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bits & pieces: the world is blue

Bits and pieces of things I read over the holidays:

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way. Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

This book is excellent. Read the introduction here.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”

Wonderful writing as per usual from Ms. Adichie, although I have to say I liked her others better.

All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

“Love is an action, a participatory emotion. Whether we are engaged in a process of self-love or of loving others we must move beyond the realm of feeling to actualize love. This is why it is useful to see love as a practice. When we act, we can trust that there are concrete steps to take on love’s path. We learn to communicate, to be still and listen to the needs of our hearts, and we listen to others. We learn compassion by being willing to hear the pain, as well as the joy, of those we love.”

The words of Yuri Kochiyama, hand-lettered for Hyphen

“Life is not what you alone make it. Life is the input of everyone who touched your life and every experience that entered it. We are all part of one another.”

Mostly because of the lettering. So pretty. [x].

Maria Popova on Rebecca Solnit’s “The Blue of Distance” in A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“This relationship between desire and distance, Solnit argues in one of the most poignant passages in this altogether brilliant book, is also the root of our deep-seated unease with desire — a state we approach with a single-minded quest for its eradication. We seek to demolish it either with grasping action, through consummation, or with restless resistance, through denial and suppression. We can’t, it seems, just be with desire — bear witness to it, inhabit it fully, approach it with what John Keats memorably termed ‘negative capability.’ With extraordinary elegance and sensitivity, Solnit offers a remedy for this chronic anxiety:

‘We treat desire as a problem to be solved, address what desire is for and focus on that something and how to acquire it rather than on the nature and the sensation of desire, though often it is the distance between us and the object of desire that fills the space in between with the blue of longing. I wonder sometimes whether with a slight adjustment of perspective it could be cherished as a sensation on its own terms, since it is as inherent to the human condition as blue is to distance? If you can look across the distance without wanting to close it up, if you can own your longing in the same way that you own the beauty of that blue that can never be possessed? For something of this longing will, like the blue of distance, only be relocated, not assuaged, by acquisition and arrival, just as the mountains cease to be blue when you arrive among them and the blue instead tints the next beyond. Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away…After all we hardly know our own depths.'”

Read the post here. And the whole essay, “The Blue of Distance,” here.

This blue is everything.


more like a plant

“To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from that fragility.” – Martha Nussbaum







What I ate today in Singapore

Today, the sibs and I ventured to Tong Ah Eating House in Singapore’s Chinatown. I asked the Twitterverse for suggestions, and an editor of Serious Eats told me to go there. We went at about 8:30 AM. The old men, young couples, and business ladies were all hanging out alongside this nondescript, triangle-shaped kopitaim (coffee shop). Some were smoking; others were reading the paper. Although the setup in similar in theory, this was not anything like your typical Parisian street cafe. Rather, it had a uniquely Singaporean vibe to it.

This right here is the kopi C, or coffee with evaporated milk and sugar.

Here are the other variations, according to the New York Times:

KOPI Coffee with sugar and condensed milk.

KOPI C Coffee with sugar and lighter evaporated milk instead of condensed milk. (The “C” stands for “Carnation,” the longtime go-to brand for most kopitiams.)

KOPI KOSONG Coffee with no sugar (“kosong” is zero in Malay).

KOPI O Black coffee.

KOPI O POH Diluted black coffee with sugar.

KOPI PENG Coffee with sugar and condensed milk, over ice.

YUAN YANG Half-coffee, half-tea combination, with sugar and condensed milk.

The two other things are kaya toast and lightly cooked eggs. The kaya, a butterscotch meets coconut butter spread, literally melted in my mouth. Wow, that toast was good. Maybe the best toast with butter I’ve ever had. It was especially delicious dipped in the eggs, which you crack open on the spot and drizzle with soy sauce or salt to your liking.

After walking across the city to work up our appetites, we took a trip to Tiong Bahru Market, an indoor food market that was buzzing with locals (no tourists always a good sign) during lunch hour. We knew to go there because Anthony Bourdain did his layover there. We picked the booth with the longest line and ordered noodles and wonton. Russ and I both agreed that the noodles had some of the best cha siu we’ve ever had…in life.

Day 1 of eating = success.

Tong Ah Eating House

36 Keong Saik Road

Tiong Bahru Market (2nd floor Food Cout)

Lim Liak Street and Seng Poh Road