I recognise that people searching for my name online often stumble upon this site, and I thought I should put up this post to explain why, unfortunately, dsng.net does not quite capture the entirety of me, or even the persona I wish to project.
The difficult thing with maintaining this blog is that - sadly for my writing though great for my career - life as a diplomat in Washington DC is fairly demanding. Which leaves precious little time to write substantively. Meanwhile, Twitter has taken over as my platform for spur of the moment, throwaway thoughts.
I am, of course, always willing to engage either in comments below, via e-mail [daryl dot sng at g mail dot com], or on social media. If you wish to talk about foreign affairs and international relations, including US-Singapore bilateral relations, US defence and security policies in Asia, nuclear non-proliferation, and US-South Asia relations, my work e-mail address is daryl_sng [at] mfa.gov.sg
All these stories about Thanksgiving airport crowds reminds me of how different airports used to be pre-9/11. I recall having a ticket for a morning flight to London for an intersession break during college, and having stayed up almost all night the night before (probably to finish a take-home exam). After packing my luggage, I let myself sleep, telling myself I'd only take a short nap... next thing I knew, I woke up in my dorm room about an hour before my flight. Rushed out, grabbed a cab, made it to Logan Airport with about 20 minutes before flight time - and still managed to check in and make it to the gate in time. Those were the days.
"The Weight" has been the song that my iPhone chooses to sync with my car stereo for the last few days, even before the news came out about Levon Helm. Perhaps my phone knew something.
Some thoughts on Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 5:
I really love that Mad Men is in 1966, since it's one of my favourite years of American history. Last week after the Speck murders were referenced I said to my wife that I hoped the Whitman shootings would be next. But I was not expecting the World Cup win to be included, and was delighted to see it in this episode.
I like that Don had to correct the shooter's name and said out "Whitman".
Lane punching Pete is up there for my favourite moment this season, and I think narrowly pips Megan's singing "Zou Bisou Bisou". There was a lot about Pete's manliness (at least in the stereotypical sense) in this episode: can't fix the sink, can't get the girl, loses a fight to someone whose boxing stance is straight out of the Marquess of Queensbury. Even the dinner party showed him to be essentially neutered, the Manhattan boy moving to the burbs for his wife.
Today I celebrate my second Fourth of July in Washington DC, and my fourth in the US, having spent one summer in Boston watching fireworks on the Esplanade and one summer in New York watching fireworks over the East River.
Since this is a day where Americans consider their founding, I will draw a link to Paul Revere's son-in-law. Joseph Balestier was the first American diplomat in Singapore, serving from 1837-52. The name has always resonated with me, for reasons entirely personal. My parents met as teachers in Balestier Mixed School in Singapore. My first apartment was in Balestier. But "Balestier" was always just the name of the district where I grew up, nothing more. It took a chance reading of a historical plaque during a walk around the district, in my late 20s, to realise that the name carried a link to diplomacy and the longstanding US-Singapore connection.
Today I celebrate with my American friends in a position that is the inverse of Balestier's: a Singaporean diplomat in America. And I hope to continue to be part of a long, long path of that link between Singapore and the United States.
Attended a wedding in New Jersey over the weekend, where the band (the very good Time Machine) played these various Motown and 70s funk songs to get the older folks out on the dance floor. Which suits me fine, since any glance at my vinyl collection will show that I love Motown and funk. But I was struck by a thought: I wonder what present-day songs wedding bands will play in 30 years to get soon-to-be-old-farts like myself out on the dance floor? [Secondary question: what will someone in his or her 60s look like dancing to Flo Rida?]
I love American produce. Really fresh, particularly the vegetables. Such crunch the tomatoes have. I'm especially fond of farmer's markets.
Incidentally, why doesn't Whole Foods, despite the name, sell whole chickens, head and feet? Such a misnomer...
Two sure-fire Oscar-bait pitches for 2011:
A socially awkward King-to-be overcomes stammering by tapping into dreams of a lesbian couple's ballet-dancing toys.
Amber and Toby say: Happy Year of the Rabbit!
Enjoy the Lunar New Year, one and all, whether or not you get the days off. (Sadly, work never sleeps, so I'll be working throughout.) And love your rabbits!
It has been astounding to me to see how the whole "Tiger Mother" furore has erupted in America, considering that the original text is so flawed. To be the cover story on Time magazine?
My first issue with the Amy Chua excerpt that was published in the Wall Street Journal is methodological. Setting aside the question of definitions of success, to extrapolate a whole category of behaviour by an ethnic group (which may or may not be an ethnic group, seeing how she fudges her definition of "Chinese" mothers) from anecdotal data is completely ridiculous. Having come from Chinese parents myself, I could state just as confidently from my 1-family sample that Chinese mothers are loving, supportive, and always listen to the child and give him the space he needs to grow. And that confidence would be misplaced.
The next concern is sociological. I fear that the Amy Chua article reinforces stereotypes of Asian education, and specifically that of Singapore's. I worry about promulgating the idea that somehow what all Asian parents want out of their children are automatons who do well in school through rote learning, and that that must be the cause of Singapore's good math and science testing scores. As anyone here in America doing "Singapore Math" knows, we hardly have a rote curriculum for math. Based on what I saw and knew of my mother's lifelong work as a teacher and at the Ministry of Education, there's a lot of thinking that goes on in Singapore about pedagogy, and how we can best reach out to students of all stripes.
So I worry that articles like Chua's paint all Asian styles of education with a broad brushstroke, when the reality is that the education systems of different countries are quite different. And in that vein I'm proud that Singapore has a system that is moving towards celebrating different modes of success. I'm also struck by the fact that we have invested so many resources in our Institutes for Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnics, to provide quality education for those who do not go to college.
And a final thought: I think I find it most disturbing for people to send around the article with comments like "oh it must be true - I was raised like that and look how I turned out!". To be in blinkered, unthinking awe of a piece that lacks rigour seems to call into question your intellectual grasp. Which makes me, dare I say it, judge how your parents raised you.
Edit: Larry Summers vs Amy Chua was quite interesting.
It's not often I quote Christopher Hitchens, but his Slate article is right on about tea, at least teas of the Indian/Sri Lankan variety. Tea goes first, then hot water. As per Orwell. So much bad tea abounds.
Incidentally, best tea I had in 2010 was at Crema Cafe in Cambridge, Mass. Disclaimer: I didn't go back to Tea Luxe.
New Year's weekend in DC: went to Pho 75 in Arlington for pho. Why are all DC-area pho restaurants numbered? There's Pho 14, and even Nam Viet calls itself Pho 79. Also went to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City; Eastern Market, only to find it was closed (always call ahead!); and Great Wall supermarket in Falls Church.
But the best thing of the new year was discovering an old treasure: watching The Age of Innocence on Netflix streaming. There was one shot by Scorsese that blew my mind, composed almost like Seurat's Un dimanche après-midi à l'Île de la Grande Jatte. The ending, sage about the passing of time and about the collisions and separations of happiness and passion, was a wonder.
Two thousand-one-one, party over, oops out of time...
Happy new year one and all! And to warm up the new year, here's Cute Overload's Top 10 photos of the year. My favourite's the seal.
It was cold and windy, but at least the snowstorm passed us by. Merry Christmas to one and all. I'm off to celebrate American innovation. In other words, I'm looking to buy a XBox and Kinect.
Kiwicam at the Smithsonian National Zoo. I'm a member. Somehow I always feel like the membership deals are a good idea, which has led me to become a member of the National Aquarium, the Phillips Collection, the Corcoran Gallery, and Mount Vernon. But the baby kiwi is so cute.
On an unrelated note, this is a link to a news article.
And I love that dirty water / Boston, you're my home...
Got a new US iPhone, which kept claiming I had no cellular data plan. Which of course turned the iPhone into a glorified iTouch, since I couldn't get data.
Finally, on a stroke of inspiration, I figured out that since I also had a non-US iPhone synced to my computer, it must have somehow screwed with the APN of the new iPhone. Apple's online support on this wasn't much help, since while it helped me verify that I might indeed have figured out the source of the problem, "editing the Cellular Data Network settings is only available on authorized unlocked iPhones or with carriers that allow modifying the APN details" i.e. not on a locked AT&T iPhone. But I managed to edit the APN settings anyway. I wonder if Apple/AT&T would consider it wrong that I did so, just in order to get the cellular data service that I was paying for?
It's the middle of DC restaurant week, and although I put in late reservations I still managed to get a few good places. Morton's last night. All Morton's steakhouses kind of look the same - that old oak wood clubby feel - but that's all right when all Morton's steaks taste the same - delicious.
Looking forward to the rest of the week!
"Mad Men" is the only show I actually have a reminder in my calendar for. I'll leave the excellent Heather Havrilesky to sum up the episode. Television Without Pity usually has great recaps too. But here's some thoughts, just on Lee Garner Jr.'s line on receiving his present: "Reminds me of when I was a kid. Remember that, you'd ask for something and you'd get it? Made you happy", and why I love this show.
The writers pack so much into this one line: the idea that Lee's a person of privilege who always got what he wanted; the idea that he should be able to find happiness; and the wistfulness for a much simpler chain of causality: you know what will make you happy, you ask for it, you get it, and it makes you happy. Lee at best only has a good idea of what will make him happy. I don't get the sense that, outside of the Sal incident, he's tried to ask for it much. (Although reasonable people might disagree.) And I don't get the sense that he's ever gotten what he wants, let alone have the chance to find out whether that would truly make him happy. Besides which, the scene has already shown (via the Roger-as-Santa thing) that there is something attenuated about the pleasure of getting something you asked for because you have power over the other person rather than the more simple joys of giving.
Besides the terrific line itself, the delivery was great. Lee's tone changed when he said the line - all the hint of menace and power games seemed to fall away for a moment.
And this is why I love Mad Men. The condensation of so much into succinct lines - not bon mots or quips or pithy statements, but lines that, both in what is said and what is not said, convey an entire world.
Hot town, summer in the city.