kiri win

Mostly public

This journal is mostly public with some friends-only entries that will primarily be visible to my close real-life friends.

I'm currently in the process of importing my thousand-ish entries from my mammoth Diaryland journal which I have decided to abandon because it's not letting me archive my entries. Hopefully that would be done sooner rather than later.

Leave a comment if you want to be added.
fuckyou

Joaquin Phoenix is My Vegan King

This morning, I sat through three hours of the Golden Globes just to watch five minutes of Joaquin Phoenix. While his acceptance speech for Best Actor (Drama) was simultaneously everything and nothing that I'd expected, I did wish, when it was past noon and I'd done nothing, that I'd had the sense to turn on the telly at, oh, 11.30am, given that it was more than likely that his category would be announced close to the end of the show.

Then again, if I hadn't sat through the whole thing, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to roll my eyes at the 'celebrities' (what a stupid word) who banged on about the bushfires in Australia - sad, no doubt - but didn't make, or didn't mention, the connection between that and the plant-based dinner that they all had (though the Lindors on the table probably weren't vegan). And Joaquin's epic speech, while epic in its own right, would have seemed less epic without the context of the seeming obliviousnes of all who came before him.

The point of this entry is to capture what it'd felt like when my favourite actor of the past twenty bloody years, whose vegan world view I finally share completely, stood on stage in front of virtually the entire world and said the crucial thing that needed to be said. It had felt like he was speaking on my behalf; that's what it'd felt like. While I had an inkling that he'd mention veganism (though he never said the word explicitly), I didn't know where he was going when he began by thanking the Hollywood Foreign Press Association; I didn't know that it was going to be the first thing that he would bring up. 'First, I would like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press,' he said, 'for recognising and acknowledging the link between animal agriculture and climate change. It's a very bold move making tonight plant-based and it really sends a powerful message.'

If only more people picked it up. If only the press focused on this part of his speech instead of the 'f-bombs' (for fuck's sake, are we in primary school?) that he dropped in his speech. At least they picked up on the last part of his speech that he managed to sneak in before he was rushed off the stage. And if I hadn't sat through the preceding 2 hours and 55 minutes, I probably wouldn't have picked up on the subtext of what he said:

Contrary to popular belief, I don't want to rock the boat. But the boat is fucking rocked. And--it's really nice that so many people came up and sent their well wishes to Australia, but we have to do more than that. [...] And I've not always been a virtuous man, and I'm learning so much and so many of you in this room have given me the opportunity to try and get it right... But together, hopefully we can be unified and actually make some changes. It's great to vote, but sometimes we have to take that responsibility on ourselves, and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives, and I hope that we can do that. We don't have to take private jets to Palm Springs for the awards sometimes and back. Please. And I will try to do better, and I hope you will too.


In the broader context of the impact of animal agriculture on climate change: what's the point of sending useless well wishes to Australia, apart from a brief feel-good moment and scattered applause, when the most obvious thing that anyone can do probably isn't being done? If the HFPA hadn't decided on a plant-based menu, the hypocrisy of these 'well wishes', uttered while people in the room feasted on dead flesh, would have been even more stark. So well done on the plant-based menu; this is the way it should be everywhere, all the time, for the animals and for the planet.

But more importantly, well done Joaquin for saying what desperately needed to be said, which no one else had said. I had never quite understood the concept of someone else giving me a voice, for I've always felt like I express myself pretty well, and that no one else can express what I think and feel better than I do; in fact, I've always been pretty full of myself in that regard. But watching him fumble through his awkward acceptance speech and listening to those words, it'd really felt as if he was speaking on my behalf...and plausibly not just my behalf, but for all committed ethical vegans who have made the necessary changes in their own lives and habits, in hopes of delivering a better world for all, human and non-human animals alike.

I'd wanted Joaquin to win for two reasons: I love this man, and I have loved him on-and-off for the past twenty (fucking) years; and I knew that he would say what he said, which, I repeat, desperately needed to be said. It's become a point when veganism isn't just about saving the animals (though, for me, it's primarily about that); it's also about the planet. Ditching plastic straws and plastic bags is great, but it literally does not have the same impact as going vegan. It's a mere pat on the back to make ourselves feel better, as if we're doing something good for the planet that we profess to love. I'm sorry to say that it simply isn't enough; in fact, in the grand scheme of things, it's as good as nothing. It's as good as carnists going on stage at the Globes and sending their shitty well wishes to Australia. Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change; this is a fact. It is obvious, then, that the solution, easily done by anyone who is of average health and who lives in a modern society, is to go vegan. Let's stop this meat-free Monday bullshit, let's stop telling ourselves it's okay to consume animal products as long as we're making the effort to reduce. It is not enough; it has to be all or nothing. That is how serious the climate emergency is.

And of course, think about the animals. All the animals who don't want to die, but die needlessly anyway to provide the food that we don't need, the suffering they endure, the trauma, the pain. I would go into details but thinking about all this is emotionally exhausting, and the facts are all out there on the Internet. In fact, Joaquin has narrated two documentaries on the subject: Earthlings and Dominion. They're the Joaquin films I will never watch because they will fucking destroy me, and I do not have the emotional stamina and hardiness to sit through four hours of footages of animal abuse.

But let me end this on a positive note: yay Joaquin!
Charah coffee

(no subject)

I found out a few days ago what my examiners have recommended to the Degree Committee.

They've recommended that I be awarded the PhD without corrections.

I was quite ecstatic immediately after reading the email from my internal examiner. The ecstasy lasted a few seconds; and then I went back to working on the research proposal that I had to submit by 31 December for a post-doc fellowship application. And after that, the whole thing had simply felt so...passe, done and dusted, over. And the only reason I got in touch with my internal examiner regarding the viva outcome was because I had to attach proof that I'd completed and been recommended to be awarded the degree to my post-doc application.

I don't know how I feel about this outcome. Or rather, I think it's pretty great, but I wish I felt the same degree of positivity--let's not go too far by calling it happiness--as the negativity that had plagued me throughout the entire process, more or less. The outcome that I have received, to be confirmed sometime this month (the Degree Committee usually goes with the examiners' recommendation), is the best possible outcome for a PhD student to receive. I'd never honestly believed that I would pass without corrections; I'd thought that having minor corrections would've been great (and of course, major corrections would've been a fail in my warped mind). Oh, I had a bit of a strange gut feeling before the viva that I would get the best possible outcome, but who ever takes these feelings seriously? I certainly didn't. And so I would've been happy with minor corrections--which means that I ought to be happier, a lot happier, with this result than what I felt.

The truth is, I hated the whole PhD process. I regretted it so many times over the past four years. And I would be lying if I said that I thought it's all worth it; because without knowing what's coming next, I'm not sure if it's worth it. That is: worth four years of my life, the decimation of my self-confidence, the emotional trauma, the utter lack of a sense of purpose, fulfilment. The stultifying smallness of Cambridge certainly played a role; nonetheless, it was probably the second-worst experience of my life, right after my stint as a lawyer.

And this is why I wish I felt happier about the pass-without-corrections than I do. I wish the moment of happiness that I felt could outweigh the seemingly never-ending stress, sometimes more severe than others, but always lingering at the back of my mind, that I had to endure to see this damn thing through. I wish it weren't simply so damn anti-climatic; I wish I'd felt, or could feel, a moment of release, just to feel, even if fleetingly, that it had all been worth it.

A part of me still wishes that I hadn't done this PhD. But it's done. I can finally put it behind me (that is, until such time I have to revive it to prepare it for publication, if/when I get a book contract). It is surreal that this deadweight around my ankles that I've dragged around over the past four years has finally been removed. And I don't know what it says about me, particularly this annoying habit that I have of never being satisfied with anything that I do, that I still think that the thesis is 'just okay'. I can't help but think that this outcome has been brought about by the examiners' leniency, and has little to do with the quality of my work. (Of course, this makes no sense; why would they be lenient, especially the external examiner, who is an established and well-known professor? But no one ever claimed that self-doubt had any necessary connection with sense or logic.)

I will try positivity for a change: I did a pretty good job, didn't I? Despite all the angst that I went through, it turned out pretty all right.

Right, that's it.

*

I managed to put together a research proposal in 10 days, one that I hope is at least coherent and makes some sense. I sent the first draft to John and Raffie. They pretty much destroyed it. So I re-wrote the whole thing but didn't send it to them because I couldn't deal with constructive criticism; I knew that it would completely discourage me from applying. So I just sent it based on what I'd read up til then and I'm hoping for the best.

I must say, though, that the more I think about a crucial move that I made in the proposal, the more I think it's shit. Or rather, the more I think I ought to have really specified what I meant by the distinction between our perception of 'pet' animals and 'food' animals. I guess this is a problem for my next post-doc application, also known as the one that I really want. But I am afraid of putting all my (vegan) eggs--that is, my hopes and dreams--in one basket, so I gotta branch out, explore other options. As always, though, I am putting that off; as if real life could be delayed any longer.

The thing is, I still really want to write, but I haven't written anything in two months; and on the other hand, I want to do this post-doc. I think if I hadn't been so emotional about the issue--that is, the seeming conflict between writing and academia--I might have seen that academia is actually a logical progression, considering how I've always been. That is: my teachers in secondary school singled out my 'critical thinking skills' for mention in report cards. Back then, I had no idea what the fuck it meant; but now, obviously, it's obvious to me that I have that in spades--way too much, sometimes, to the extent that it honestly fucking depresses me. So because of this skill, law was a logical choice; but because I don't like practical things, I was attracted to the theoretical/philosophical aspects of law-related things (not law per se). And so a PhD in Law, one that's 20% law and 80% theory/philosophy. And now a philosophy-heavy post-doc for which I have yet to figure out the law element.

So I was wrong to say that the PhD/academia isn't who I am. I think it is more accurate to say that it is who I am--and it is in competition with the part of me who has always been a writer. I wish they weren't mutually exclusive; but judging by how I had no headspace whatsoever for anything other than my research proposal for the past 10 days, it seems that I can say, quite confidently, that I have massive trouble being two things at once. I can't be thinking about what my character wants and how to raise the stakes for the problem that she's facing so that the consequences aren't entirely trivial when I'm thinking about why I think animal rights are an inadequate solution to the problem of our shitty treatment of animals. How can these two things co-exist in my mind? I'm either obsessed with one or the other--but the problem is, I want them both.

I will try to do it. I have to try, don't I? They are both important to me. My research project is the only reason I'm not quitting academia like I'd wanted to. And my nebulous dream of writing a novel, even publishing it, is--and pardon the dramatics but I think the sentiment is appropriate--the reason my life is worth living. (Of course, there are other reasons; the point is that this is a chief reason.)

*

On a completely different note, I ran 9km today, the longest I've ran in a while, certainly in Singapore. It was faster than I'd anticipated. But I was dying towards the end. I had to do it, though; I'd slacked for three weeks from my training and I absolutely want to run a sub-2 half marathon this year, hopefully in Cambridge, so I have to get back into it.

I joined the Vegan Runners running club, and my results will be linked to the club. I will also probably wear club's running t-shirt when I race, depending on whether I like it. So obviously I need to be getting good results from now on; my philosophical commitment to non-killing and to treating animals as ends in themselves is an important part of who I am. And so I feel duty-bound to represent vegans--the proper ones, not the faddish 'dietary' ones--and dispel stupid notions that vegans are unhealthy and whatever.

Anyway, the point of bringing up my 9km run is to say that I'm tired and I want to stop writing this. There are a lot that I should be writing about but I'm too lazy. So quickly, then: had lunch at Prive today, probably the most vegan-friendly carnist place I've been to in Singapore so far. I had chicken rice for the first time in 20 years. It was quite nice; I liked that the fake chicken was made of soy and not gluten (service staff in Singapore needs to realise, though, that telling a customer that the fake meat is made of 'protein' doesn't tell her anything), I liked the brown rice, I loved the soya sauce and chilli. The chicken didn't taste like chicken which was great, and had a chicken-like texture but it wasn't enough to put me off.

All that being said, I've reached the point where I absolutely do not miss any meat dishes whatsoever, so my ordering that wasn't to satisfy a craving. It was to satisfy a curiosity, just like my consumption of the Beyond Burger (it left a strong taste in my mouth for hours, which was bloody weird; probably wouldn't eat it again). Generally, I'm not a fan of fake meats. I would rather do a whole food plant-based diet than have a processed plant-based one. I've had more fake meat in the past month than I did the entire 2019 combined, and I must say that I've had enough--really enough--of fake seafood. I don't know what fake prawns are made of and I found it disturbing when I had it in Vietnam how close the texture was to real prawns. The fake fish I had at my cousin's wedding was gluten/soy (couldn't tell) and it was hell weird. So just no.

But fake meat: while I understand the utility of these Beyond/whatever things (Impossible, by the way, isn't fucking vegan because they tested an ingredient on 188 rats. Animal testing isn't vegan so vegans shouldn't be eating Impossible anything), in the sense that they provide an alternative to dead animals for carnists, I personally do not understand why long-time vegans would find these things attractive, or tasty. I suppose this is because I've been off dead land animals for about 19 years, so I don't miss it, like I've said. In fact, the thought meat is revolting. So it makes no sense to me why I'd want to eat the fake stuff. I very much doubt that I'd be making a habit of it.

(That said, the skewered chicken dish at this mostly vegan place in London, Mildred's, is really nice. The place is also insanely overpriced so I don't go there very much anyway.)

Lastly, I had a chocolate cake today. It was vegan, obviously, and delicious. I'd been craving a chocolate cake for at least a week. I finally had one two or three days ago, from Real Food, which was quite good but a bit dry. The cake today was nice too. I thought it tasted a bit strange on the first bite, but it got a lot nicer subsequently.

Still: the vegan food scene in London is hands-down unbeatable. Had an AMAZING cheesecake at Mildred's with John, and the chocolate cake at the British Library is better (and cheaper!) than the two chocolate cakes I've had so far. Also, the best cafe I've ever been to ever, Bould Brothers in Cambridge, has the best vegan brownie I've tried so far. None of the dessert I've had in Singapore so far is as good as the ones that I've had in London and Cambridge. But there are a couple of places that I've yet to go to. I hope they'll be amazing.
Charah coffee

(no subject)

I'm still coughing, my nose is still runny, I still feel weak. I am sick of being sick. I have not exercised since my 6km run on 12 December, after which I promptly fell sick (has it only been a week? It feels like at least two), and I feel like I am going insane. Normally, I exercise six times a week, and I suspect I'd manage more if I actually slept properly in London. This lack of activity, this incessant sitting around, is making me rather depressed.

It does not help, of course, that I seem to be on a mission to provoke myself by thinking and over-thinking about animals and the environment. I was quite happy in my vegan bubble in London/Cambridge; not having to deal with carnists, save for the few occasions when my meat-eater housemate cooked some strong-smelling dead flesh like bacon, lulled me into the delusion that they don't exist. But now I am back in Singapore. There is a family Christmas lunch, and I currently feel like I'd rather choke to death on a combination of coriander, carrots and celery--also known as the vegetables that I hate the most in the world--eaten raw and without any seasoning whatsoever than to sit through an offensive and painful feast of dead flesh. Especially given that I know how some of them feel about 'extreme' vegans.

The lack of information and awareness about the point of veganism in Singapore, and sometimes even what 'vegan' means, is a significant reason I don't really see myself living here in the immediate future. I have literally never seen a restaurant garnish a 'plant-based' dish with dairy cheese before until I came back to Singapore. At least they don't claim it's vegan, I guess; but given the inherent scarcity of vegan dishes at all, it is vegan by default. And since the restaurant/cafe is unlikely to reduce the price of the dish in proportion to the price of the cheese that they will not add, I don't see why I'm effectively paying them not to add the non-plant ingredient to the supposed plant-based dish.

But the more important thing that upsets me is the manner in which carnism is so deeply entrenched in our consciousness. It is disappointing when even the UN does not have the courage to call for rich countries, like a US, to switch to an entirely plant-based diet to fight climate change. If there is a clear link between meat consumption and climate change, and there is, and if climate change is an urgent matter in need of urgent solutions, and it is, then why are we seemingly content with cutting carbon emissions by 18% or whatever it is? Why are we not aiming for an even bigger reduction by calling for a complete switch to a plant-based diet by those who can afford the choice? The answer is simple: we are a society brainwashed into believing that we need meat and animal products, that it would be intolerable to give them up; and so it is more feasible, presumably, to encourage people to eat less meat instead of giving it up completely.

I have never been a halfway sort of person. In this sense, I suppose I am extreme: I either commit or I don't. I either like something or I don't. Faltering in a midway no man's land makes no sense to me--which is why I deeply regret the last 19 years of my life, or more realistically (for I had no push to be vegetarian when I was the most morally committed person I knew), the last 3 years of my life that I wasted as a vegetarian, during which I actively and directly sponsored the deaths of billions of non-human animals. But now I have committed. And there is no turning back.

Of course, back then, I pushed away the cognitive dissonance, I buried my head in the sand, I didn't want to know. I told myself that I didn't object to the animal product--dairy, egg--per se; what I objected to was the killing of the animal for food, and so being vegetarian was enough. But by-products. But the inherent and unavoidable cruelty of human animals towards non-human animals, and of modern farming practices. What I told myself was a lie, for the truth is, virtually all animal products are tainted with blood. Eggs are produced and sold at the expense of male chicks, useless to the egg industry, who are either gassed or ground to death. Milk comes at the expense of 'excess' bull calves who are killed within 48 hours of their birth. Let's not begin talking about how calves are forcibly separated from their mothers, as if animals do not experience any emotional bonding at all (they do), or about how cows are forcibly impregnated to produce milk for us humans to drink.

What is 'extreme' about not wanting a part of any of that? What I find extreme are the morally indefensible things that we do to animals for purposes that are wholly unnecessary. That is: we don't need to eat meat, we don't need to eat eggs, we don't need to drink milk. We can do without animal products and continue to live healthy (some say healthier) lives in which we consume delicious food. I like food as much as the average carnist, and I eat a fuckload amount of it (that is, when I'm not sick). Was it difficult giving up all the foods that I loved? Of course it was; why else did I take so long to go vegan? What used to be my favourite food in the world contains fish.

But my fleeting sensory pleasure is immeasurably trivial when weighed against the abject suffering of the sentient, self-aware beings that went into the production of my food. I'm not sure how much of what I'm about to say is due to my sickness-induced apetite loss, but these days, I don't even rue not being able to eat dairy products. All I think about when I look at things with eggs and milk in them is the baby calves and male chicks that are killed so that we can continue to use unnecessary animal ingredients to make foods that can produced just the same with only plant-based ingredients.

It's funny, I cannot help but recall a conversation I had with John years ago. It must have been during his early stage of being a vegan. He was talking about meat eaters and their stubbornness in holding on to their habits, calling them 'carnists'.

'Calling them carnists probably doesn't help,' I said.

Years later, I'm now saying this: I hate--I genuinely hate, with every inch of my being--this shitty, carnist world.

*

John also said a few days ago that responding with anger and derision to those to whom we have a 'social justice duty' to bring to veganism will only alienate them; that remembering that I was once in their shoes--only two months ago!--would help to keep the perspective.

I know he's right. Still, making the commitment is like seeing the world in a whole different light. Or rather, it's like a light has finally been turned on, and I can see clearly for the first time in my life. Now that I have made the commitment, it seems the most obvious thing; it seems obvious that it is the only morally right thing to do. And so I am impatient for others to do the same, and condescending and disparaging when they don't. Fervour of the new convert, right?

I still remember John and his endless debates with anti-vegans on his Facebook profile. I'm not going to go down that route; no, instead, I will just sit back, silently judge everyone, and write LJ entries about all their moral failings.

I should be clear, though. My stance isn't that all animal products are wrong per se; I still retain some of the thinking I had from my dark vegetarian days. For instance, all things being equal, if I had a hen and it laid unfertilised eggs, I might eat one or two, assuming it doesn't need the eggs and doesn't give a shit about it. The problem, like I have said, is with the incidental killings that are caused by egg and dairy production. That said, I wouldn't drink cow milk if I had a cow; the milk is for the calf, not for me. The calf needs its mother's milk; I clearly don't. And I have concluded that ethical dairy farming is unsustainable, and sustainable dairy farming will always be unethical. I do not feel like expounding on this today.

*

I feel slightly better after writing this entry. I really need to write more often.
Charah coffee

(no subject)

E left Singapore last night. It was his first time in Singapore--in Asia--and he stayed with me at my parents'. We were also in Hanoi for six days; I was there for a conference, and we spent the rest of the four days sight-seeing. The flu that he infected me with, after he'd fallen prey to Hanoi's unspeakable pollution, makes me wish that we hadn't gone to Hanoi after all. Not only was the conference not useful for me, but being ill since my return to Singapore--I literally began to feel sick an hour after landing in Changi Airport--has meant that I have not been able to continue my half-marathon training. This is very frustrating. I was pleasantly surprised that I was considerably faster in Singapore than I'd thought, and I was doing interval training and things like that. But now, I have to take at least two weeks off training to recover and it makes me feel like I've undone a lot of the good work that I've done. This includes all the body toning things I've done too--I think I've lost significant hardness in my core, and almost certainly in my biceps and triceps. Being sick really sucks; it's also caused me to lose at least 1kg, and I have no interest in losing weight at the moment. This is probably the sickest I've been in the past few years; usually I fall sick--that is, catch a minor cold--once a year, when summer turns into autumn. That was done already. This flu is unexpected and aggravating.

The point, though, is that E was here for two weeks. My favourite moment was last night, just before he left, when we were sitting on the bed, and I had a sudden attack of tears. 'I don't like it,' I said. 'You didn't do anything in Singapore. All you did was go to Gardens by the Bay.'

'No, there was also the TCM,' he said--meaning, Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Talk about turning tears into laughter. He was referring to a couple of days ago, when I was fed up with feeling worse despite finishing the medicine that my GP gave me (I was on the verge of losing my voice), and I went to a TCM practitioner. I had three TCM techniques done to me for the first time: cupping, scraping and acupuncture. All of them hurt to varying degrees. There was one particular needle that was driven into a vein on my left leg that made scream with the voice that I barely had. After I was done, E said that he wanted to get treatment, too.

So there you have it: E's first visit to Singapore involved a trip to Gardens by the Bay (my first time in the indoors garden; I went solely because of him as I don't like touristy places in Singapore, especially those that I have to pay for), and to the TCM practitioner. I have a photo of him lying face-down with at least twenty-two needles sticking out of his back and red cup marks all over. I already know that this picture will be in my PowerPoint presentation at our wedding.

*

Also funny: he left the living room to join my mother and I at the dining table for dinner last night and forgot to switch off the light. I admonished him for forgetting to turn off the light, and got up and switched it off. 'Oh, sorry,' he said--and walked towards the now-dark living room to switch off the light.

Even my mom couldn't resist laughing.

So yes. It was nice having him around.

*

I think the Chinese medicine makes me nauseous. I've been feeling nauseous for at least the last day or so, and I'm currently feeling nauseous. I may go have a lie down.

I really ought to write more in this.

*

Oh, my viva took place. I was petrified. I thought of all the answers that I should have thought of in the moment after the viva was over. But I did manage to give a few good answers, though there weren't enough of them. My examiners didn't tell me what they will recommend to the degree committee, but they said they were very positive about the thesis.

So I guess I've passed; it's only a matter of major, minor or no corrections. I will find out in due course.

*

Lastly, I'm re-reading Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, and now I understand completely why my JC literature teacher hated the writing. There should be a user advisory warning on the cover so that those triggered by comma abuse will stay far, far away. I hope The Testaments isn't written in the same style because I'm not sure I'd be able to get through it if so, and I'm re-reading Handmaid's because I want to read The Testaments.

Handmaid's has never been one of my favourite Atwood novels. The main reason was that I studied it for A Level and so I was sick of it. But now, I actively hate the way she wrote it. It's not just the comma abuse; it's also the cringe-y over-writing: sentimental imagery, ridiculous imagery, imagery obviously meant to be potent with deeper meaning but which doesn't make any sense. Going from Alice Munro to Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale is like going from literary bliss to the deepest depths of a literary abyss.

*

And no, I haven't been writing.

And yes, I'm still vegan.
Charah coffee

Two Important Decisions

Wow. It is incredible that I did not write in here for the whole of October. To be fair, nothing much really happens in my life. My typical day consists of gym/running/some sort of exercise, reading, going to the library, and doing some sort of writing. Oh, and cooking. And washing. A lot of washing and cooking. Sometimes I watch something on Netflix. That's about it, really.

I have, however, gone to the theatre a couple of times, once to watch the all-black revival of Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre, and another time to watch & Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre. The former made me cry; the latter put a smile on my face. It's a new musical that re-imagines the ending of Romeo & Juliet to Max Martin's greatest hits. Since I was a huge Backstreet Boys fan, it was fun hearing the songs that I grew up with performed really well on that stage, and re-conceptualised to fit the (rather thin) plot. It was good fun.

Death of a Salesman, however, hit rather too close to home. It speaks either to the timelessness of the play or to my self-absorbed nature that the racial element of the revival was quite lost on me even if it was literally staring me in the face. But I was moved to tears towards the end, when Biff tells Willy Loman that he (Biff) is a 'dime in a dozen', and maybe so is he (Willy). Willy responds with outrage and indignation, protesting that he, Willy Loman, cannot be a dime in a dozen; he's Willy Loman, as if invoking his own name with passion and conviction should mean anything at all. And the very last scene, when it's revealed that Willy was good with his hands and could have been a great carpenter or handyman instead of an average salesman, and Biff says of his father, 'He never knew who he was.'

Of course, the play is about the American Dream, or the illusory notion that we can all be great as long as we put our minds to it. For me, though, I saw a man obsessed with the idea that being average, or a 'dime in a dozen', is somehow a failure. And this moved me because I grew up with this idea. I grew up not wanting to be average, not wanting to be like everyone else, wanting something more than the average existence of the average person, and for some reason, believing that I am entitled to the opposite of average. I have dreamt of greatness for as long as I can remember. And it has been this rather mindless and blind pursuit of a nebulous aim--greatness, whatever this means; non-averageness--that has led me to where I am today. That is: in my quest to escape the shackling confines of 'a dime in a dozen', I found myself being quite literally a dime in a dozen--one of many PhD in Law candidates at the University of Cambridge.

So what? I've thought that for the past three, four years, ever since the sheen wore off and I saw the dream for what it was: a shapeless, faceless, formless mass of nothingness, a blur of fast-moving images that didn't resemble who I really was. I don't want to be spoken of like Willy Loman: She never knew who she was. I struggled through the PhD because it wasn't who I am, I wasn't living the best version of myself, it didn't excite me. In the end, it was a continued divergence and escape from what I really want to do, who I really am. I have known who I am for as long as I can remember. I just never had the courage, the conviction, the belief, and the discipline to live it.

I think I came to a conclusion a month or so ago, or perhaps even earlier than that; perhaps I wrote about it when I wrote about finally submitting my thesis. I concluded that I didn't want the academic life, I didn't want the academic career, I wanted a day job that would allow me to focus on writing.

But I watched Joaquin Phoenix in Joker, and all of that has changed.

Okay, that is stating it rather too dramatically. What happened was this: E and I watched Joker, I rekinkled my 2001-era love for Joaquin, I read an article about him comforting pigs on their way to being slaughtered, and clicked on the accompanying video. A few seconds later, I closed the browser and started crying.

All I saw was a frame, close-up, of a pig, locked up in the transport van, and all I could see were its snout and eyes from the ventilation holes of the van. That was all I saw. And it was heartbreaking enough.

After this, I found myself thinking about animal ethics. I thought about how, despite my abject and abhorrent hypocrisy (i.e. I was "pesco-vegetarian" for most of my life even though it's a contradiction in terms), the animals issue has been something that has always moved me. I thought about the fact that I didn't explore it academically because it affects me so much that it provokes an unbearable emotional response. I thought about where I am in my life, what I have done, what I have not done. I thought about my thesis, my soon-to-be-conferred degree, the university that will be conferring it.

It then seemed absolutely obvious, what I should do for the next few years of my life. I should do a post-doc project on animal ethics; specifically, a non-rights approach to animal ethics, and non-rights because, per most things in my life, my familiarity with rights has caused me to become jaded towards rights. Also, I think--and this is just a hunch--talking about animal rights is putting the cart before the horse. But that's not the point of this entry.

The point of this entry is to record two important and life-changing decisions that I have made over the past few weeks. The first is that I am not quitting academia just yet. And I think this time, it will be more fulfilling than the PhD process because I am driven by the urgency of the issue, and my utmost conviction that there is a grave and deeply entrenched error (including moral error) that the majority of people are perpetuating that needs correcting. I know that it will be frustrating, I will get very fucking angry very often, I will hate humanity more times than I can count. Basically, it will be like how I'm feeling these days about the state of the world, but on steroids. Can't wait.

Of course, I'll need to apply to institutions for fellowships, which means I need to boost my CV--which is why I have finally gone back to the comparative piece between India's 377 decision and Singapore's 377A case that I wrote last year. After this, I need to move away from 1) sexual ethics and LGB rights and 2) Asia. I'm not an 'Asian' scholar, I don't want to be in that box, and so I need to move on. I was contacted by a publisher to contribute to a book on sexual ethics. Apart from how this publication probably wouldn't count for very much, I considered coming up with some communitarian approach shit to it, basically take ideas from my thesis and adapt them, but dismissed it after a while. I think I have said all that I want to say about homosexuality in the article that I published in that one journal. There is nothing more that I want to say. What else is there to say after I've already argued that the arguments for its immorality are unconvincing, and that homosexuality is morally permissible? It seems obvious to me how we ought to treat gay people. It's not my problem, and certainly not something that I'm interested in intellectually, that some people are prevented from the right action by privately held views, if you know what I mean.

Anyway. The point is, postdoc on animal ethics. I had an idea for it already in March when I submitted an abstract to a postgrad conference in Ireland. I was going to abandon it along with my academic career, but after failing to watch the video of Joaquin's animal rights activism, I think I absolutely have to do it. And it's the only reason academia is appealing at all. I was so ready to ditch all of it because the PhD has been hell...but if I were the sort of person to force a non-existent coherent narrative in my own life, I would probably say that the PhD happened for a reason.

On second thought, no, that doesn't make any sense even hypothetically.

This leads me to the second important decision: I am going vegan. I'd started buying and cooking vegan when E and I stumbled upon an animal rights march in Trafalgar Square when we were looking for the Hong Kong solidarity rally (or rather, I was looking, and he allowed himself to be dragged to it), and I felt so sad about the animals that we exploit in absolutely barbaric ways for absolutely unnecessary reasons. But I wasn't ready to go completely vegan and carved out exceptions for myself. For instance, I said that if someone cooked me something vegetarian or bought me something vegetarian, I would eat it.

Yesterday, I read an article in the Independent about how a supermarket chain in the UK is sourcing its dairy from farms that only kill bull calves when they've lived for eight weeks as opposed to within 48 hours of their birth.

That did it for me. I didn't know about this particular practice of the dairy industry--which points to a larger personal failing over the past few years: I have deliberately not done my research on the egg and dairy industries' treatment of animals just so I could keep saying that 'I don't object to the consumption of animal products per se; it's the cruelty that's produced as a result that I object to'. Well, if I didn't know because didn't want to know what these cruel practices actually are, of course I could keep eating fucking eggs produced by an industry that grind male chicks alive and eat fucking dairy products that bull calves have to die for. Talk about burying my head deep in the sand. And I think it's even worse that it's taken me so long to take this step than all the people who are still eating meat because I know the philosophical arguments, I know that there is no morally relevant difference between a human and non-human animal...and yet, I was complicit in their barbaric exploitation.

I have been living my life with ethical cowardice and moral permissiveness, and a general lack of courage to fully live up to my convictions. I'm done being a moral and ethical coward and hypocrite. I will finish the last vegetarian thing that I have in the house, and that's it. No more.

It absolutely breaks my heart, the way we treat non-human animals. And this is why I know that giving up all the foods that I have loved is worth it. Besides, there are so many vegan desserts that are just as good as the non-vegan ones. I've just finished the last of my box-of-three Magnum vegan ice-cream, and I discovered this delicious vegan chocolates at the Vegan Fest that I went to with John a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I will ever like vegan cheese, but I can do without it.

Ultimately, the satiation of my taste buds seems a horribly stupid reason for billions of animals to suffer and die. We don't need to eat animal products, certainly don't need to eat meat. Pit against that the fact that 28 animals per second are slaughtered in the UK (if I remember correctly) for food, and that bull calves are brought into existence just to die for no fucking reason other than some humans 'need' milk (no, you don't).

So yes. This animal ethics postdoc is necessary, and it will be even more amazing than my thesis.
Charah coffee

On How Not to Write

I have just completed a five-day short story writing course at Faber Academy, which was more fruitful and helpful than I had anticipated. My biggest take-away from it is characterisation: knowing who the character is as a fully formed person, knowing what he/she wants, putting obstacles in his/her way to create conflict, and letting these things drive the story. It is a very useful way to look at how to approach writing a character-driven short story, and I am currently revising something that I wrote for the 30-day writing challenge that I talked about in light of what I have learned from the course.

This entry, however, isn't about writing; not exclusively, anyway. It is about the new season of Veronica Mars and how my excitement that my favourite show ever was being revived eventually turned into bitter disappointment and heartbreak. Incidental to the Veronica Mars content is a few things about writing; or rather, how not to write. The instructor told us, during the writing course, that the writer needs to convey to the reader that the writer is trustworthy; that the reader can trust her to tell the interesting story that she has set up in a coherent and authentic manner. The pay off has to be true to the set up; the conclusion has to begin again in some way. Perhaps more importantly, the character's arc has to be true to the character. And in order for the writer to do this, she has to know the character inside-out.

(Warning: Spoilers for Veronica Mars Season 4)

The new season of Veronica Mars makes me wonder if Rob Thomas actually knows his character - that is, the character that has evolved over three seasons of television, two books and a movie, or whether he is still clinging on to the version of the character that he had in his mind when he first started the show. The new season of my favourite show has taught me an invaluable lesson about how the writer should not attempt to disrupt the character's narrative arc; that when it has gone in a certain direction, trying to reverse it because the writer cannot let go of his initial vision must be done exceptionally well - or it simply undermines the character altogether.

I have pretty much lost all trust that Rob Thomas knows what he's doing. Even before I read his ridiculous reason for killing off Logan Echolls, the absolutely cheap and arbitrary manner in which Logan died suggested to me that his ideas are cliched at best. Surely the 'widowed just after getting married' trope has been done to death by now - and yet, Rob Thomas says that the reason he killed Logan is because he wants to move the show away from teen romance/soap opera territory. If this was meant to be self-referencing irony, then he picked the wrong character to show how clever he is.

Rob Thomas says that he killed Logan because he wants Veronica to be on her own. He says, 'But I feel like for this show to work as a detective show, it has to be with Veronica as a single woman. I think it’s more interesting to write. If you can’t have your detective have romantic interests, it’s hard. And it teeters on phony trying to get Logan involved in the case somehow to keep him present. If he’s just going to be the boy she goes home to at night, that’s less interesting to me. I can’t say that it’s impossible. But it didn’t appeal to me as much.'

One of the many problems with this is that the show had developed in such a way that Veronica wasn't a single woman. If he wanted to keep her single, why did Veronica and Logan get married? Was this pure fan service? There were so many options in the season in terms of breaking them up. In fact, Veronica spent most of the season treating him so badly that I wish Logan had broken up with her: she mocked him for going to therapy and becoming a more mature person, she told him that she liked him better when he was his old angry, destructive self, and then goaded him into having sex that disgusted him. Why was he still with her after that? Rob Thomas could have written him out of the show in a manner that was true to the characters, instead of having him die in a stupid explosion that blown the plot hole wide open. (How did Veronica forget about the bomber's backpack in her car? Why was the backpack still in the car when he was arrested? How did the police/FBI not scour the car to make sure that every item belonging to the bomber had been removed?) And it is also because of the inconsistent and incoherent manner in which Logan died that makes it even more insulting and frustrating.

More importantly, the suggestion that she wouldn't be interesting to write as a married woman is not only sexist, but, to me, shores up the limits of Rob Thomas' imagination. The idea that being in a relationship, presumably one that makes her happy, makes a woman less interesting is sexist, for it suggests that women are only interesting when we are alone and unhappy. But what I find more troubling for Veronica as a character is how her creator seems unwilling to let her get out of her teenager mindset (ironic, considering his complaints about LoVe being too teen romance-y), which then translates into his notion that she wouldn't be interesting to write as a married woman. What was really striking throughout Season 4 was how immature and messed up Veronica still is despite being in her thirties. What annoyed me about her reaction to Logan's proposal wasn't (contrary to what you think, Kristen Bell) that she turned him down; it was that she ran away like a child, instead of talking about it with him like an adult. It was frustrating to see her act in this way because she was a character that I felt I had grown up with - and yet, she had not grown up very much at all.

So instead of letting Veronica grow organically, Rob Thomas seems intent on holding her back - and not just holding her back; holding her down. In order to keep her 'interesting' as a single woman, he decides to inflict on her one of the most devastating heartbreak anyone could ever go through: the loss of a spouse. This is on top of all the trauma that's she's already gone through: her best friend's murder, her mother leaving her, her own rape. I mean, if this is how Rob Thomas treats a character that he supposedly loves, I don't want to know how he treats those that he hates.

As for why his creative decision shores up the limits of his imagination: there are so many directions he could have taken Married Veronica, but he decided that none of them are interesting. Instead of subverting genre expectations (he talked about how no one in the noir detective genre has relationships), he thinks it's more interesting to adhere to them blindly even if the character in question would be done a huge disservice. So it sounds to me like Rob Thomas was no longer interested in the way Veronica had evolved; that he's more interested in writing a purely detective/mystery show.

So why even bother with Veronica Mars? Why not start a new show entirely? But here's the fundamental problem with his new direction for the show: the mystery isn't even that good. He simply isn't a very good mystery writer, and it shows in the leaps of logic that both Veronica and Keith take in this season, especially towards the end. (E.g. when they were in the interrogation room with the pizza guy, who was trying to convince them of his innocence, Veronica suddenly brought up some random college guys who were barely in the show as related to the bombings. I had to rewind the episode to see what the connection was; and it was literally 'if anyone in the world could have done it, why not the college kids?' Well, why not the pizza guy's love interest, or his murder group members? Why the college kids? Oh, because anyone could have done it. Great logic.) As such, I didn't watch Veronica Mars for the mystery; I watched it for her, and her relationships.

I have absolutely no interest in a stripped back Veronica Mars that's all about the not-very-good mysteries that she solves. While the show is likely to remain an all-time favourite if I pretend that it ended with the marriage scene, I will not watching a Season 5, if it happens.

(And yes: I cried when Logan died. Cried for about 15 minutes more over the phone to E when I turned off my computer.)
Charah coffee

(no subject)

If I was expecting the thesis submission to suddenly open up a flood of clarity, of posivity, of purpose, then I was sorely mistaken. In the end, it all seemed somewhat anti-climatic, and it doesn't help that I haven't stayed in one place long enough to truly settle back into a routine that gives me a sense of purpose. Namely: a writing routine, similar to what I did while writing the Daredevil fanfic (which, by the way, I have not revisited; in fact, thinking about editing that massive piece of work induces a sense of dread and excitement all at once).

Interestingly, while in Sicily with E over the past week, I began writing something that felt like - and, I suppose, still feels like - the start of a novel. Unfortunately, it came so suddenly, and I had so little time and energy on the trip to work on it, that I don't even know how old my narrator is, where the story is set, let alone where it's going. This definitely isn't the novel that I wanted to write post-PhD; it came out of the blue, felt somewhat authentic, and I think I will try to pursue it, but I don't really know. On the other hand, I have a clear idea of what I want to do with the novel that I want to write. In fact, I've already written two versions of the opening section. Unfortunately, they both suck, so I'm probably going to re-write it again.

Anyway. Writing is exhilarating and scary at the same time, and I am definitely not doing enough of it. I did, however, just submit an essay to the New York Times' Modern Love column; an essay that I wrote four years ago about American Mark. I had completely forgotten about the essay (and American Mark) until I came across it while looking through my 'Prose' folder a few months ago. I was surprised, while reading it, that 1) I didn't completely faint at how badly written it was; and 2) it still felt emotionally true. And so I shortened it to meet the word limit, tightened up the language, and sent it off. I have a 1 in 100 chance of it being published, which basically means I have no chance. Still, it's worth a shot, right?

*

Sicily was quite lovely, even if it did darken my skin and turned me into a walking feast for mosquitoes. The highlight - in both positive and negative ways - was trekking up to the near-top of Mount Etna. E likes hiking, and I like challenging myself, which apparently includes putting myself through the usually unpleasant experience of being in the outdoors, trying to do something as unnatural and needless as walking up and down (especially down) jagged, uneven surfaces, which are obviously not meant for people to walk on. If they were, they would be smooth and even, right? I think so too.

The truth is, the primary allure of hiking for me right now is that it is a challenge in itself - nothing more. I enjoy it only when I don't have to deal with jagged rocks or dried up lava, as was the case on Mount Etna. I can only enjoy the view when I'm not scared shitless, worried that I would fall and injure myself while trying to make my way down some random crater or whatever. The Etna trek (I would hardly call it a hike; we had to take a cable car up 2000m or something, then a bus up a further x metres) was actually quite nice...until the last bit, when the guide took the group to some crater (I honestly don't know what I was walking up or standing on) and I discovered that I had to somehow walk down this very steep slope - probably the side of the crater.

I was already having difficulties walking up. When I say 'difficulties', I mean that I was unable to keep at bay the panic attack that eventually took over at the sight of the...thing that I had to walk down. I freaked out, E couldn't manage it, I cried - and only made it down because another guide came over and held on to me as I made my way down, in a state of panic, fear and fuming anger.

It wasn't even walking, not really. It was more like sliding and trying not to fall. In retrospect, I probably could have done it without freaking out; but it was literally my third time on a mountain, and this one was a volcano, and my first two flirtations with hiking didn't go particularly well, either. I had no confidence in my abilities because I had little prior experience; above all else, I don't like being pushed too far out of my comfort zone. Or more accurately, the kind of challenge that I was after was my physical ability, my fitness, to sustain a 6-hour hike or whatever. It was not the challenge of trying to 'walk' down the side of a bloody crater.

So I slid and stompd my way down, my form so poor that my right knee, because pushed too far forward, began to hurt. And mercifully, it was over...but my mood had gone downhill along with my reluctant and frightened descent. When I reached the bottom, the main guide came over to me and asked me what the problem was. 'What are you scared of?' he asked. 'It's fine. It's like walking on snow.'

I have never walked on snow. 'I have never walked on snow,' I told him, unable to keep the incredulity out of my voice. He had nothing to say to that.

There was more walking up and down rocky and jagged dried lava after that, and a bit more sliding down some crater, albeit less steep this time. The funny thing was, I was so angry that I was kind of just stomping through everything, wanting only to get the hell off the damn volcano and back to civilisation where I could walk like a normal human being. Perhaps that's the trick, then: not caring. Will there be a next time? Maybe. Probably.

My hiking shoes made a huge difference though. They bore the brunt of my slipping, twisting themselves into all kinds of angles so that my ankles didn't have to. So, yeah, buying them was a good idea.

*

I don't feel like writing anymore.
Charah coffee

I Submitted My Thesis

I submitted my PhD thesis yesterday - finally. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I had a dream - at least, I hope it was a dream - that I spotted a typo while flipping through my own copy of the thesis after the two copies had already been submitted. This dream, I think, represents my state of mind over the past few days in a nutshell: reading and re-reading the thesis, keeping an eye out for typos and embarrassing grammatical errors, trying to 'perfect' it as if such a thing could ever be perfected...and having the fear, probably irrational, of missing something - any tiny mistake of whatever kind - in the thesis, and discovering it only when it's too late.

It hasn't been fun, to say the least. In fact, very little of the past four years can be described as 'fun'. I wish I could be more positive about the whole experience; but the truth is, it has been largely dreadful, mostly disappointing, and it's left me with more regrets than anything else. It has been almost as much of a struggle as when I was working as a lawyer; and since I consider my 1.5 years or so in private practice some of the worst of my life, that's saying a lot. What did I struggle with specifically? A lack of passion. This was what plagued me in practice, and it's been a constant source of angst and dissatisfaction throughout the PhD process.

I suppose one could say it's a blessing that the thesis turned out all right, according to those who have read it, despite the struggles and the lack of enjoyment. If I wanted to adopt a self-aggrandising perspective, I would say that it speaks to my abilities that I was able to finish this to a decent-ish standard despite all the negativity that plagued me along the way. That is: I could make a decent career out of this academic thing if I wanted to. That is: the potential is there, more or less; it's a matter of wanting it, or not wanting it.

When John praised the thesis, said that it was original etc, and that I should be proud, it left me with a significant sense of melancholy that I'm not as proud as I probably should be, and neither am I as proud as someone else in my shoes might, or would, be. It boils down to the same problem: I can't take pride, or derive satisfaction, from something that isn't the product of the best version of myself. And so I'm resigned to downplaying the thesis, not because I'm being humble, but because I genuinely think that it's just all right. It's okay. It's decent, but it's not amazing; and even if, by some miracle, the examiners tell me that it's amazing, I probably would still regard this sentiment with scepticism and even some slight distaste.

I wonder, though, how much of this is the problem that I have identified, and how much of it is simply me: my perennial dissatisfaction with everything that I do, my inability to stand back from myself and my negative disposition and judge my work on its merits, my seeming inability to give myself credit where it may be due. And yet, as I type this, I can't help but think: is credit really due, though? Why is it due, and to what? The truth is, I didn't put in as much work as I perhaps ought to have put in. The reason it took me nearly four years to finish and submit is precisely that: the lack of hours, the lack of discipline, the lack of focus. Did I not start writing a novel-length fanfiction around the time I was hoping to submit? Yes, I did. Did this novel-length fanfiction not divert time and energy from my PhD? Hell yes, it did. So I finished the PhD, I feel, through sheer willpower, refusal to admit defeat, fear of failure; by the skin of my teeth, essentially. Had I had John's focus, or Raffael's dedication, I would have submitted this way earlier (and not be faced with my current visa issues, but that's a boring story that I don't want to get into).

Now that it's finished, and I'm no longr obligated to keep at something that hasn't brought me much satisfaction, I am truly at a crossroads. Do I keep pursuing this path because it makes sense, it's expected of me, and I can kind of do it? Or do I get off this road entirely and try a new one - the one that I have always wanted to put my feet on, but was always too afraid because the path is strewn with the failure of other people, littered with the fragments of their broken dreams? Perhaps more importantly, are they really mutually exclusive? I am inclined to think so. If writing the Daredevil fanfic was any reliable indicator at all, once I start a writing project, I can think of nothng else. Does this not suggest that I need a day job that's engaging, but which won't compete with my headspace in such a demanding manner?

话又说回来 (too lazy to think of the English version of this), if there were one positive thing to take away from this PhD, it is that it's finally woken me up to a fact that I have been overlooking, or suppressing, or ignoring: I know the core of my authentic self. I just need to have the courage to live it.

*

Of course, the PhD isn't over yet. I still have to undergo the ordeal known as the viva, and regarding that, I am excited and scared shitless at the same time. The external examiner that I really wanted agreed to examine my thesis - and because I respect his work, I am stoked. At the same time, he's going to be tough - and so I'm scared shitless. The good news is, my internal examiner was also my first year examiner, and she's been very positive about the thesis ever since my revised project was approved. She's also very nice, so there's that.

My requesting the external examiner was also partly strategic. He's a well-known professor in the UK, so if he likes the thesis and thinks I'm not a complete idiot, he may be a helpful person to have in my corner if I want to pursue this.

And to be honest, there's a part of me that can't quite bear to drop this entirely. I met Raffie for coffee today and we discussed his post-doc project, which sounds interesting; and we also discussed my very vague idea for a post-doc research project, which got me a bit excited about academia again.

Still, the uncertainty that I felt when I was trying to articulate the idea - that was the same uncertainty that I have felt throughout the past four years. This lack of confidence in the coherence or worth of the idea - I don't know what its cause, whether it's tied up with what I've said earlier about not living the best version of myself. Whatever it is, it is fucking crippling. It causes me to start questioning, even in the moment I'm explaining something, whether I know what I'm talking about at all, if it makes sense, if it's even a good idea. I think this feeling has been a complete bane of my existence at Cambridge, and it's made me come across as unsure and just kind of dumb, really, at discussions and seminars and whatever. I'm afraid that this would trip me up at the viva, so I'm going to have to work on it.

But anyway. Quite strangely, I felt more excited about post-submission last week than when I'm actually post-submission. I felt so excited when I pictured my life after submitting, in fact, that I had to tell myself to calm down in case something went wrong and the process had to be dragged out even more. It's a bit like having match points when playing a tennis match: you don't want to get ahead of yourself and start imagining the victory because it's at least possible that you're going to blow those match points...exactly like Roger Federer did at the Wimbledon final, 8-7, 40-15 - this actually still hurts so much that I didn't feel anything when I found out he lost to Dimitrov at the US Open.

Anyway. The point is, I had to contain my excitement then. But now, I'm not that excited. For as long as the PhD wasn't done, I had an excuse to put off looking for jobs and figuring out the next step; I even had an excuse to not get back into my flow of writing every day, which I stopped because of the PhD. Now that it's done, I have no excuse anymore - and it's scary. Even writing: as much as I love it, it's scary.

That said, I can't wait to start writing my novel. Finishing it and getting it published - that would be a dream come true.
Charah coffee

France, Part 2

France, continued:

The South of France, in my mind, was supposed to be a paradise of sea and sun: an inviting deep blue sea under an unfiltered sun, a clear pale blue sky, a heat that is almost unbearably hot. On the surface, the South of France was exactly that...except the sea was deceptively inviting, almost unswimmable, because it was so cold.

We tried to go swimming at the little 'beach' by the hotel on the first day. We'd just played an hour's worth of tennis in the dry 30-degree heat, which worked perfectly for me: it was hot and therefore nice, but dry (as opposed to humid, like in Singapore) and therefore non-sweaty. I was particularly looking forward to immersing myself in the sea, both to cool off, and to experience again the incomparable sense of largeness and freedom that I always feel when I swim in the open sea.

We got our things, walked to the beach. I had difficulties navigating the uncomfortable pebbles; only to be out-done by the sheer shock that I felt when I finally wobbled my way to the water, dipped my feet in it, and felt as if I had just stepped into an ice-cold bucket.

It was cold, it was quite windy, he was not comfortable with the water temperature, and so I freaked out. Note, though, that this was a week before my period so my mood swung happily from one extreme to the other, depending on what we were doing. So I freaked out and burst into tears because it was not what I had in mind; namely, I did not have in mind a water temperature that made me not want to go into the water at all. So we abandoned ship, headed for the small little pool; at least I got some swimming in. E found out that there was a public beach down the hill from the hotel, which we (he, really) hoped would be warmer given it was closed, sort of, and full of people.

We went to the sandy part the next morning. It was not warmer at all. But I was determined to swim, so after maybe 5-10 minutes of standing in the sea, cursing the water for being as cold as it was, I took the plunge and started swimming. It became bearable after I got used to the water temperature; but because the swimming area was quite close to the shore and cordoned off by a safety barrier, probably because there were yachts and sailing boats just up ahead, it didn't that wonderful.

Next to the sandy part, though, was another beach: the naturally pebbled one, no safety barriers. The next evening, I dragged E to that beach, just to try, I said. We tried; stepped into the water, shuddered at its coldness, and even though I desperately wanted to swim, E's complaining about its coldness did not inspire any confidence at all (harsh, but true!). After a while, though, I decided I was being stupid; that I was already there, so I might as well just do it; and so I just did it. I started swimming, surging forward to a more or less open horizon, let my body get accustomed to the cold; and when it did, there was that magical feeling again: of being as one with the sea, of not knowing, temporarily, where it ended and I began, of being at peace with the deep and frightening mysteries that it held, as if the sea were my friend and being a part of it was the most natural thing in the world.

E doesn't like swimming, so he got out of the water after a short while. I stayed on, and held on until the cold started permeating my skin and penetrating into my flesh. That was when I finally, albeit reluctantly, admitted defeat, and got out of the water, some distance from where we had lay our towels. I saw E approach, holding my flip-flops, as it was painful walking on the hard pebbles. How sweet, right? I think so too.

*

We went to Arles on one of those days; I forget which one. Like I said, I wish we had done more research on van Gogh's regular haunts, as we only sort of stumbled upon it around 6pm when we walked past the Espace Van Gogh and I found out, while eavesdropping on an English-speaking tour guide, that it was a hospital where van Gogh had stayed before he transferred to the hospital where he lived out the rest of his life. Then we found out that the riverbank where we'd stumbled upon two evenings ago was the spot where he painted his Starry Night over the Rhone painting (not to be confused with The Starry Night), when I casually flipped through a thin book about his paintings and found a map of the locations of his famous works in Arles. Afer that, we tried to find the location of his yellow house, just to be utterly disappointed when it turned out that it was gone, and replaced with a decidedly unartistic and uninspiring carpark.

Still, it was a good day, albeit almost unbearably hot. We went to the Langlois Bridge (now called the van Gogh bridge) first, as my parents have a print of one of the paintings that he did of it hanging in our house, and I wanted to see it. The bridge is no longer in use, but the scene was pretty much as van Gogh had painted, except with more green, less yellow. Even the house is still there. I love being connected with a history that I find compelling like that.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Arles. When we were there for dinner two evenings ago, I noticed the numerous works of photography on the walls of the streets, which I really liked. I found out later that there's a huge non-commercial photography exhibition of sorts in Arles. I didn't want to pay to go to the Roman ruins (honestly, I've already been to Rome, so these other Roman ruins don't hold much interest for me), so we walked around in the heat (where I marveled over how the town looked like something out of a van Gogh painting) sought refuge in a little cafe purported to have air-con when the heat became too much, and wandered around again (that was when we discovered the van Gogh places) until it was time for dinner at 8pm.

By that day, I was getting very sick of vegetarian food in France, or at least, in French towns that aren't big ones like Paris. I was basically eating eggs and cheese and salad (as in raw vegetables) ever day. E wanted to find something different for me in Arles, which is big enough to have more options than the seaside town of the hotel - and found this fusion place which seemed cool. And don't get me wrong: the food, on the whole, was good. But I ended up eating cheese anyway because those were the only non-meat/seafood options. Alas!

Still: the melon puree with pesto, pine nuts and seaweed was surprisingly sweet and refreshing. I liked the Saint Nectaire (?) cheese as well. I also liked the burrata, but you can hardly go wrong with that.

What I didn't really like was the grilled watermelons with feta, sprinkled with sesame seeds. First, while the watermelon did look grilled, it tasted just like a regular watermelon. Second, I didn't think that the watermelon and feta went well together. The texture of the two was rather too different for it to work: the watermelon light, the feta thick and chunky, It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as interesting as it sounded. We did have a yummy rice pudding for dessert, though. So all in all, that was probably one of the best meals I had on the trip - but the best meals were undoubtedly the food that his mom cooked!