seem city


We’ve been back for a month already, and once again I have no idea where the time went… The holiday has been good, very good, and very long. I still have to post pictures about that, but the task is really daunting at the moment, so procrastination, once again, prevails. Besides, most of you readers have probably seen us during the holidays, right?

But for you Giedre and Kaj, I will do something about the pictures, I promise. There are quite a few meals and sunny adventures to document.

So, back again…

I must say that having been away for more than a month was a good thing at this point. I really did forget almost everything about Seem City, and especially what I really dislike about it. I forgot about work and the useless waste of time whenever you need to do something. I forgot about the general narrowmindedness of the people…only to realise that things aren’t that much better in Italy. People are pretty narrowminded too, and when it comes to losing time between one office and the next, Italy is pretty high on the list as well.

Except that we have more babes on TV, and we don’t stress out all the time. Cause and consequence?

There is this unshakable feeling of decay though, and as an Italian living abroad, I don’t find it quaint or endearing when I go back. I find it irritating and depressing. Italy as a whole does not have to look like the set of Under the Tuscan Sun, because that’s very nice and dandy for rich American retirees, but that’s demoralising for a family of four barely making it to the end of the month. We can thank 5 years of absurd non-government by Berlusconi for that. The way he managed to screw things up, I don’t think many people could match it. No wonder Prodi said that ‘Italians have gone mad’ the other day when he explained that we refuse to think of the future and make the necessary sacrifices for it… menefreghismo prevails.

Talking about sacrifices, the government is raising the GST from 5 to 7% over here. Obviously, a lot of people are going to complain about it, especially about the way they are sugarcoating the move, saying that it comes at a period of unprecedented growth and economic well-being.

Now my views are probably biased since I have always been raised in socialist governments by law-abiding civil servant parents who actually pay taxes, and this is pretty much how my grandmothers can afford to stay on their own and get around and buy their food and not beg or be forced to sell tissues on the street at 75. However, it seems that a lot of dissenting voices are now criticising the welfare state left right and centre, saying how it’s not sustainable and how the ageing population won’t be able to keep up with the funding of pensions, and so on… while I find the argument specious (northern Europe is still doing fine all things considered) I find the situation worrying here.

The other day I was waiting for the bus when a lady sat next to me. She was dressed like any woman in her late fifties, well-spoken and quite articulate. In fact she reminded me of my mother in law, in the sense that you don’t meet that many people¬†in Seem City who are actually able to speak English properly, and she did.

Next thing i know the lady asked me for some money because she didn’t have any and she was hungry. I only had a 50 dollar bill and my loose change, so I gave it to her, and she asked me again if I had a fiver or something, so I smiled at her and told her that I could only give her my change.

‘What happened to you?’ I asked.

‘I’m 59, and I lost my job, and people won’t want me for a waitress because I’m too old and they want young like you’, she said.

We talked a bit and it turned out that she knew French and Italian, and was learning Hindi for fun from a Lonely Planet phrasebook, and that basically she was pretty much on her own now. If you had seen her on the street you would never had guessed that she needed money that badly.

J. says that this generation is putting everyone in a difficult position. Selfish by nature after¬†having been raised in the 80’s and 90’s, fewer and fewer people want to support their parents, which is the way things work in Asia so far. And since people are quite happy to pay little or no income tax, it would be impossible to impose a semi-welfare state on the working population.

So if you’re old, you’d better hope that your kids will want to spare more than some loose change, or else you’d better stock on tissues and start selling in your neighbourhood.

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I have been considered a source of concern of late at the office. Let’s just say that my anger is not always managed as well as my superiors would like it to be.

Let’s also say that over here, the moment you raise your voice abve 40 dB sends shivers down every seemcitian’s spine, reminding them of their days in the Army or their constant childhood abuse, or I don’t know what else. It leaves both me and Luca very, very puzzled.

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Yes, I have become angrier ever since I have been here. Yes, I do sometimes lose my cool and start shouting (not at people, but around people, big difference). Yes, I come from another culture, one in which dialogue is welcome and encouraged, even when it includes the occasional curse word. No, I am not going ballistic, and no, I will not come back in the office tomorrow with a swiss army knife and hack my way through rows of cubicles.

It seems that people are also scared of me, this coming from various sources above me. I don’t really know what to think of this. Is there something really wrong about the way I have changed these past three years in Seem City? Or is it that I am fundamentally different from the norm here, and no matter how I try to conform, there will always be a side of me that will never fit the resilient and subservient profile of the perfect civil servant?

Whatever it is, there is much more to feel violently happy about. Luca is now walking all alone at great length, and his curiosity about the world gives me hope that things don’t always have to be the way they are here.

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And even in Seem City, there are moments where things are nice, moments spent in the park listening to the symphonic orchestra, improvising a picnic and just watching a sunny Sunday afternoon go by.

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And this, my friends is the antidote.

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And these, my friends, are the active ingredients.

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So this is the busiest time of the year at work. Every semester, like clockwork, they all start freaking out, just because they have to. No more classes, so you’ve gotta find a way to keep churning all the work, any possible way. Considering that I’m leaving in three weeks, let’s just say that they are giving me an extra-particular hard time…

Luckily for us, Changi Village is not too far from here. I think it has become my favourite spot in the island over time, and for good reasons.

1 it’s far away from town, and it’s not ‘happening’. At all.

2 it’s reputedly ‘seedy’. Not that I actively seek the dirt and the grime in southeast Asia like a good old orientalist westerner, but the surgically clean side of Seem City leaves me cold, and skeptical. When you see what the fines are when you litter or behave just a little bit like you would in your own house, I am enclined to believe that the people in Changi Village are a little more human…

3 it’s one of the ‘hot’ spots of Seem City. I am not interested in the sex industry per se, but then again, it’s good to be reminded that people still have needs, even in Seem City. Even trannies, which is what Changi Village is apparently famous for.

4 Charlie’s corner. Tucked in a corner of the Changi village hawker centre, there is this pub with an impressive beer list. I don’t know where else they serve Maredsous legere, moyenne and forte in the island…the best antidote to civil service ennui.

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It felt really good to just get away for a few hours, at the end of the day, and let Luca get his feet wet and sandy.

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After all, this is what he will get in Sicily, very very soon.

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The music from the telescreen stopped and a voice took over. Winston raised his head to listen. No bulletin from the front, however. It was merely a brief announcement from the Ministry of Plenty. In the preceding quarter, it appeared, the Tenth Three-year-plan’s quota for bootlaces had been overfulfilled by ninety-eight per cent…

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He had been appointed to a sub-committee of a sub-committee which had sprouted from one of the innumerable committees dealing with minor difficulties that arose in the compilation of the Eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. They were engaged in producing something called an interim report, but what it was that they were reporting on he had never deiniftely found out. It was something to do with the question of whether commas should be placed inside brackets, or outside…

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The trumpet-call had let loose an enormous volume of noise. Already an excited voice was gabbling from the telescreen, but even as it started it was almost drowned by a roar of cheering from outside…Under the table Winston’s feet made convulsive movements. He had not stirred from his seat, but in his mind he was running, swiftly running, he was with the crowds outside, cheering himself deaf…

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He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

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From 1984, George Orwell.

This is a serious trip down memory lane…

Geraldine stopped over last week, on her way down under. How convenient that she should have friends in Seem City, just so that she could go back to her native Franche-Comte and claim that she tried…

Durian!
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Ok, so it wasn’t the best thing she ate, and yours truly perfectly understands, because durian is definitely an acquired taste, and yours truly spent two months trying to aquire it. Now, yours truly is a fan. But anyway, good old Gege.

We hadn’t seen each other since the New years’ eve party back in Italy in 2001/2, not long after that year spent teaching together in Providence, and having her home really brought back memories, like the long chilling sessions with dot allison in the background, the derivative discussions about anything that make friendships so special and unique, and something of a luxury over here right now. only Rudy was missing, and that would have been Transit Street on the equator line.

So what do you do when a friend comes over in Seem City?

First some makan, courtesy of the hawker centre just across the road.

That’s some nice nasi lemak that we’re having, it puts a smile on our faces. Well, Gege doesn’t seem all that happy, but that’s because I forgot to tell the Carlsberg lady to take out the icecubes before she poured the beer, so our probable best beer in the world was very cold, and very diluted. But you’ve gotta like the Carlsberg ladies.

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Then some chili crab, on East coast, obviously. This is before the whole mayhem starts and our hands are still clean, and much time is spent catching peanuts with chopsticks. Endless fun.

Luca, though, seems unfazed. Or was he transfixed by the two gorgeous ladies in front of him?

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Having a friend over also makes you see your habitual surroundings in another way. The things she chose to photograph for example, they are definitely taken for granted after a while, like:

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or even these:
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In any case, her blog has much more on the matter, and like the consciencious teacher that she is, it is updated hourly, or almost.

Luca, always eager to impress la gent feminine, made a few demented faces, and a few cute ones too:
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So now that Gege’s gone, it’s back to us 3. But it was so nice having you over, Tata Dine.

And, friends, stop by too. There is never enough food over here, trust us…

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…and an update, just for those who claim that I am too lazy to keep up with the posts…

We just had the first of Luca’s two birthday parties. Today was the friendly leg, tomorrow is the family/relatives leg. For the occasion, my in-laws took Luca to the hairdresser, and although i would have been adverse to it at first, I must say the result is quite nice.

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He’s got that little beatleslike fringe which so many indie bands have been favouring over the years. Let’s hope that the genes in his hair don’t go all haywire and morph into mine…

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Last few days of studentless bliss…

The trip to Chiang Mai was a very welcome break from all the madness and unnecessary stress over here, and there will be pictures soon, so no need to tell too much about it now.

But Seem City though… I was explaining to j. the other day how I thought that the pun, albeit being a little forceful and obvious, embodies what this place really is all about: a simulation, times two. So everything seems ok and nice and all. It would take more than just this post to fully develop this – and there will be quite a few entries on the matter, I think – but Seem City is at least more honest than Lion City.

Feel free to disagree and show me otherwise.

Even their idea of a casino, straight from some winning Las Vegas think tank or something, becomes an integrated resort. I mean, who are we really trying to fool here? So yes, seem city it is.

Random example:

Every evening after work I walk by the soccer field at my school, and as I almost always take this 8-minute walk to just let go of  whatever kept me busy/frustrated/unnerved/bummed for most of the day, I watch the kids kick the ball.

They’re having fun, these kids, no doubt about that. They can’t really play, but it’s not the point, is it? It’s getting together, it’s trying out a few slick moves, it’s nailing that free kick, just like Beckham used to, before he turned Old Spice Posh Boy.

They’re also far away from home, these kids, and as the Emirates ads remind us ‘we all speak one language: football’ ™ © ®

So the nice, heart-warming fuzzy-feeling postcard goes like this: the kid from Sri Lanka passes the ball to the kid from India, who dribbles the befuddled kid from Malaysia and confounds the Malay/Chinese kids from Singapore and, with the unexpected yet essential help from his friend the kid from China, engages in a samba-like exchange, leaving the goal keeper kid from wherever in shock.

The postcard from Seem City.

Reality check: all the abovementioned kids do play soccer, but not at the same time, and it doesn’t take a PhD in socceriology to figure the teams out. Now, I haven’t checked once, or twice. I have checked every day for maybe a year or so. The kids play according to the colour of their skin, the ethnic group they belong to, the overpriced footballing paraphernalia they use on the pitch. So much for racial harmony, this is sequential racial harmony, a multi-compartment Tupperware melting pot.

It’s only soccer, I know, but it speaks volumes about quite a few other things too. Read Galeano, he writes it crystal clear.