Easter in the jungle

 

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One of the worst things about weekends is how short they are and how quickly they disappear. As if through some sort of dark magic, Friday night manages to very quickly dissolve into Sunday afternoon. There’s a specific feeling that rolls around on Sunday night when you realise you’ve spent the last two days wearing pyjamas and playing on your phone while the TV mumbles in the background. Mourning a weekend wasted is not the best way to start a new week.

Weekend escape is a vague phrase trotted out by tour companies and airlines to sell everything from mystery hotel staycations to all-inclusive resort packages. To me though, neither of these are escape. Escape is the opposite of everyday. It’s a phone on flight mode and ignored, it’s getting dirty when the real world demands clean, it’s doing things the hard way when everything is easy and convenient. I know it’s not for everyone, but getting out into nature is my favourite way to escape. Desert, rainforest, tundra, mountains, it’s all good, but my particular favourite is the jungle. It’s immersive, unforgiving and another world completely from the sanitary, city-scapes of Singapore. Fortunately, I don’t have to go far to get my fix. An hour flight and a few hours’ drive is all it took last weekend.

Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra was the setting for our Easter long weekend. While our Instagram and Facebook feeds filled up with picture of foil-covered chocolate, we chose orangutans over bunnies and bird-watching over egg hunts. After a night in the hazy chaos of Medan and a winding, potholed drive, the oil palm plantations gave way to pristine rainforest and rivers so clear it was impossible to judge their depth. Bukit Lawang was our gateway to the jungle. The sleepy town leaned over the banks of the Bahorok River, whose gentle rapids were the ultimate playground for the local kids. I could have spent a week there, but all we had was one afternoon, well-spent exploring bat caves and sinking frosty Bintangs with spicy food.

Our trek began the next morning, before we had even cleared the rubber trees of the village, our guide pointed out a tiny snake halfway through swallowing a frog that was three or four times its size. Welcome to the jungle.

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Much like the hapless frog and the, likely very full, snake, the jungle has a way of consuming you. It dictates your every movement and permeates your every thought. Humidity settles around you like a thick coat and your eyes become sensitive to flurries of movement in your peripheral vision. Time is blurred: you could have been walking for ten minutes or an hour, the trees dilute the sun’s light and make it impossible to judge what a clock might say. But suddenly, it doesn’t matter.

The boots that seemed so bulky and unwieldy when you stuffed them in your check-in luggage are the only thing stopping you from slipping on damp leaf litter and hidden slick clay. Fingers that spend most of their time tapping on keyboards are suddenly grasping rocky ledges and curling around vines. You’re not sure if you’re soaked with rain or sweat, your arms bear the marks of mosquitoes and sharp sticks, mud cakes around your boots and also your bum from scooting down those places that were just too steep. But you don’t notice, all that matters is that next footfall. In this modern age, we might call it mindfulness. Nothing else exists except for that moment.

I challenge anyone to think about emails while tentatively bouncing on a tree root to see if it’ll take your weight. Is it even possible to think about work when you’re staring up at a Sumatran orangutan who is peering right back at you with her impossibly expressive eyes? A final example, and one that is probably more aligned with the general tone of this blog, is if social media is on your mind when you’re coaxing your tired, shaking legs to squat over a jungle toilet. I’m going to guess, probably not.

But then, just as quickly as you arrived, you leave. A hot shower and soap are exquisite luxuries at first, but as you scrub the jungle from your skin, the real world comes flooding back. Then it’s flight times and bag-packing, taxis from the airport and morning alarm clocks. Your bed accepts you back as though you never left. But it takes a bit of time to get back to normal, longer than if you spent the weekend at home. There’s a part of you still in the jungle; in your mind’s eye, you look like Tom Hanks at the end of Castaway, and are still quietly amazed by the potable tap water and clean, quiet comfort of home. The jungle’s effect on time lingers. It feels like you were gone for a long time, but you weren’t. Just an Easter long weekend.

Bested in Barcelona

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As someone who has travelled fairly extensively in Asia and is a vegetarian, I considered myself immune to all but the most insidious cases of food poisoning. You get used to scanning for the gastrointestinally problematic. Check the ice, avoid the salad, look for the popular street food stalls, is it hot? Can you peel it? It becomes second nature when travelling in Asia. Singapore though has incredibly high food safety standards, you’d be hard-pressed to get sick here without having to import some Indonesian tap water. As easy as it would be to fall into blasé patterns, usually I’m very aware that as soon as you step off an aerobridge at Changi you’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto. My history of digestive trauma has been fairly well-documented, but the last episode was years ago, at the end of my last trip to India. These factors meant that my food guard was down on our recent trip to Europe. Way down. As in, “Europe, do your worst!” down.

It was a perfect storm. Living in Asia snobbery (“Please, if that road-side lassi stand didn’t make me sick, nothing will!”), assumptions of vegetarian immunity (“Bacteria eats rotten flesh, not me. Veggie power!), combined with a long spell between attacks (“I am the possessor of the iron stomach! Haahahahaha!”). Naturally, it all came crashing down, in Barcelona of all places. A beautiful city of culture, art and architecture,  and one that’s famous for food and drink too. On paper, we did everything right. A restaurant close to our hotel, in the tourist district but still crowded with locals every day. We ordered a selection of tapas, nothing that we hadn’t tried before, nothing outlandish. Everything tasted great. We paid and retired for the evening. Everything was fine.

Until a few hours later. I woke to Partner 2 leaping out of bed to stagger to the bathroom and make some very upsetting noises. The full spectrum. Use your imagination. When he came back to bed, his face was grey and his hand shook as he took a sip from his water bottle. “I don’t think that dinner was good. How are you feeling?” I was fine, I told him and made some assorted comforting noises and sentiments. Partner 2 is a bit notorious for having a delicate stomach, as much as he loathes to admit it. I was not concerned. It must have been whatever meat he and his sister shared.

As Partner 2 lay sweating in the foetal position, just waiting for his next urgent dash to the bathroom, I went back to sleep. Empathetic as always. Looking back on it now seems like a horror movie when the girl goes down into the dark basement alone. Stop, stupid girl, obviously you’re going to get murdered! But it’s always too late. Hindsight is 20/20.

Sure enough, an hour or so later, I awoke to stabbing pains in my stomach and ran to the bathroom to revisit dinner. Again and again. In between attacks of vomiting, I remembered two things. The first that males generally have faster metabolisms than females. The second, and more critical point, was that no-one had ordered any meat. We had all shared vegetarian tapas.

After a fitful few hours of sleep punctuated by sprints to the bathroom to purge any remaining stomach contents, there was a resigned knock on the door. Partner 2’s sister was at the door looking like she’d been hit by a truck. We all sat on the bed trying to comprehend the fact that in just a few hours we had to get in a taxi and go to the airport, then fly to London, then sit on a train for an hour. Drugs. We needed drugs. Partner 2 and his sister bravely went on a mission across the road to the chemist while I threw up a few more times for good measure.

Retrospectively, it could have been a lot worse. The hotel gave us late check out and the medicine we procured gave us a few hours of precious vomit-free sleep and meant we could keep down some water. By the time we had to head to the airport, after some sleep, electrolytes and a shower, our collective condition has been upgraded from “Kill me now” to just “Awful”. Needless to say it was a long taxi ride, I clutched a plastic bag fearfully, the electrolytes I had drunk threatening to reappear at any moment. But we made it. I even ate something at the airport. The flight was mercifully short and our Uber driver was right where we needed him to be.

I think he was in real danger of being hugged by his three passengers. Despite the signs of inevitable recovery, I had never been so happy to see a blow-up mattress before in my life. We collapsed into bed and slept for 12 hours. Barcelona had bested us. My iron stomach had been demoted back to a regular human organ. And I doubt I’ll ever eat tapas again.

 

 

 

Confirmation

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I’m a runner and when you’ve been running for a while, no matter how slow or begrudgingly you go, you figure out what works for you. I can’t eat before I run. I need at least a good hour between eat and street otherwise I get that hot, kind of queasy sick feeling. Not quite verge-of-vomit but definitely uncomfortable.  Turns out thinking about my confirmation of candidature presentation has the same effect. Logically, it’s ridiculous. I do not have a problem with public speaking, I have had positive feedback from my supervisors on my most recent draft, I’ve still got 10 weeks to prepare. Nonetheless, there’s that itch of insecurity. I refer extensively to the work of one of my panellists and I have the (completely irrational) feeling he’s going to stand up halfway through and say something like, “No. No, you’ve got that all wrong, how could you possibly misunderstand that? You’ve insulted me and my life’s work. Get out.” Then I will leave and walk home, it will inevitably start to rain, and I will think about the years I’ve wasted as a bus drives past and predictably splashes mud all over me.

I was explaining all this to a friend over drinks the other day, musing that all this work could have been for nothing, that I may have wasted years of my life, that my clothes will get all muddy from the imaginary bus-puddle incident etc, etc. My friend wisely cut me off and summarised my rambling: “So what you’ve been doing for twelve months could be completely wrong?”. Oh god. It was said as a joke, this particular friend does not have a molecule of spite or malice in her entire being, she spent most of the conversation reassuring me with saintly patience. Yet that line has circled around my brain like a vulture eyeing off a particularly tasty zebra carcass.

It’s ridiculous that a throwaway comment has stayed with me, and that these irritating insecurities are lingering. The purpose of confirmations is not to make PhD students cry or break out in a rash, it’s to make sure we’re on the right track and to provide a bit of a sounding board. It’s an opportunity to get feedback from outside of your supervisory team, a different perspective that may pick up on something you’ve missed. The majority of students pass and continue with their candidature with no issues. My brain knows all of this, yet I still can’t think about it for too long with that hot, sick feeling rolling into my stomach like I’m up to kilometre 3.5 straight after lunch.

I tried a different approach to assuage some of my paranoia and asked some fellow PhD friends about their confirmation experiences. They were, if possible, less comforting. “It’s no big deal,” they said. “Don’t even worry about it.” It’s all well and good for them, they’re almost finished PhDs! They’re geniuses… Genii? I don’t even know the plural of genius! How am I supposed to get through my confirmation??

I think I’ve figured it out though. The problem is not that I have an over-active imagination or watch too much TV. It’s not that I have to make a 30-minute presentation of my work in front of some of the best minds in the field I’m trying to get into. It’s not even that my work might not be good enough. It’s my friends. I need new friends.

 

 

Squad goals.

Cringe. What has the world come to? This is not going to be an ode to Taylor and her gaggle of powerful friends. My goal is just to get my squad in the same place at the same time.

We all got together twice this year. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s an impressive achievement considering our geographic spread and assorted time commitments. When we do rarely get to see each other, I’m struck by how easy it is. There’s no hesitation, no testing the water, it’s as though we were briefly interrupted by a waiter bringing a coffee rather than six months. “Now where were we…” It’s lovely and comfortable and fun. It also gives a lot of perspective.

The initial conversations are frantic and excited. We talk over each other, screeching and cackling, we’re very much that annoying group of women everyone hates to sit near in restaurants. We settle down into old habits, we talk about work and relationships, and what we’re going to be when we grow up. Just like old times. We’ve all known each other since high school so it’s easy (and fun) to regress a little. Then something comes up that reminds us all we’re not 16 anymore. We talk about house prices and rent, the cost of living in different cities, politics, and travel. And suddenly we’re grown up. How did that happen?

We’re in the midst of organising our next weekend trip, the first of 2016. Also the first since two of us got engaged (not to each other, kind of unfortunately…), one of us bought a house and one of us quit her 9-5 job. We’ve got a lot to catch up on. We did the same thing early this year, a weekend away in Sydney, and I’m hoping it can be at the very least an annual thing. I love my girls, my squad as Taylor Swift might put it (or has she trademarked that word already?). Despite the fact that we pretty much live in each other’s pockets via Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp and any other myriad of technology, it’s not the same as being there in person.

My Mum and her friends, some of them she’s known since they were kids, catch up at least once a month. They go for drinks or dinner or gather at each other’s houses or go away for a weekend. They shriek and giggle and drink wine and talk about relationships and their kids and politics. They listen to music and dance badly and generally cause a ruckus. Mum and her harem are pretty inspirational to me in terms of female friendship.  Inspirational may be a little strong considering the way they dance after a few bottles of wine… (A surprising amount of fist-pumping and an upsetting amount of hip-swivelling). But they all make the effort to get together whenever they can and just enjoy each other’s company. I hope that in 100 years’ time (sorry, Mum, couldn’t resist), that my girls and I are the same.

One final note, I concede that I have failed miserably at my self-imposed blogging challenging. The benefit of hindsight reveals that perhaps this time of year isn’t the best time to start a daily blogging challenge. Christmas madness, prepping for a Euro trip and a looming confirmation of candidature seminar all take up a lot of time but unfortunately are not good blog fodder. I’ll be a little more realistic and aim for once or twice a week. Hopefully I’ll have plenty of time when we’re travelling. Eish, I can hear hindsight chuckling already!

My first wedding magazine

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Oh boy, it begins. I have my first wedding magazine. It was gifted to me by a friend who is getting married in 10 days and has no further need for its whimsical dresses and bespoke chopping boards.

I’ve only flipped through it at this stage, I’m planning on saving it for my upcoming long-haul flight as a bit of mental fairy floss once I’m sick of movies. Even the most perfunctory flipping reveals a few things. Lots of white girls with long hair in perfectly tousled waves. Forests. Forests are hot right now, or at least they were in February. There are lots of pictures of impossibly beautiful couples holding hands in the woods as though it’s the most natural thing in the world to hike in a white gown and suit. I wonder how their guests find these places, do they provide GPS coordinates? Or a map and compass? And what about toilets? Do they hitch a donkey up to a Portaloo and drag it into the bush or do they provide their guests with shovels to dispose of their waste more naturally? That adds a whole other dimension to the whole bridesmaids-helping-the-bride-pee thing. “Dig me a latrine, maids!”

Pinterest has been a great source of mirth for Partner 2 and I: particularly with its suggestions of “21 things you ABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE AT YOUR WEDDING!!!!”. Those things invariably include Grandmas as flower girls and writing your menu on a mirror.

There just seems to be a lot of things that, all of a sudden, you desperately need to have. Monogrammed napkins for example. Seating plans, shirts that say “Wifey”, wedding diets,  cutesy poems explaining to guests that you don’t give a shit where they sit (hey, I haven’t seen that on a chalkboard sign before!), garters, favours, a theme! The theme of the event is wedding. Wedding. It’s a wedding. That seems like a very unnecessary thing to have to specify: please come to my event, the theme is birthday.

In normal, everyday life, these things are ridiculous, indulgent non-essentials. The domain of rich people with too much time on their hands. But suddenly when you’re getting married, they are somehow supposed to be your entire world. It honestly makes my mind boggle and my eyes roll involuntarily. I may yet give myself a migraine from overly aggressive eye-rolling.

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As a disclaimer, all power to the people who want these things in their weddings. As sarcastic and snarky as my tone is, I truly do not mean any disrespect. This is a big time ‘good for she, not for me’ situation. All I want from our wedding is it to look like us. I can appreciate the beauty and romance of all the stuff: the photos in the magazine are gorgeous. But staring lovingly into Partner 2’s face while we frolic in a pine forest while dressed in clothes that cost more than two month’s rent (Singapore rent!) just isn’t us. We do name-calling and street food and wrestling on beaches and poo jokes (I now know what a waffle stomp is, thanks babe) and chasing our cat and tuk-tuks, not flower crowns or “curated food stations” or choreography. At the end of the day, and I am aware of how clichéd and cheesy and sanctimonious, the important thing for me is to end up married to Partner 2. Plus we have a trip to Vegas coming up so there’s always that…

Clementine Ford and modern feminism

In Australia, there has been a lot of talk about feminist writer Clementine Ford in the news lately. Personally, I think she’s great! She calls people and organisations out on their bullshit. Her language is colourful but compelling and she is, to me, the epitome of modern, unapologetic, in-your-face, riotgrrl feminism. She also has great style and I love her tattoos. Am I fangirling too much? Meh, don’t care.

Anyway, Clementine is in the news for calling out a man who wrote crude things and threats on her Facebook page and reporting him to his employer. The employer promptly sacked this shining beacon of humanity. A win! But instead of a national bout of fist-pumping, the response has been one of butt-hurt from those who believe he shouldn’t have lost his job for being a twat.

I suppose there are plenty of twats who are gainfully employed but as an employer, would you really want an employee who doesn’t respect 50 percent of your workforce? Would you want to employ someone who threatens people with violence for simply airing their views? Would you really want an employee who doesn’t understand that Facebook is a public platform and that they are, in fact, accountable for their actions?

The critics justify their opposition by pointing out Clem’s use of foul language. The argument is that Clem herself is prone to colourful language therefore she should not object to being harassed and threatened. Wow, writing down makes the argument seem even more obscure. Anyway, the example provided was that Clem called Australian right-wing journalist Miranda Devine a f*cking c*nt on Twitter. Regardless of what you think of that kind of language and of Miranda Devine (I’m kinda with Clem on this one), calling someone names is very different to graphic threats of violence. And is anyone really offended by being called names anymore? Really? If someone called me a bitch I could shrug and move on pretty quickly, potentially with the help of a single-finger gesture. But if someone said they were going to follow me home and rape me? That’s next level name-calling, the kind that has you looking over your shoulder and wondering if you should call the police. Neither is ideal but one is a hell of a lot worse than the other. Apples and oranges.

There are other flimsy, apologist counter-arguments too. “Oh, he lost his job, what about his family?” You expect me to feel sorry for this hate-spewing misogynist? Nope. But maybe they’re right, we need some sort of place where these ignorant, angry people can be rehabilitated while undertaking meaningful work to earn a wage. Perhaps in a secure facility where they can reflect on their actions and undergo counselling to figure out where all this hateful bile is coming from. Between sessions they can make up care packages for women who are homeless due to domestic violence, they can arrange flowers to send to the families of women who have been killed as a result of their gender, they can write thank-you letters to women’s rights activists, particularly to those tackling intersectionality, they can make “Check your privilege” business cards to hand out when necessary. They’d earn a wage for these tasks, one that they could send to whatever family they help support, and when they are suitably rehabilitated, as assessed by a panel of independent experts, they are free to return to the community.

In the course of my reading, I came across a quote by T. Eriksen that goes: “In a truly dialogic democracy, participants would have to demonstrate knowledge of others before moving on to critical or condescending statements about them”. It’s talking about democracy but I think it’s relevant it most cases. The example TE uses is the (vocal; why are they always so vocal?) criticism of Islam but those who have never so much as picked up a Quran. The same is true here. Unless you know what it’s like to be a woman, or at least make a concerted effort at empathy, you don’t have the right to criticise, particularly criticisms along the lines of what Clem cops on a daily basis. Of course, the experiences of women are by no means universal, I would never even suggest that. What I experience as a straight, white woman is a world away from the experiences of women of colour, women with disabilities and trans women. But being discriminated against, intimidated, bullied, threatened, excluded or made uncomfortable on account of your gender is experienced by women across the board. If you can’t be empathetic and try to understand what that is like, you don’t get an opinion. You straight-up don’t. That’s not ruling out the participation of men. There are plenty of dudes that are fellow feminists-in-arms and engage in meaningful dialogue about how change can happen. It’s just unfortunate that they’re not the ones doing the majority of posting on Clem’s Facebook.

Distractions

I didn’t even last a week! Six days in and I’ve failed my challenge already. Sigh. Not a huge surprise, perhaps I was overly ambitious… May I present though, the reason for my absence yesterday?

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This masterpiece is one of four costumes for FS’s office Christmas party coming up on Friday. The theme is retro and, of course, just pulling on some spandex would be too easy. No, our costumes are a cardboard tribute to that classic, retro game, Tetris.

Like everything, pulling this bad boy together was not as simple as it looks. Rather than just tape a bunch of boxes together, each side was meticulously measured, cut out and re-taped together. This was because we had a snowflake’s chance of getting 16 – 20 boxes of exactly the same size when we were begging supermarkets for their rubbish and digging boxes out of our own recycling bin. Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to take the easy way out, must be nice.

Anyway, now the about ¾ of the hard work is done, I’m pretty impressed. They look very cool. Hopefully they’ll still look as cool when we’ve cut face holes in them and climbed inside… We just have one more piece to build, everyone’s favourite.

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Our next challenge is transporting them. It’s difficult to tell the scale in the photo but the bigger ones (I and L) are taller than me and will never fit in a standard taxi. Because we’re stupid committed to the historical accuracy of our costumes, they do not bend or fold and solidly three-dimensional. Now that I think about it, the original Tetris would have, of course, been 2-D. *Face palm*. Anyway, we’re going to cross our fingers that Uber has a van available because taking four of those on the MRT would cause a riot, no matter how many ways we can make a solid, horizontal line.

All I can say is that we damn well better win best costumes.

Good things

 

There’s a lot of pretty average things going on in the world at the moment, to say the least. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks, wars and bombings. It takes a lot of stomach to read the news without wanting to rest your head on the kitchen table and sob. Adding to that, we’ve reached the back paddock of the year. We can see the end, we can see holidays, but we’ve still got a field’s worth of shit to wade through before we get out.

In an effort to circumvent all of this unpleasantness, I’ve been thinking about the little things that are good. Not in a cheesey “a child’s smile” kind of way, but just those every day, mundane things that make life just a little bit brighter. I am, of course, extremely wary of coming across as one of those Instagram positivity banshees who post pictures of sunsets or the ocean with a vague quote plastered over the top of it.

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I think it’s time to aim for a middle point between the reality of this messed up world and the proliferation of overly filtered portrayals of how great everything is. We need to tone down the Everything is Awesome!/#blessed/#soblessed/500 days of gratitude and tune out some of the barrage of terrible news we’re faced with every day. That’s not to say it isn’t important to be informed and engaged with the issues facing us as a society. It is. Now more than ever. But I think there’s scope for a little corner of our minds, or in my case the internet, for appreciating the everyday things in all their mundane excellence.

So here it is, my three average things that are absolutely nothing special. They don’t make me #soblessed or #grateful enough to post about on Instagram, but they are also not highly contagious diseases with high mortality rates or radical militant movements. They’re just good things. And sometimes that’s enough.

So here we go:

3: Singaporean carrot cake

You’re not really a carrot cake! Where’s the cream cheese icing? Where’s the walnuts? You’re not even sweet! Is there even any carrot in you? You are more like an omelette than anything else. Cake? Pfft. No, you’re a savoury, sneaky bastard but dammit, I love you.

2: Cats.

Shocker, I know. It seems like every day I creep a little bit closer to crazy cat lady territory. I’m embracing it though. I am unashamedly grateful for cats. For my own cat who has a huge attitude problem and is responsible for the cat hair tumbleweeds bouncing down the hall. I am also thankful for our community cat, affectionately known as Catniss Neverclean. She is always so happy to see me and runs down the street to say hello. She is, however, only available between the hours of 6am-9am and 4pm-8pm, otherwise it’s too hot. Even though I’ve stopped carrying cat food in my handbag, much to the relief of FS, Catniss doesn’t hold it against me and is always up for a pat.

1: Binge-watching TV series

Gone are the days of waiting a whole week for the next episode of a great TV show. What a time to be alive. I’m currently working my way through The Office, the American version, and it is pretty excellent. Being able to watch a full season of a TV show in one sitting is an absolute privilege for which I am so very #grateful.

They’re not much, only tiny stupid things, but watching my cat chase a tuft of her own fur and ordering a cheap plate of delicious hawker food are all it takes to put me in a good mood. And that’s all I need.

 

Observational

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It’s pretty grim when, on day four of a blog writing challenge, you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for blog ideas. Never fear, dear reader. I’m hoping that delightful observational insights from Singapore will keep you entertained until tomorrow. After all, there’s only so many times I can write about weddings, PhDs and my cat.

In Singapore, there’s a different seating hierarchy on public transport (hoooo boy, a public transport post already!). There really is though. In Australia, it’s pregnant women, people with disabilities, and older people who get the seats. Not you. Stand up. Go on. That’s the way. You get a warm fuzzy, the person in need gets a seat, not so complicated. Here in Singapore though, it is more complicated. There are significantly less seats. And those seats are taken way more seriously.

In Singapore, the MRT (and I really cannot speak for buses) seating hierarchy goes pregnant women, people with disabilities, kids then older people. Yes, kids are in on the seating chart here. In Singapore, people will give up their hard-fought seats for kids. Children. As in those small humans with bouncy bones and young legs. Yeah, them. They get priority over an older Aunty with two fistfuls of shopping bags. But the Aunties love it, they smile and coo, all the while eyeballing the person on the seat next door. They’re happy to give up their seat for a kid, but if they do, they damn well want yours to make up for it.

They say that the fastest you’ll see a Singaporean move is when there’s a spare seat on public transport. I’m not sure if that’s true, but what I have definitely observed is the number of people I’ve seen leap out of their seats for someone who they think is more deserving. I do hate to finish on a warm fuzzy but it’s a Friday night and I’ve had a few drinks. Happy weekend, readers!

Becoming an expert

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Sometimes I wish my PhD course was a little more flexible. Just a minor thing. Like the option to weasel out of doing a literature review. I’d do terrible things to get out of it. Bad things. Not that sort of bad, you perv. Like I’ll take out the rubbish when the bag has split and then clean up the trail of garbage juice. I’ll go to the dentist. I’ll babysit the shrieking hellspawn kids next door. I’ll watch that James Franco movie about North Korea. Just don’t make me review the literature. Don’t make me talk about situating my research. Don’t make me present myself as someone with the authority to make a critical assessment of the relevant literature in my field. Do you know how crazy that is? I’ve only just found my field and cleared away some of the rocks so I can set up camp! I can’t review it yet, I’ve only just started looking around!

I’ve read more this year than I have in my entire life accumulatively. Far from feeling enriched and learn-ed (said with two syllables, while swirling a glass of cognac), I feel a looming sense of panic about everything I don’t know. Every reference suggests ten more that I probably should have read already. They say you should stop reading when you stop learning something new. What if that doesn’t happen? What if, at my completion seminar, I stand up and tell them I can’t present my data because I’m still reading? It’s a real possibility, or it seems like it at this point.

As a kind-of-external student, my isolation is a blessing and a curse. I can smash out 1000 words before breakfast but by lunchtime I may be still in my pyjamas and telling my cat that she’ll get a doctorate before I will. The cathartic, self-deprecating exchanges with fellow students over coffee are something I really miss about the studying experience. Sure, at the library I’ll share a mildly hysterical look with someone else who has a stack of books and an aura of drowning, but it’s just not the same. For now I’ll have to settle for online rants and the biannual trip home.

My last trip back did reassure me somewhat. I know this won’t last forever. I’m the post-grad equivalent of an undergrad who is fresh out of high school. The panic will pass and I’ll find my feet. By the end of my PhD, I’ll be completely self-assured, an expert in my field. Grad students and UN reps will ask me if I’ve read this insightful new book that has pretty much come up with a flawless new development paradigm. I’ll sigh indulgently, “Oh darling, I wrote the book”, and point a meticulously-filed finger at my byline on the cover. Because future me has a book and a manicure.  I suppose she doesn’t chew the sides of her fingernails so they aren’t torn and ragged and I bet she doesn’t worry about getting hepatitis from taking her open wounds to a nail salon. I bet she can write concluding sentences for paragraphs too. Sigh.

For now though, this novice will make a coffee and shamefully get the packet of cooking chocolate out of the fridge. Times are tough when you turn to cooking chocolate. I’ll make a coffee and go back to the last sentence of that paragraph. Ok, the last sentences of those three paragraphs.