but a lawyer, perhaps?), but I think it's moments like these, when you see your girls so happy and bright and brimming with future, that make all the other shit worthwhile.

Maybe. I wouldn't know. I was just a little sad toward the end, when it struck me that these girls are allowed to be kids right now, but that will change when they grow older and life will crush their spirit. Maybe that's why so many people are overgrown adolescents these days. Growing up sucks.

Ah! Such drama! I actually blogged about my feelings! GROSS!!! Sing with me now: pee-lings, nothing more than pee-lings...

All in all: "prom without boys" rocked. As one of the emcees said, "Without boys, we can do everything!" Preach it girlfriend.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


Finally! I get to go to Rangamati!

First, we had to go through two security checkpoints. Apparently there's some rumblings in the area, so foreigners have to submit their passport details etc to the soldiers. Here's a couple of them patrolling our van.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts are unrelentingly green. Everywhere you look, it's that lush color that Bangladeshis love to wear. Now I know why I always miss the Green Memo at the office: EVERY day is green day!

It took about three hours total to get to where we wanted to go: the docks for our boat ride to lunch. On the way down to the docks, we spotted these little animals. I call this shot "Goat Segregation" -- notice the white goat is up top, the two little black goats are huddled together, and the mixed ones are at the very bottom.

We got into the boat, where we passed this tree trunk sticking up out of the water. Turns out we were on top of Rangamati City, which was flooded back in the day to make the artificial dam. The tree must have had deep roots to have stayed upright all this time!

Peda-ting-ting, the "restaurant in the wilderness," was our food destination. It features this hilarious bridge that tells you its weight capacity. Also, you don't have to cross the bridge, as you can just WALK over to the other side. I swear it was built just for this sign.

Lunch consisted of three varieties of fish, one of which was dilis, curried egg omelette, and a couple of "vegetable" dishes. In Bangladesh, vegetables are potatoes, and possibly a cup of whatever green thing happened to fly past the cook's face during the monsoon winds. Meals here are mostly meat and rice. I am obviously in the right country.

Here's the chicken special! They stuff the chicken pieces and the sauce into an empty bamboo, and then roast it. They later showed us the toasted bum of the bamboo they'd used, so we can verify that we did, indeed, have an indigenous dish.

We got a mini-monsoon on the way back, where the rain was getting INTO the boat and we had our umbrellas open inside. This picture makes me think of the Golden Gate Bridge combined with Jurassic Park.

On the way back, we stopped at a loom weaving factory. Basically it's a big hut with a clay floor. The "workstations" are holes in the clay, into which the workers get in order to run the pedals that operate the loom. The hut was very noisy and smelled like chicken.

I have tons more photos, and the videos of our precarious disembarkings off the boat will be up on YouTube eventually and with the proper permissions, but I've got this lovely infection on my fingers (pus is GROSS) so I'm going to stop hurting myself by typing. Btw, the story of how I got to the doctor's office will also be a future post.

Movie Review: Hereditary (2018)