Month: June 2008

Of cold and warm, and how the sun rises

Why is it that when we feel that someone does not welcome us, they are giving us the cold shoulder, or being cool towards us? How come someone who is kind is warm-hearted? Look at where the English language evolved- in England, it is cold almost all the time. The climate is known for being damp, dreary, drizzly and depressing. The few sunny days are welcomed by the natives with open arms. Thus low temperatures are associated with general discomfort, while high temperatures are feted and enjoyed to the fullest. This is my educated guess about the evolution of the metaphors.

Let’s move now to sunny Singapore. What does the sun mean to us? Heat, yes, but too much of it. And don’t even get me started on the sweat that turns you into a damp mess the moment you step out of the house. Night brings little respite. The sweat that is held back for a few moments by a lukewarm shower returns with a vengeance while we sleep. And what does cold mean to us? Relief! Stepping into an air-conditioned room makes us feel like we are in heaven after suffering the fires of hell.

How does this affect the way we use the language? In English, you generally say “I got into bed”. But here in Singapore, we modify it slightly, and many people say instead “I lay on the bed”. It is the same with many of the other languages in this region. Why? Well, when it is cold, you burrow under the covers and it is like you are in a warm space that you have created with multiple bedsheets and blankets. But when it is warm, you lie flat on the bed, with nothing impeding the flow of air.

Why then do we continue to use the “cold shoulder” and “warm hearted” types of phrases? I suppose that is because they are now conventional metaphors that we don’t really connect with their source. They have been imbued with their own meaning and we use them in that way.

Let’s take another example: everyone now knows that the sun does not rise or set. It stays where it is. It is the earth that is moving. Yet we still talk about the rising and setting sun. Again, it is because we have become accustomed with the conventions of usage, and no longer relate the phrases with their source ideas. Enough time has passed for cumulative cultural legitimacy to be bestowed upon the phrases, and so they continue to be used, despite the common knowledge that the source idea has been displaced.

A metaphorical phrase may arise in a certain context, but if it is a powerful one that people find satisfying and use frequently, even when the context changes, the phrase lives on.


Bloodbath @ Swiss

It started out no differently than any other day. The teacher stepped into the class amidst a general buzz of convivial chatter. As ususal, the buzz abated only marginally upon the teacher’s entrance. As usual, the teacher did not pay much attention to the chatter till she needed to address the class. As usual, even when she called for silence she received none. As usual, she resigned herself to the situation and started speaking anyway. She called out the first name on the list. “I’m not ready”, came the response- respectfully stated, but with the confidence that not being ready would be an acceptable response that would guarantee academic immunity against the need to stand up and make the required presentation to the class. Second name- not ready. Third name- not ready. And so it went, till the students realised something was wrong. The buzz faded, and a guilty silence descended upon the classroom. A few were ready. Or if they were not completely prepared, they decided to hazard an attempt, preferring to gamble with the hope of retaining their self-respect rather than face certain dishonour. Their courage was rewarded, as they escaped the onslaught of their teacher’s wrath. The last few minutes of the lesson passed in a haze of recrimination and rebuke. And ultimately, there was calm as fury faded in the face of forgiveness. One more chance to prove themselves- shoulders slumped in relief and the storm passed. All that was needed was to mop up the blood.

My fabulous niece, the search for Nasi Lemak and the loss of Sentosa

The first photo is of Gowri and me at the Night Safari, the second is of Arjun, Gowri and Rishi at Sentosa and the third shows how ugly the view of Sentosa is from the cable car.

The last week has been a blast, because my favourite niece Gowri, who is studying in the University of Toronto, came here for a holiday. I have known her since she was a baby, and she and I have been like best friends for a long time. I used to take her out and pretend she was my daughter (with the permission of her mother of course- whom I am very close to). Despite the age difference, she and I confide in each other and above all, have great fun shopping together. This week we covered Holland Village, United Square and Velocity (nothing much there- pretty boring places unless you are a little kid or a sports-mad teenager respectively), Tangs and Centrepoint. We also ate out a lot, because the one thing Gowri really misses about Singapore is the food- chicken rice, nasi goreng, laksa, mee rebus and nasi lemak.

The nasi lemak was where we hit a snag. She was craving it so badly, but we just couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe we were just looking in all the wrong places, but wherever we went, there was either no nasi lemak on the menu, or it had run out before we got there. We even tried at the airport just before she boarded her flight but the lady said there was no more left. Shrugging her shoulders stoically, Gowri left Singapore. This morning, the rest of us had nasi lemak for breakfast at the one place we didn’t try the whole week!

Like complete tourists, we visited the Night Safari and Sentosa. VERY expensive places. My credit card quivered every time I reached into my wallet for it. Pay for this, pay for that… next time, we are going to play tourist in the void deck of my HDB flat! And Sentosa is no fun anymore. It used to be an ideal family weekend place. Now it seems to be just for rich tourists. Here is how I think the vicious cycle is going: high prices –> fewer local visitors –> change attractions to get more tourists in and ignore locals’ needs –> jack up prices further –> tourists too smart to get conned out of their money –> visitor numbers fall lower… and so it goes. In an effort to break out of the spiral, they decide to chop down a whole lot of beautiful trees for another money-making venture: CASINO! I miss the trees that used to lift my spirits as the ferry chugged towards what I though was a magical island. I guess there is no going back now. In place of my trees is a wide ugly expanse of naked soil and greedy construction.



The real holidays start NOW

Phew! Just finished the first exam for the Masters course I am doing- 16 years after my last exam. A very tense situation, I can tell you. I studied like mad- read through all the content, drew mind maps, discussed the issues with my classmates (not an easy task- we all live in different time zones) and even tried out mock questions, which was not easy, since each question requires an essay that takes an hour to write. You would think that the problem would be that of thinking of what to write. It really isn’t. The problem is that there is so much to say that one hour is nowhere near enough, so you really have to choose what to write. You know, after all these years, I found writing pretty difficult. I don’t mean constructing the argument, framing the sentences or finding the right words (this is Mrs V we are talking about here after all!)- I mean the actual physical process of writing by hand. I am so used to typing now that writing legibly was a real chore. I just pray the markers will be able to make out what I have written!

Anyway, now is when my holidays really start. As soon as the exam was over, my family picked me up and we went out for lunch. 17 years ago today, you see, was the day Mr V and I were married. So we decided to go for a movie as well. Truly I have spent the whole day just bumming around and it has been great. I can’t remember the last time I was able to just sit around doing nothing.

The movie we saw was the Indiana Jones one. I really enjoyed it- it was a pretty wild ride and a great deal of fun. But I have to say that it was like watching a Hindi movie: you have to suspend logic and reason to enjoy the movie. You know the type- bad guys shoot scads of bullets at good guys without hitting them even once, while good guys shoot a single bullet from a moving vehicle and hit three bad guys at once. As long as you are not trying to make sense of anything, you are free to sit back and enjoy Harrison Ford- who, like fine wine, gets better with age. You don’t have to agree with me, it’s okay! 🙂

Over the weekend I am going to read some of the books I have not had the time to read the last few months. As I finish each book I will tell you about it so that you can decide if you would like to try it out yourself. Watch out for the next few posts, which will most probably all be about books!

Life is good… till school starts again… for now,