The calm before the storm

Uh, so I have fallen into the habit of not updating during my free periods and updating just before crunch periods. Tomorrow is my final paper, and the closer you get to your final paper, the worse you feel (it’s a bit like the final Lit paper at the end of the A Levels, 2008. It’s terrible that one has to WAIT for a paper.) So close to freedom!

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to, in brief.

Brighton, Seven Sisters and Eastbourne

I visited a friend in Brighton who’s doing a PhD in Astrophysics (no, it cannot get cooler than that) at the University of East Sussex. I’ve been to Brighton before, so I spent most of the time exploring the countryside along the South Downs Way. A highlight of the trip was the first evening – spent watching, for the first time in my life, a cabaret performance:

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My friend happened to have free tickets to watch the Ladyboys of Bangkok and I obliged, not knowing what I was getting into (a simple Google search would have done). I’d even thought that this was going to be a musical, until I realised that all the ‘singers’ were lip-synching! It was an entertaining performance, but I felt a little too young for some bits of humour :).

We spent the second day doing a long trek from the Seven Sisters Country Park to Eastbourne. Some pictures are already on Facebook, but here are some more:

Wow, this Gallery mode is really an exciting (and less obnoxious) way of showcasing your pictures! I’ll definitely be using it more in the future, wayhey! Anyway, I was intending to visit the Brighton and Hove Scrabble Club after the walk, but we only managed to get there at 9 pm, so I only had enough time for one game, before I zipped back home to London just before midnight.

Billingsgate and Stonehenge

I woke up the very next day to get to Billingsgate Market, to pick the household’s monthly stock of fish. I’ve been there three times – one of which was a miserably failed attempt, as the market was closed! For those in London who haven’t been subject to my whining about the incident, beware: though the website doesn’t mention it, the market is closed on the Tuesdays following a Monday Bank Holiday. Think about it, it makes sense for it to be closed a day after the fishermen take a break…

MACKEREL

The best thing about Billingsgate for me is the whole excitement when I get up really early in the morning (thus feeling like a Productive Man) and take two buses to the market, just to see the freshest supply of fish, possibly in the whole of London. There’s also some (I don’t know what to call it, ironic?) pleasure associated with going onto the DLR and transferring at Bank, hands full with the loot from the market. Thankfully, this was a Saturday, which meant that the office crowd was minimal to say the least. I remember getting some stares when I first did this on a Tuesday.

What’s the worst thing about going to Billingsgate? Probably the work that comes after the visit – most of the fresh fish they sell don’t come scaled or gutted, leaving me to do the fishmonger-ing myself. It’s good training, but not for everybody. Nor is it something I’d like to do on a regular basis. Especially not…

When I was expecting a visitor, a few hours after my visit! Kai Jun (of The Hoo fame) visited, only to catch me in the midst of scaling an entire salmon fish. He was a busy man on a schedule so I quickly wrapped up the work, cleaned up and headed out with him and his group to Stonehenge, to take a tour of the stunning rocks. Admittedly, the time spent there was too brief to remember too much except bits about lintels and bluestones. I had also underestimated the windiness of the place, so I had to walk through pretty quickly!

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This is my take on the Windows desktop theme, with a few people lurking to the left of the stones.

Gigs, talks, and whatnot

Li Yundi’s performance at the Royal Festival Hall was well-attended by a Chinese crowd, all eager to support their national hero. I’d got myself student platform tickets at £7, which were on the stage itself, really close to the piano. I really enjoyed his Chopin, but thought that some movements of Beethoven’s sonatas were played too quickly, lacking the emotion that I think characterised his delivery of the Chopin F minor concerto during the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2000. Well, many pianists have differing opinions of how the sonatas should be played – a listener can choose from a spectrum, ranging perhaps from Gilels’  slightly overwrought playing to Brendel’s squeaky clean playing. My favourite recording for now is the one by Irish pianist John O’Conor, partially because of the recording quality itself.

"Heterodox" economist Ha-Joon Chang, with not very good slides. But a very good debate nonetheless

“Heterodox” economist Ha-Joon Chang, with not very good slides. But a very good debate nonetheless

I’ve also recently discovered the LSE public events listing, which really has a stellar lineup of speakers – from Ben Bernanke to Boris Johnson and beyond. I’ve attended talks by Salman Khan (Khan Academy)/ Martin Bean and Ha-Joon Chang/ Danny Quah so far, and have been trying to go for more!

Newsy stuff

There’s so much happening at home, and around home, that demands attention – the AIM saga and the whole Town Council review that’s going on (where the two sides have so far painted fairly convincing pictures, based on my cursory reading, so I wonder who will emerge the victor), and the BN victory in Malaysia, widely seen as a democratic recession (and also having repercussions across the Causeway). I won’t be going into much details, but if you don’t know about these events, it’s time to catch up. My three favourite sites for following the news are this blog (which synthesises the most relevant news from MSM sources), Singapolitics and The Breakfast Network. There are other quality choices, but a lot of them update infrequently. I’m glad that online media have evolved in such a way to give us overseas Singaporeans a variety of viewpoints to think about.

Watching the Eurovision Song Contest

So I caught the Eurovision contest on online stream this year, on a whim. I thought the performances by Ukraine, Netherlands, Denmark (the eventual winner, which I attribute to starting the song in a seated position) and maybe Finland were the best of the lot. The other spots in my top 10, based on qualifiers alone, would be filled by Malta (with the most infectious song ever! Shame their Youtube music video sounds Autotuned), Greece, Azerbaijan (love that man-in-a-box act), Georgia, Norway or Sweden (hard to pick between the two, but I would go with Norway if I had to live with one) and of course, Romania, which is fantastic:

Special mention to Montenegro with their innovative spacemen dubstep performance, which really should have made the finals (and then the top 10, based on song catchiness alone):

I’m really hoping to visit next year’s competition, if my exams end early!

Making post-exam plans

Still dangerously fluffy, but at the moment a few things are confirmed – The Postal Service (and exploring Brixton!), right after my last paper; finishing up my PADI diving course (and maybe a trip when I’m back home!); going down to Israel with the housemates; up to Berwick-upon-Tweed for a short stay with Helen; up to Edinburgh to defend my Scottish Open title; then across to Norway. Everything else is still hanging in the air and I’m getting really anxious/ excited about the summer!

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