Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dave Matthews at Wembley

Wow, what a night! I’ve just returned from a Dave Matthews concert at the Wembley Arena with the HM, SSG and GNK. Yes, what a night! Finally, a chance to see the man himself, in his raspy voice, performing a full three hours before a very appreciative audience. And the timing couldn’t have been better, with my final exam on the Theories of International Relations having concluded only earlier that day.

When I stepped into the City Temple exam venue in the afternoon, the skies were dark and rain was steadily falling. When I emerged three hours later, with hand weary and head exhausted, I was greeted with sunny skies and warmer weather, even though the day was near to an end.

It took me some time, though, before the significance of what had just occurred hit me– that I had at last finished my concluding exam paper – and, hopefully, the very final exam of my life. I’ve been doing this for far too long, and to repeat such an odious experience anytime in the future would be to indulge in unnecessary farce and self-torture.

After a quick dinner at the Nandos outlet at the Brunswick, we left for Wembley Park on board a Piccadilly line and then a Metropolitan line Tube train. It was quite a sight getting to the destination station, for greeting us was the splendid edifice of the new Wembley Stadium, which had only come into operation recently.

The Wembley Arena, however, is a separate indoor performance venue located just next to the stadium. The performance by Dave Matthews and his band was very good indeed, although I wished that they had played more of the old hits such as Grey Street, Bartender and Crush, which I count as among my firm favourites. They opened with a few songs from the newest album, Stand Up, released in 2005, which I don’t regard as among their best.

But never mind. I got what I came for, especially their penchant for playing extended track versions of their major hits, where, after the first few minutes of singing, you’re treated to up to 10 minutes of pure and exciting instrumental music, almost resembling a jazz jam session. Violinist Boyd Tinsley was especially exhilarating, as he stomped around the stage, goading his fiddle into all manners of ecstatic squealing.

Right from the start, I wanted to get up and move to the beat of the music, but was surprised to find the London crowd rather sedate, with everyone seated until the very end. At my last concert in Singapore before leaving for London, featuring Coldplay, the entire audience then was on their feet even before Chris Martin had appeared. So what’s this talk about placid audiences in Singapore?

In any case, that’s a minor matter. For when Dave Matthews re-emerged after much clapping, yelling and shouting for his encore performance, the audience thundered into paroxysms of utter delight, and we were all amply rewarded. Yes, this was what I came for. This was what I had waited so long for. Dave Matthews – the man from South Africa and America whose music has given me some of the best moments of my life.

All right. Enuff said. I’m tired, and I’m outta here for a couple of days.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

How Things Turned Out

The weekend turned out to be a washout in more than one sense of the word. The rain came down steadily, incessantly, drenching London in a dreary and dismal blanket of tears, or so it seems, looking back. The winds were strong, and the air was chilly. It was a brave move on my part, taking time away from studies to join her on a jaunt through the city. Well, the London Eye was good – which we managed to board only on Sunday, after it broke down yesterday – as was Chicago the musical, the Tate Modern and Portobello market as well, plus gastronomic offerings from the Gay Hussar, Belgo Centraal, Royal China and Veeraswamy. We walked a lot, talked a lot, umbrella in hand, sometimes with a chai latte, and sometimes with waffles and ice cream. I guess it was nice. We saw quite a bit of the city - as far west as Notting Hill, as far east as Liverpool Street, and traversed along much of the South Bank too. But given how things turned out, perhaps I could have remained in my room, swotting and cramming away. I should have realized that there are just some things over which I'd never really have a say....

Friday, May 25, 2007

Five Questions From Failure

- Show how the effect of a tariff on imports benefits or harms domestic producers and consumers.

- Explain how applying a user fee to recover the cost of providing a pubic (sic) good such as a bridge, or a road, is inefficient.

- You are trying to deter pollution with abatement cost
A, probability of detection p and a penalty F. Explain how your choice of the variables (p. F) is influenced by potential polluters’ attitudes to risk.

- Give a definition of poverty and explain its advantages and disadvantages.

- The Stern Report proposed a Pigouvian approach to controlling carbon emissions. Explain why may this be better than a Coasian solution to this problem?

So these were the five questions I tackled this morning in my Economics exam. It was a paper I had feared fervently. But did I do well? Well, I guess I should scrape a pass at least. And yes, the second question did specify a “pubic good” such as a bridge or a road. I sure hope the passageway was clean, and that there’s been little traffic.

This was the second of my four papers, with the first – Research Methods – having come earlier on Monday. I feel exhausted, after weeks and weeks in comparative seclusion, completing four essays and now having concluded two exams. Two more papers await me next week – Theories and Actors of the Public Policy Process, and Theories of International Relations. And after that? Two more essays to be finished within two weeks.

Can die man. I’ve done so many exams in this life, and sometimes I wonder why I got myself into this situation again. What’s the point? All these late nights chained to the desk certainly ain’t healthy.

It’s also been interesting comparing my experiences now with what I went through back at NUS and NTU many moons ago. The exam hall setting and atmosphere is just as crappy. I realize as well that the terms like "mugging" and "smoking" are entirely organic to Singapore. I talked about having to mug the night away, and was greeted with looks of incomprehension from some of my classmates.

As for the smoking, it will come in the third and fourth papers. No chance to smoke my way through anything so far, given that the first two papers were quantitative in nature. Meanwhile, a friend from home is in town – unfortunate though the timing is – and I plan to spend some time with her over the weekend, exploring London. I think it promises to be a nice break, especially with cooler weather forecast.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Seven Hours of Statistical Hell

OK, so I was wrong in my prediction for the FA Cup finals. Bah. Chelsea? Manchester United? Who cares? I support Arsenal anyway…

I have but two nights to go before the first paper of the exam season – the killer research methods paper, comprising tons and tons of statistical verbiage – but I’m sitting here totally stoned, weighed down with food and unable to plough ahead. Of course, I’ve just had the benefit of another wonderful dinner prepared by the Celebrity Swinger Chef, who prepared a delectable selection today, featuring a star bak kut teh pot.

It’s nice to get together with the gang again, for such opportunities are steadily dwindling, as some of them begin to head back home in the next couple of months. I’ll have the good fortune of hanging around in London till late summer, and I intend fully to be rampant around London in the coming weeks, spending less time in my room. I’ve just about had enough cooping myself up here.

Yet this was a most productive day. My good Canadian friend from class swung by Goodenough, and together we did some exam revisions for a full seven hours, by which time our brains had exploded, splattering the room in a spectacular kaleidoscope of colours.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. Yet we didn’t even manage to find time to discuss multiple regression. We’ll have to meet tomorrow to go through more head churning exercises.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Blues or the Reds?

Chelsea takes on Manchester United tomorrow for the FA Cup final. It's good to see the match being played at the new Wembley Stadium. So who's going to win? Since I can't stand Jose Mourinho - what a prick - and since Chelsea's recent form hasn't been that spectacular, let's bet on Man U lifting the trophy after a hard fought 2-1 match. Of course, I've got a soft spot for Frank Lumpah, so it would be nice if he's the one scoring for Chelsea.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Four Days To D Day

And the preparations for the battles ahead continue relentlessly...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Running in the Cold

Over the past few days here in London, it’s really been cold, dismal and dreary. Winter has made a sudden return, so it seems. Out came the jumpers and the sweaters, and I’ve had to turn on the heater again. The BBC weather pages predict a high of only 14 degrees tomorrow. Of course, all this is temporary, and by the end of the week, we’ll be seeing temperatures around 20 Celsius again. Yet I’m rather enjoying this spell of cooler weather, although it makes waking up very difficult indeed.

With the last of the pre-exam essays completed, I felt I needed to get out today for a good, long run. But instead of heading up yet again to Regent’s Park, I thought I’d turn eastwards and southwards this time through some uncharted territory near the City of London. My route took me down Gray’s Inn Road and then a left on High Holborn, followed by a jaunt along Fetter Lane and Fleet Street. Before long, we passed St Paul’s Cathedral and found ourselves on Cornhill, where the Royal Exchange was sited, before ending at the famous Erotic Gherkin - the striking Swiss Re building on 30 St Mary Axe and now a firm icon on the London skyline.

I’ve seen the Gherkin from afar many times, but this was the first I came right up to the building. It’s a bit smaller than I imagined, yet very impressive and very pretty – its distinctive colours and contours reflected brilliantly on the glass paneling of adjacent tower blocks. With the brooding and bleak clouds of the morning having given way to bright blue skies, it seemed like a perfect quiet Sunday to be out enjoying the lovely life to be had in London.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Dinner at Browns

A short entry, but it captures thoughts of a lovely evening. I sure was glad to leave my room, abandoning all thoughts of studies and of exams to meet up with a good friend and colleague from home, in town currently for a conference. Indeed, she took over the position I vacated when I left Singapore for London, and as such, much of the evening was spent catching up on office gossip.

It was a cool, blustery and wet day. We gathered at the Browns restaurant on St Martin’s Lane near Covent Garden, right next to the performance venue for Avenue Q. The previous time I dined at a Browns outlet was prior to catching Casino Royale at the West India Quay in October. I made a little note then to try the Steak, Mushroom and Guinness pie if I frequented Browns again.

And indeed, that was what I had last evening – yum – preceded by a Caipirinha cocktail, containing Finnish vodka, syrup and lime, plus a subtle crab and avocado salad, and followed later by a dense brownie with vanilla and a good cup of brewed coffee. *Burp*

It’s good to see I haven’t lost my touch. Now it’s time to hit the books again, back to the harness, pulling up the socks, burning the midnight oil, putting the nose to the grindstone…well, you get the picture.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Since I'm Feeling So Inspired

I’m back my desk, after spending the afternoon away on a nice interlude from studying. We’ve just had a Canadian-themed Dining In at the College, and that accounts for the bison burger churning inside my stomach right now. But given that it was a Goodenough burger, that meant that it was anything but. Still, the roast potatoes and Black Forest cake made up for everything. And added to the Starbucks chai latte I had earlier, I now feel totally stoned, and unable to move….

It was my good fortune to have been out in London running a few errands on a day the heavens decided to pour. It was cold, wet, miserable and blustery. But I got myself a decent hair cut, and also stocked up on provisions of instant noodles and wine. I’ll try not to consume the both of them at the same time though.

The big news today is that Tony Blair has announced his plans to resign the premiership on June 27. It’s a full ten years since he became Prime Minister, and I still recall visiting the UK on holiday in May 1997, just days after he was swept into office. A mood of change was in the air. But all this, of course, has nothing at all to do with my impending exams, but it ain't proper studying if not for frequent diversions to the TV and the Net.

Meanwhile, a colleague from home is currently in town, and we’ve made plans to get together over dinner tomorrow. Will the blog then see another quick restaurant review? Let’s hope I get quite a bit of revision done in the meantime. I’m just looking for excuses – this post included – not to start work so soon.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Paella and the Art of Staying Sane

And so I snuck out of my stinking statistical shithole earlier this evening and joined the rest of the gang for a nice paella dinner at the London House buttery. It proved to be a most welcome break from work. The chef for the evening was the ever capable GNK, who, inspired by his recent marathon trip to Spain, came back with ideas and ingredients for this most delicious offering of Iberian cuisine.

Paella, of course, is best served not as a single dish for a solitary person, but is most appropriate instead for large gatherings – with generous servings of rice, chicken slices, peppers, onions and more, topped up with the magic taste of saffron. Alas, no shrimps were added – we were a bunch of poor students, after all – but the end result was eminently satisfying.

In fact, perhaps too satisfying. I think I ate too much. Certainly, I’ve been chained to my desk for what seems like weeks and weeks on end, accompanied by copious quantities of chocolates, coffee and other nourishing health food, yet barely sustaining me through the many days and nights which now merge one into the other, as I dream inconsolably of Chi Square tests, normal distributions and measures of association, wondering what they all could mean.

I sit here now like a giant tub of lard hardening as each day passes, emulsifying, ossifying, until the moment when I can be released from the demons of the dreaded exams. A pervasive sense of decay and degeneration infuses the entire body, which once saw better days. Meanwhile, I find my mind wandering, too, dedicated not to the pursuit of knowledge, but devoted instead to old songs by Faye Wong, Sally Yeh, Tarcy Su and others.

When I start singing Chinese songs to myself, that’s a sure sign that my mind’s going. But that doesn’t detract from the sweet beauty of lyrics such as these:


Thursday, May 03, 2007

What Do I Hate?