Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Beach

Finally went out to take photos of the lovely Brighton beach front. It was a gorgeous day.

I live in the building on the right, on the top floor.

There's no sand on this beach. It's all about the pebbles.

I love watching carousels. Brighton Pier is in the background.

The West Pier, which was destroyed by fire a few years ago.

The only bit stretch of sand on this beach

Friday, September 29, 2006

On money

If not for the 99p store and poundland, I'd be more broke than I already am. You can't get everything there of course, but I've managed to pick up rather useful things such as hangers, mugs, cutlery, a knife, plates and bowls.

Bus rides are pricey here, with a single trip costing 1.50 or a day ticket at 3 pounds. So the best thing to do as a student, as I'm sure it is everywhere else, is get a student card. The ones here cost 300 pounds for a year though so that's a bit of a shocker to the credit card bill.

When it comes to eating, there are many cafes on campus, selling stuff like coffee, cakes, sandwiches, quiches (which are actually not too bad). So a lunch of a sandwich and a hot chocolate costs about 3.50. If I try very hard not to convert that into SGD, it sounds ok. I am just trying my best not to immediately times everything by three. Otherwise my hair would all fall out. So instead, I spend money at the supermarket and make my own meals.

The only problem I have with that is the supermarkets are about 5-10 min walk from the flat. That doesnt sound too bad but it is when you've got lots to carry and when the wind's blowing real hard. I suppose I was well spoilt in Illinois where I had my, er, personal chauffeur. :P

Plus, there's limited space in the fridge, which is shared with my three other flatmates, so not much I can do about that. Grocery shopping has to be frequent and in small portions, rather than buying a cartful of groceries once a week.

But, it's good exercise! And on the way there, I usually take the scenic route.

Having spent nearly a week here, I must say that I am getting quite fond of this place. And if you're thinking about taking a trip to London, you should consider hopping on the train to Brighton station. It's definitely worth it!

learning the hard way

After wandering through a labyrinth of a building, I finally find Room 43 and meet my classmates. 1 Italian, 1 German, 1 Irish and the rest are British. That makes a total of 9 of us, with two part-time students.

One course is taught by a tall, tanned, bespectacled anthropologist who tends to swallow his words and the other co-taught by a historical geographer and a historian, the historian was out of town on a conference so we weren't able to meet her but the other professor was just brimming with enthusiasm and seemed rather easygoing. Together the two courses both complement and contrast, bringing a mix of modern and historical in this field. What I was interested in was this interdisciplinary style, drawing from various fields, as I have no background in the social sciences. So far, it seems that it will be played that way.

However, while I was myself brimming with enthusiasm, my face (and the other classmates' too) fell when I saw the reading list. I know that this being an MA course, a lot of reading is to be expected but that much for just one week? Appalling. The prof did emphasize that we didn't have to worry our little heads off reading every single thing. The more important ones were astericked, and even among those, we could select some to read, as long as we could put forth a cogent point of view.

Still, I'm preparing to buckle down and ensure that my nose is firmly in the books. After all, I've had two months of absolute nothingdom prior.

Right then.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Day 3

I sometimes forget that its only my third day here. I keep thinking that there's still so much of this place I haven't yet seen. Then I think, oh that's right, I could do more exploring over the course of the year. Some of my housemates, who have been here for a couple of months taking English courses, have taken trips up to Cambridge, Canterbury, London and more.

This afternoon, as I sat on the pebbled beach and looked out at the waves crashing on the beach, I could not help but be amazed that I get to spend a year here. I really ought to take photos of the place soon!

Oh and on day three, I went to school to get my student ID, took some photos for my bus card and bought that as well, hit the library for a couple of texts and two DVDs, and then headed back to clean the room properly and do laundry. And in the midst of all that, I took the time to sit on the beach, until the wind got too strong and blew me back in.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Tour

Welcome! Please... step right in...

The view from one of my windows.
I'm really lucky as this corner flat has actually got two windows!

The other view, this time of the sea.

My desk, next to the window.

My rather messy room... will have to tidy up soon!

Each room gets a sink. The only thing I can't stand is the separate hot and cold taps!

Well that's it. Thanks for dropping by.

Monday, September 25, 2006

day one

It turned out to be a relatively productive day, despite the severe lack of sleep over the past couple of days. This place manages to remain pretty noisy at night, with some club music thump-thumping away into the wee hours. I found myself staring at the ceiling most of the night.

But somehow, I did make it to the bank and got the motions going. Got myself a new phone number too. Then bought pillows, some crockery and utensils, a small pot, some groceries and various other necessities. Still plenty more to do.

All this walking and walking with bags full of stuff will probably suffice for exercise for now. I can't be bothered to do anymore.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


I just have to write something before I go to sleep in my new bedroom-for-a-year.

I finally got here after 7pm, after a 2hr-plus bus ride from Heathrow via Gatwick, a slightly over an hour flight from Dublin to london, after a five-hour wait at Dublin airport where I met another Singaporean, after a 6 hr 20 min flight from Chicago to Dublin.

So I'm on the top floor, the seventh floor, at this building opposite the beach. My room is apparently the envy of my three flatmates who have been here for a few months due to language requirements. It is a big room. It is bigger than I expected, there's actually space for my luggage on the floor and more, besides. I have a desk, bookshelves, a bed, a chest of drawers, a wardrobe and a sink. But best of all, I have two windows, one of which faces the sea. As I type this, I hear waves crashing on the beach to the left of me.

The area I'm staying in is right smack in party central apparently, as the senior resident advisor who checked me in made sure to point out. He also made sure to point out that it is important the main door is always firmly shut and not to let in any drunken idiots. Actually, when I got off at the bus station, there was already one drunken idiot, clutching a bottle of vodka and staggering around vaguely. And it was only 7pm.

I've unpacked a little, but realise there's so much more I need. One very good example: a pillow. So obviously there's plenty for me to do tomorrow. But one of my flatmates has offered to show me around in the afternoon so I'll definitely stock up on necessities!

It's been a rather long day and I've only had a few hours of napping so it's goodnight from Brighton. And I will probably get some pictures up asap!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

see ya!

And once again it is time to squeeze myself into an impossibly constricted space, subject myself to reheated food, although this time I'm not sure about the service as I've never flown Aer Lingus before.

So I'm off to the airport in a few hours, an overnight flight to Dublin, a few hours' wait at that airport, another few more hours in the air, and then another couple of hours by coach, a half km of walking to find the apartment and then settling in, hopefully before it gets too late.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

i want my television television

With Greys Anatomy and CSI having their season premieres tonight, House on again on Tuesday and Gilmore Girls having its season premiere next week, I am half-tempted to forfeit my flight and my tuition fees and my rent and plonk myself down on the scratchy dark brown sofa (all the better to camouflage stains on) in the apartment and never take my eyes off the TV (at least not during primetime).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

good morning sunshine

We went to sleep last night with the heat turned up and the windows all closed for a change. The weather channel forecasted a 5degC low for the night.

And this morning, what a day! The sun is putting on its best show, bathing everything in its warm golden glow, the sky a gorgeous bright blue and the weather supposedly at 11 deg. The perfect weather for sitting outside on the balcony and reading a book. However, the book I'm reading now is an ebook on the computer so that's not exactly conducive (especially since the Macbook does get pretty warm and really literally is a hot laptop). It is an experience though, reading something off the computer. I tend to up the magnification so that I can lean back and not stare too much at the screen. But it's a far better book than the one I'm reading on paper.

Paper: Julie & Julia

I did read her blog before she became too famous so was curious but the book really is like reading a blog. Full of () and other asides, like the many I'm used to adding to my blog. It's written the way we think. It's written kinda spewed out in a continuous thought process. Which is fine for a blog, but not something I can stand too much in a book many pages long. I guess I just prefer more thought going into writing a book. Perhaps better editing is needed to keep the overspewing in check. I don't write books, I only blog. But I know that if I were to ever write anything more serious than this blog I'd actually look over it and edit it, unlike this blog, where I typitytypetype and then without another glance at the many mistakes and long long long sentences like this one, I hit the "publish post" button without only the occasional second thought. I feel that it's the same way with this book.

Ebook: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.
The only other Gaiman book I've read is Good Omens, which was cowritten with Terry Pratchett, whom I adore. I'm less than a third in but am definitely liking it, despite its digital medium. I suppose I should explain first why I'm reading an eBook. Essentially, the lovely Champaign-Urbana libraries have this tie-up with some online "media mall" to download ebooks and audiobooks for free. The audiobooks unfortunately DO NOT WORK WITH MACS. But there are a decent variety of ebooks available for loan for 21 days. So it's a nice option for me, who currently is libraryless until I set up my own account at the Brighton and Hove libraries, when I get there next week (next week!). But I'm sure my schedule will be packed with various things to do, figuring out how to settle down, trying to get used to having separate taps for cold and hot water, exploring that seaside town, trying not to spend too much money... that kinda thing.

Anyway, the original point of this: like the ebook more than the book book.

And on another note. Skype 2.0 beta for macs has video chat! Absolutely thrilled with that.

Friday, September 15, 2006

the middle

It is my last weekend here.
Where did all the time go?

My mind is a scrambled mess of apprehension, excitement, sadness...

I can't wait to go.

I don't want to go.

I have to go.


While I'm a big fan of food writers writing their own books about their foodie lives (Ruth Reichl being one of my favourites with her warm, chatty style), I must say that I am kinda losing my interest in Gael Greene's Insatiable.

Greene was the food critic for NewYork magazine. But this memoir isn't only about her adventures in the food world, it also delves into her love and sex life (she slept with Elvis! And Clint Eastwood! amongst others). A little too much perhaps.

This little write-up's a bit premature, since I haven't exactly finished the book. Then again, with my interest waning, it might end up being returned to the library unfinished.

Here are some excerpts

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

keeping it simple

And while I'm at it, here's the chocolate chip cookies.

And previously, another dinner with pork chops, this time marinated in a sauce which involved various things including garlic, ginger, teriyaki and soy. And served with a baked potato and carrots and asparagus.

(all pictures courtesy of R)

Pork and pork

At Barnes & Noble last weekend, while flipping through a copy of Delicious magazine, I found a recipe by Jamie Oliver that involved some of my favourite things: pork, apples and cheese.

Here's the adapted version (owing to not having prosciutto or Stilton)
Essentially, it's:

-Season your pork chops with salt and pepper and sear for a couple of minutes on each side.
-Place some bacon or prosciutto (I used four slices per chop) on your baking pan, overlapping them slightly. And put your chop on one end.
-Put slices of apple on top of the chop and some crumbled cheese (the recipe calls for Stilton but I used the remaining Brie we had in the fridge)
-Sprinkle some rosemary (ok again I didn't have this but I sprinkled some parsley instead)
-Wrap the bacon over so that it covers the apple and cheese
-Bake in a preheated 200deg oven for about 15 minutes (I left it a little longer so that the bacon could crisp better)

I served it on top of a bed of garlic mashed potatoes.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

labour of convenience

After that previous post, writing about my recent chocolate fix fixed, I have to add that while I love to make things from scratch, it is far too easy and tempting to, while at the supermarket, pop a box of cake mix into the nearly overflowing squeaky cart.

These cake mixes, at just under a dollar (!), require little more than a few eggs, oil and water. And ta-dah, you have your cake/brownie/muffin/cookies. Why should anyone bother with the real thing?

The answer: far less pleasure. (I suppose there'll be a similar pleasure while eating it, as I'm sure it'll be pretty tasty especially with frosting. Otherwise, one could easily pass it off as a made-from-scratch cake, and stuff the blue box down the garbage bin, hidden under the egg shells and various "home-made cake" trash)

But out of curiosity, I succumbed and bought one. A Pillsbury Moist Supreme Devil's Food cake mix. I just wanted to give it a try and see how it turns out. (I haven't yet but will let you know the outcome when I do) Plus that doughboy with his large spoonful of devil's food cake was calling my name.

One mix I will definitely buy (and maybe ship over to the UK) are cornbread mixes. Now those things I adore. I've tried several cornbread recipes and somehow they always turn out too heavy. So it's nice to tear open this packet, throw it together with some milk and an egg and into the oven it goes. It comes out pretty nicely, after all "Since 1899, Martha White has been a trusted name in Southern kitchens"!

Oh how I love cornbread. That golden yellow, that crisp crust and that soft interior (which has some texture coming from the cornmeal) and that tantalising baked goods smell.

brownie points

Whenever I have a need for a chocolate fix, I reach into the fridge and pull out the bar of Ghiradelli's Intense Dark Twilight Delight and break out a square (just one!) but for the past few days, I had a need for something more fudgey and filling (ok so I'm just greedy) and turned on the oven, got out the ingredients and cracked out a batch of my favourite chocolate chip cookies using that lovely Neiman Marcus recipe (although I put in less coffee and added in some prechopped hazelnuts)

And half a batch of Bill Granger's brownies, which I adore as they just come out nicely fudgey and with the use of dark chocolate chips, instead of chocolate buttons, have insides studded with additional bittersweet bits. For a cocoa-based brownie, it's a pretty good deal (no melting of chocolate needed!)

Friday, September 08, 2006

American pie

And finally I get my pie fix.

How could I have gone so long in the US without a piece of pie? I really don't know.

So for Friday lunch, we hauled our asses over to this little store, which is only open on weekdays for lunch (at least those are their summer hours, as stated on their note in the window).

It's a cute, (although bordering on kitschy) mom-and-pop kinda place, with lace in the windows, wooden tables and chairs, and most importantly, two displays full of pies and cheesecake and even some homemade cookies.

I went for the soup, bread and pie combo. The seafood chowder was really creamy but I'm not a fan of imitation crabmeat. The slice of homemade bread was soft and great with the butter (what isn't!). And for the pie, I picked blueberry. It was packed full of those gorgeous berries and had a lovely crust. It wasn't too sweet, which I had been a bit apprehensive about.

R had the quiche (a spinach and crab (read: imitation crabmeat) quiche) and salad combo. And later went for the apple pie, which wasn't too bad either - I reckon it had a nice amount of cinnamon ie not too much!

Pie-full Delight is run by just one woman who makes the salads, sandwiches, cuts up the pies, makes recommendations, handles the cash register... and yet somehow manages to churn meals out at a decent speed.

Pie-full Delight
40 E Springfield
Champaign, Illinois

Thursday, September 07, 2006

eat me

Two For The Road by Jane and Michael Stern

Loved it.
Hated that it seems that all I see are Olive Gardens, Red Lobsters, Ruby Tuesdays and not these amazing-sounding diners they write about. Loved their fascination with all menus and Michael's willingness to try almost everything and Jane's reluctance to.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

A great read. It took me a bit of time to get into it though, mostly cos I was being constantly sidetracked by Two For The Road (food trumps almost all, really). But once I did, I just couldn't put it down. The characters were real, the conversations were real. It was, although it's a bit weird for me to describe it as such, human.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

oh for those good ole days

A quarter-century ago, the American landscape was very different from what it is today. We feel 150 years old to admit we started hunting for roadfood, there were no Wal-Marts, no Kmarts, no Home Depots, no Targets, no Outbacks, no Olive Gardens, no Red Lobsters and no Starbuckses. There was fast food, but it wasn't everywhere. This was a good thing.
Every place we went looked different. Today, a lot of Connecticut looks like Arizona, which looks like North Carolina, which looks like Illinois. It is possible to crisscross this country and never eat, shop, or stay in a strange place. This is not a good thing.

- Jane & Michael Stern, Two For The Road

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Not a day goes by without....

-a serious thump-thumping bass being blasted from a car

-sirens going they ambulance/fire engine/police... I don't know, but today there was also an emergency warning signal (possibly because of severe thunderstorms, although by Sg standards, hardly severe really)

-people thud-thudding down the stairs outside (the walls here are thin)

-other people (ok, maybe the same people) yelling or talking at the tops of their voices (possibly those same people whose eardrums have been busted from that loud blasted music)

I suppose these are signs of growing old... I am, after all, 27.

Elderly by these kids' standards.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

There's no place like... Chicago

Since I last blogged (quick check to see when that was), I've been busy reading (Jose Saramago's The Double - love his work!, Zadie Smith's On Beauty and Near A Thousand Tables by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. All delightful delightful books. And since watching American Splendor, I had to go find out what Harvey Pekar's graphic novels look like. It's not too bad and I find it rather fascinating the different ways artists draw him (he only writes the stories, he doesn't draw).

I have also been attempting to watch more of House as the new season premieres on Fox on Tuesday but often get sidetracked by TLC's What Not To Wear and Take Home Chef and some reruns of Gilmore Girls plus I found Italian For Beginners, Howl's Moving Castle and gasp! Sixteen Candles at the Champaign library. Although technically we're now in Urbana, (and the Urbana library has a really much bigger media section, DVDs can only be borrowed for TWO DAYS), so we've been hitting the Champaign one, where parking is free.

And yesterday, we went up to Chicago (stopping for a pack of chips and a mocha frappucino along the way) to see Wicked at the Oriental, a really gorgeous old theatre on Randolph.

We're off to see the

at the Oriental on a beautiful sunny day

Inside the lobby

Coming from a place like Singapore where even water seems to be frowned on inside the theatres, I was intrigued to notice that the staff walking up the aisles selling drinks and snacks. Perhaps unlike Singaporeans, Americans know how to be civic-minded and can clean up after themselves, says R, who is lying next to me, reading over my shoulder.

Before going to see the musical, I made sure to read the book again. And thus was noting the many differences between the two.

I suppose the musical, being a musical, and wanting to attract families and children, has to be friendly, family-oriented...feel good.

The book however, can't exactly be described that way.

So the main character, Elphaba, was far more spritely and less sullen than in the book. And Galinda (or Glinda as she is later known) features far more prominently, and actually really stole the show with her flighty, self-absorbed, thoroughly entertaining Reese Witherspoon-likeness. She was definitely the best part of the show.

The music was alright, not too bad, but nothing terribly momentous. I did love the costumes and the set. The costume designer seemed to want to make sure that every piece was different, even those on the ensemble cast. There was a great use of colours, especially on the Emerald City ensemble, which seemed to utilise almost every shade of green. There was always something to look at.

I must say that I wasn't too thrilled the way the story line was altered. Perhaps if I'd seen the musical first before reading the book, things might've been different.

However, it was still a lovely time in Chicago - it's always nice to walk down streets lined with skyscrapers again. We hit up Ethel's for another heavenly hot cocoa and after the show, we had some tender hickory smoked chicken, cheese fries and caesar salad at this bar and grill on one of the streets intersecting the Magnificent Mile.

And then after, a drive down Lake Shore Drive and it was off into the night, back to Urbana.