Friday, June 25, 2004

Highlights from a holiday

apologies in advance: the photoblogging doesn't work with the iBook right now, so i'll have to post the accompanying pictures when i get back to sunny Singapore and a computer with a windows platform. -makes a face- now, on with the show:

Highlights from The Cruise:

The morning of Day One, while we’re sailing the Inside Passage toward Ketchikan in the Alaskan Panhandle, I wake up to find a nice rolling sea. Of course, the last time I was on a nice rolling sea, I was terribly seasick. This time was no exception. (Thankfully there was little pitching and absolutely no yawing –I think I would have totally lost it in that case) To make matters worse, Dad gave me some ginger pills –that tasted absolutely foul- instead of the dramamine I craved…and refused to give me the dramamine, so the first morning was fairly miserable. We sailed into the calmer waters of the Inside Passage that afternoon, however, and I finally found my sea legs. Yay! That, I am proud to say, was the only day I was really seasick on the entire cruise. (Of course, most of the time the sea was calm as a millpond, and no one in their right mind would be seasick, but let’s ignore that for now)

Ketchikan: SNORKELLING IN ALASKA.

I know, I know, everyone thinks that my cousin joanne and I are crazy for going snorkelling in Alaska, even though it’s summer and the water’s really between fifty and sixty degrees –kind of like taking a really cold shower in the middle of summer in Chicago. Plus we were wearing really cool wetsuits with a quarter-inch insulating layer of water –felt really good when that cold water rushed into the suit, let me tell you. Getting into the wetsuits was a hell of a job –it’s like trying to put on a full-body glove made of leather without any kind of lubricant, and when you’re finally zipped into it you can’t breathe or bend any of your joints naturally. And you look kind of like a seal, which may be fairly scary if you know there’s a pod of orca swimming around the area you’re about to go snorkelling (for the first time!) in.

But I had plenty of other things to worry about, like remembering to breathe through the snorkel instead of my nose (yay for being a chorister; it isn’t as weird for us as it would be for people who normally breathe through their noses all the time), and not dunk the snorkel into the water; and managing my damn fins; and figuring out how to get my body to not be floating all the time – the wetsuit really does float you like a cork, and I regretted not picking up a weight belt, really, although it was my first time snorkelling.

Alaskan waters really are full of relatively colourful wildlife, like various types of starfish and fishes that attack you if you threaten their nests, and jellies everywhere (jellies scare the shit out of me, esp after one stung me in Bintan –mumblymumble years ago) and kelp and small darting colourful fish and sea slugs and sea cucumbers. No pictures, of course, because my camera isn’t waterproof. But my favourite moment was flipping over on my back and watching a bald eagle float overhead and land in a nearby tree, totally unconcerned about the presence of thirteen humans zooming around clumsily in the water right under its beak.

HUBBARD GLACIER:

So it turns out that we are our captain’s maiden cruise as captain of his own ship, the Infinity, and this becomes apparent as we head up to Hubbard Glacier, which is a glacier that (unlike the many others we were to see later on) terminates in the sea. We sail serenely toward it, and at one pm, as promised, it becomes clearly visible off the bow of the ship. The captain continues to sail toward it as we speculate how close we are going to get and how powerful the zoom lens is going to have to be to see anything at all.

It turns out your zoom doesn’t have to be powerful at all. After about an hour and a half on the freezing deck of the ship, we are so close to the glacier the ship is surrounded by tiny chunks of mini-icebergs, and we can see the layers of ice and hear the glacier as the ship just sits, almost dead in the water, slowly doing a 360 turn so everyone can see. Watching the glacier calving is really awesome: a huge chunk of ice breaks off and slides into the water, preceded and followed by a flood of smaller ice chips, and smashes into the water throwing up a cloud of spray. Shortly after you see this from the ship, you hear it – a low rumble, like thunder, and then the splash. And tiny hissing and popping as the air trapped inside of the ice for hundreds of years begins to expand and escape. It was totally worth the two or three hours in the freezing cold. I have tons of pictures but they’re all on dad’s camera, so perhaps I’ll upload a couple in a few days.

Juneau: WHALEWATCHING

The morning was spent driving up to the Mendenhall Glacier, which is within Juneau’s city limits, if you can believe it. I was sort of glacier-ed out at this point but it was still pretty cool to take a look at the valley, and touch some glacial ice (there’s a pretty picture of that below). The highlight of the day, however, was our whalewatching expedition: out onto the coastal waters in a zippy catamaran, designed for wildlife exploring, with binocs provided. We saw a bunch of harbour seals, and a bunch of sealions sunning themselves on some rocks (they look like huge sea slugs!) and a whole flock of bald eagles fishing. And then someone yelled ‘Whale!’ and there they were: a mother and a calf swimming just off our starboard side, blowing huge plumes of steam into the air. The calf couldn’t quite get its fluke into the air for that classic whale photo-op, but mommy obliged several times.

Then, as we were about to move off, the calf came back up to the surface and started playing around next to us, turning around in circles in the water and flipping upside down, as if pretending to breach without actually leaving the water. It was incredible.

It’s a pity we didn’t see any orca (we did, later on, but far far away from the Infinity. We saw them blowing) on this trip but hey, you gotta have a reason to come back right?

Sitka: Raptor Centre

Not much to say about Sitka except that our visit to the Raptor Centre was really cool. They work to rehab hurt and sick raptors –which are birds of prey- and return them to the wild. But not all the birds that come in can be returned to the wild: some lose their ability to fly, but have the right temperament to become teaching birds. They have some twenty-five such birds on their premises, ranging from the huge American Bald Eagle to tiny American Kestrels and even crows and robins. And tiny puffballs of owls. They’re so cute.

Bald eagles are really really cool, especially in the wild. Watching them fly around the mountaintops with their incredibly huge wings, and land precisely in treetops, and looking for that tell-tale white head and then finding not just one, but two or three, and immature birds to boot, is really awesome. Seeing them caged is really kind of sad, especially the ones that are hurt and will never fly or be released into the wild again, but it’s also kind of neat to be that close to a wild animal (because you can never really forget that the bald eagle is a wild bird, even if you think you have it under control). And if it means that more people learn about these great creatures and how their environment is threatened by our behaviour, then in the long run perhaps it will be better for them as a species.

Generally speaking the cruise was great. The service on board was excellent, and I doubt I will have the opportunity any time soon to have my every whim catered to (down to having olive oil and balasmic vinegar at the table just for me at every meal, so I didn’t have to have butter with my bread) and my room straightened up and clean towels and robes every day by a chambermaid who had a great sense of humour (she made a towelmonster to hold Paddy and Jo’s glasses).

Highlights from Canada

We drove from Calgary to Banff (which is in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rockies) immediately upon arrival in Calgary from Vancouver. The rental car was a huge white Ford Explorer and was basically brand new – if we weren’t the first people using it, we had to have been the second lot of people in it. The manual was still in its plastic wrapper, and there were still bits of plastic tape liberally strewn over the vehicle- it felt like we were riding around inside a big white polar bear. It was a ridiculous car. But roomy and comfortable, and more importantly, the only car likely to be able to carry all our bags and still have space for passengers!

We did a lot of sightseeing around Banff, and the edges of Jasper National Park, when we went to the Columbian Icefield. Highlights include a gondola ride up Sulphur Mountain in Banff, and walking on a glacier at the icefield. The gondola ride was terrifying, at least for me and my mother, since we don’t like heights, and riding in things that sway and run on cables up huge mountains and steep hillsides; but it was worth the terror on the way up for the view from the top, and the crazy animals running around up there (I don’t meant the people, for once), and getting to see a practical geography lesson –lots of weathering and erosion, exposed sedimentary rock, and lots of nice obvious folding and faulting going on, which made me happy. I took a bazillion ‘geography shots’ which would be of zero interest to anyone but a geographer.

Going onto a glacier was another really cool experience. We drove up to the Columbian Icefields, where there’s an Icefields Centre, and from the centre we got on an Ice Explorer, which is basically a bus pretending to be a monster truck. Wheels taller than my head! In this monster-bus, we trundled out onto the ice, and offloaded in the middle of a retreating glacier. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, so there was meltwater rushing around the surface where we were, everywhere: ice cold, perfectly clear fresh water. Jo and I tasted some, and then filled my nalgene with it – it was beautiful. If only water always tasted like that. (we wished we’d thought to bring the nine-litre container up with us so we could fill it)

Then disaster struck. We got back to the hotel after dinner to find Paddy missing from our room. The moose we’d bought earlier were there, waiting for us, but no Paddy. Jo and I tore the room apart looking for him, then the parentals came over and tore it apart again, but to no avail. Paddy was missing. I called Housekeeping; I called the front desk; I called the duty manager and screamed, in a panic. Nothing. I was convinced someone had stolen him, and was ready to work myself up into getting someone fired.

‘We might have sent him off with the linens, was he in the bedsheets?’ the duty manager asked. ‘Yes, he was in the bed,’ I replied. ‘Well, we send our linens to Calgary.’ The duty manager said. ‘I’ll call them in the morning and see if they have him, and if they do they’ll send him back and we’ll mail him to you.’

The next morning, we go to check out, and I ask the girl at the front desk about Paddy. ‘My teddybear might have been in the linens, and the duty manager said he would call and ask if they had him in Calgary. He’s a brown Paddington bear, with a red hat and a blue jacket’ She says ok, and then calls Housekeeping. ‘You don’t understand. We called last night, and Housekeeping doesn’t have him. He might be in Calgary with the linens.’ I say, ready to freak out and die right there. ‘Oh, they might have sent him back here to us. I’ll just ask Housekeeping.’ She then gets on the phone, and I hear the magic words: ‘Could you bring him right up please? I have the guest here in the lobby.’ And I practically shriek ‘They have him?’ and she nodded. Paddy had been to Calgary and back in the linen truck. Quite the adventure for my little bear.

Now I’m sitting around in Vancouver International Airport, waiting to check in for my longhaul flight back to Singapore. Which is at seven am. We arrived at the aiport just past seven pm tonight, which means by the time we leave for San Francisco in the morning I will have been in the airport just about twelve hours. I’ve had quite quite enough of YVR for a long time, thank you very much. But anyways, so here’s the long update that I promised, and the next time you hear from me will (probably) be once I’m back in my room in Singapore, barring many boring hours laid over in San Fran or HK and free wireless internet access. Ciao!


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

for those who are complaining...

...about the silence, here's a quick update just for you:

i've just spent seven days on a 90,000 ton cruise ship sailing around in Alaska, having my every whim catered to, my stateroom cleaned and my bed turned down, being fed wonderful food in a full-service restaurant with wait staff better trained than the wait staff at most fine hotels (and a kitchen run by -of all people- a German and a Frenchman; it's a wonder we ate at all), and indoor and outdoor heated pools and jacuzzis.

now i'm in the middle of the Rockies, watching mountains crumble very slowly and inspecting yet more glaciers and icefields, and taking bazillions of very similar photos to show everyone when we get home. (if i'd taken all of them in the same place with varying poses they would look the same as the real ones) we're driving around in a WHITE Ford Explorer that is ridiculously huge and kind of makes me feel like i am riding around inside a polar bear. i've really only ever seen black Ford Explorers before. and the bass in the car nearly gave me a heart attack.

anyways, will be back in Singapore/civilisation soon, so more updates with photos in the near future, we hope. and H will be visiting, so more pictures of the two of us prancing around Singapore Seeing The Sights to come. details later, when i am in my twelve hour layover at the Vancouver International Airport with free wireless internet access.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Convocation

may the weather tomorrow be as wonderful as it was for this afternoon's convocation. =) it'll be a long long convocation -imagine eight hundred names being read out, and how many hands Don Randel will have to shake tomorrow, and how long the pipe band will have to play to make sure everyone gets music as they walk to their seats. i only hope i manage to catch a glimpse of my friends as they go on stage -and listen out for the special motet cheer when one of our graduating Moteters gets on stage!- and then have enough time to chat with them afterward.

so. all my bags are packed/i'm ready to go and all my stuff is put away neatly where it belongs (which doesn't happen often during the school year, i can tell you). i've called my cab, which will pick me up at 2pm tomorrow and whisk me off to O'Hare where i will go to meet my parents in Vancouver.

to my people who are graduating tomorrow -you know who you are: congratulations on making it, and may the future for all of you be very bright indeed. y'all deserve the best. =) try to stay in touch -ah, i've reached the point where i don't ask for too much- and let me know what's up with you in the future, and come and visit -i have a perfectly comfortable futon in the living room to house any guests who might need a place to crash. and if i can find the time, and the money, perhaps i will come and visit you. until then, take care of yourselves, and be good =) and good luck.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

and done!

i've just emailed my final papers to both Sebastian and Dong Sun approximately twelve hours before i absolutely had to, and am in the process of final edit for Mearsheimer's paper.

it's finally starting to sink in that my third year here at the U of C is over. =)

H and i were talking the other evening about how this year has felt so much longer than the last two have (at least for me, the last two). we can barely remember what we were doing in fall quarter -what classes we took, and that sort of thing- for that matter we could barely remember winter quarter. even spring break feels too far away. this year has been incredibly long. the last two years, time has zoomed past without braking for stop signs, and the end of spring quarter has always rolled around behind me and smacked me on the head before i realised it. but it seems, this year, that the end would never come.

in some ways, it's been good. it's felt like more time with H and P and other UofC friends who are leaving. and it's been a good year of hanging out in apartments instead of each other's dorm rooms, and eating food that i cooked or had someone cook for me, instead of greasy dining hall crap. but at the same time, i feel like part of the reason the last two years have been so quick to pass has been the very fact that we spent so much time hanging out in each other's dorm rooms, or over bad dining hall food. the multiple mugs of bad coffee in the morning over homework that really should have been done earlier or reading for class later in the same time; calling each other to make sure we were all awake for exams; rushing through meals to make it back to the lounge for a rerun episode of The Simpsons -- those moments make time spin by faster, i swear they do. and there were precious few of them this year.

oh well. now that i am done with finals, i have three more days to hang out and shop and pack up my room and get ready to leave for the summer...and get used to the idea of a whole 'nother year here in this place. it'll be a very different year.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

i have succumbed

it's incredibly hot and i have just turned on my airconditioning for the first time since last august. bah electricity bills - it's hot! i have a headache! and i can't sleep...

damn chicago weather. :)

John Rutter

A Clare Benediction

May the Lord show His mercy upon you
May the light of His presence be your guide
May He guard you and uphold you
May His Spirit be ever by your side

When you sleep may His angels watch over you
When you wake may He fill you with His grace
May you love Him and serve Him all your days
Then in Heaven may you see His face


has it been so long since the RJ Chorale, and Mr Toh's wedding? i'd forgotten the lyrics to this piece, though i've not forgotten it all this time.

Monday, June 07, 2004

pictures from a sunny saturday afternoon

as promised earlier, some pictures taken at the picnic at the Point yesterday. for those curious peeps who've never met my american friends here at the U of C:

this is rachel, our host and organiser of yesterday's afternoon (ok, couple of hours, for me) in the sunshine:




this one is paul and me (you can't see the words on the shirt, can you? alex hates this tshirt -grin-)


this is paul again, with liza. all of us are Mathewsniks, and liza and i are yearmates. liza's currently living with rachel, two other yearmate mathewsniks of ours (sam and lili), and Sean used to live there but has now graduated and is in Hungary playing chess.


this is marc, who lived in mathews last year and has since graduated and lives up north in his very own place...

and last but not least, for those of you who've never visited me here in chicago before, this is what downtown looks like from the Point when summer really rolls around -- isn't it beautiful?

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Randi's Last Concert at the U of C

the concert went better this afternoon than it did last night - the chorus was more in tune and the orchestra did a bang-up job on their pieces. i stayed for the Suite from Stravinsky's Firebird this time, and was suitably impressed. though my favourite piece remains the Tchaikovsky (i have the first movement playing now on my computer) mainly for the first movement. the strings were much tighter this time around - i was sad to see the end of the piece. though that meant intermission and our turn, so...

i was fascinated by the first violinist of the USO this afternoon for some reason. i just thought he was really cool -grin- and expressive and his bowing technique was really quite good. and the role of the first violinist is also kind of cool. i found myself wondering how he gets picked and whether he enjoys the popular vote in the orchestra and how he knows what to do (presumably by watching lots of other first violinists) re: getting the orchestra in tune. (that always baffled me though. why wouldn't you already be in tune? if you weren't in tune in the rehearsal before, wouldn't someone have already smacked you upside the head?)

sometimes i wish i played in an orchestra - it's so different and yet so similar to being in a choir, isn't it?

the reception post-concert was also fun. the food was really good, catered by the sch because randi's leaving us (today was his last concert) to go to University of Oklahoma City, and there was plenty of it. and the Motet had a bunch of prezzies for Randi: a signed pink flamingo lawn ornament (the pink flamingo award is given out every year to the most goofy member of the choir); a scrapbook Leann put together with pages from us and pictures and other pretty stuff; and a special edition of the U of C Alma Mater just for Randi. that was awesome. i don't think i've ever heard us do the Alma Mater quite so well, with so much blend and 'lots of words' as Will White entreated us (i heard Randi and other peeps exploding with laughter at a couple of points, which meant they could HEAR what we were singing), and a great moment for the tenors at the end. it was tons of fun.

then i came home and wrote five pages of my eight page Sebastian paper. so i'm in good shape. but it's now almost one am, and definitely past my bedtime...at some point in the next few days i'll post a couple of the pictures i took at Rachel's graduation picnic at the Point this afternoon. but til then, it's beddybyes for me!

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Bucky should go to the U of C?

not much out of me over for a bit, since am frantically struggling with papers and concerts. Sebastian's paper is making me want to break my head open on a wall. what is integration??? bah. =)

but i did manage to finish a bit of my graduation prezzie shopping yesterday, after an absolutely superb lunch at Fogo de Chao. i doubt i've ever eaten that much meat in one sitting in my life before yesterday. but it was all excellent meat, and the salad bar was wonderful -lots of fresh veggies, potato and apple salads, proscuitto, and tons of other goodies. and there was a side of fried bananas with the meats! it was just like pisang goreng, only without the batter...the bananas were beautifully sweet, slightly caramelised and gooey without falling completely apart on my fork. i think i ate like three of 'em just munching...and the best part is every time a fresh batch came out of the kitchens, they replaced the ones on the table with fresh warm extragooeysweet bananas. it almost makes up for my pisang goreng deprivation of the last six months.

the concert last night went reasonably well for the orchestra, though perhaps not so well for us -grin- we're flat. the last note was so painful because it was patently obvious that whatever note the choir was singing, it sure wasn't the same note the flutes were playing! but oh well. one more round this afternoon and then we're done. at least until Convos next week. i really enjoyed the Tchaikovsky offering from the strings, and i'm looking forward to hearing Stravinsky's Firebird after our piece this afternoon (i snuck out last night, figuring i didn't need to hear it twice...)

soprani brunch in a while, followed by Rachel's party at the Point. it looks like it is going to be a good day to be outside!

and i shall leave you with this - sometimes, it looks like Bucky would fit right in at the U of C:


Thursday, June 03, 2004

it's the beginning of finals...

...and i can't imagine a finer Get Fuzzy post to start it off with than with Bucky doing the haka:




which never fails to remind me of the first rugby match i ever watched (on tv, not live, unfortunately): the All Blacks playing -somebody-, who clearly didn't make as big an impression on my young mind as the All Blacks did.

finals begin!

today: take the final quiz for Regulation of Vice, and start work on East Asian Security Final Paper
tomorrow: finish writing East Asian Security Final Paper in between having lunch at a Brazilian restaurant downtown involving Too Much Meat; shopping for graduation prezzies (the list never ends!); and singing in a USO 'Russian Splendours' concert -the Motet is singing Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms
saturday: start writing Sebastian's EU Final Paper, while (a) baking various desserts for (i) Rachel's graduation party at the point and (ii) Motet's post-concert Randi-farewell party; and (b) singing at saturday afternoon's version of the USO concert; and (c) attending both said parties (yeah, you all know no work will be done)
sunday: write the paper i said i would write on saturday. and FINISH IT.
monday and tuesday: write Mearsheimer's paper, on balancing...

and i'll be done wednesday, with plenty of time (two days) to hang out with graduating people and clean my apartment and Pack For Home.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

everyone's a little bit sleepy today
everyone's a little bit sleepy, okaaaaaay
just because you're lying in bed
doesn't mean you're really dead...


-courtesy of alex, who can't get out of bed in the mornings =)

last day of classes for the school year today! gotta finish my reading for class now. and then...get to school.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

i call it soda

for those who have any interest whatsoever in the argument over whether fizzy drinks in cans should be called 'soda' or 'pop' or 'coke' or something else entirely,




is what the entire United States thinks. as you can see from the map, i live in a region of the country that calls it 'pop' (and it's a terrifyingly huge portion of the country! i'd thought it was just the Midwest but clearly i am wrong. its tentacles stretch almost from coast to coast), but i am singlehandedly trying to change that, with help from some West Coast kids and Northeasterners who refuse to adopt this silly term for 'soda'.

clearly, i am going to school in the wrong place. -wink-

and no, when i ask if 'you want a coke', i really mean a coca-cola. not a sprite. bizarre conversations like 'do you want a coke?' 'yeah, i'll have a Sprite/Dr. Pepper/Pepsi' really baffle me. -grin-

it's Soda!

also, in today's Get Fuzzy:




oh, but Satchel is right, 'Work' is 'Prison'...-grin-