Sunday Scares #3: Music Videos

In honour of Halloween, this October instead of my weekly Sunday Sofa Sojourns posts I will list a few of my favourite creepy things. I’ve written about horror graphic novels and kids’ books.

Music videos usually clock in at four to six minutes on average.

Artists have only that short period of time to make something memorable, of course never forgetting that the audio is the real star of the show. By definition, the visuals play second fiddle to the music. That doesn’t equate to boring – clearly there are many examples of music videos becoming as recognisable as the songs they accompany (think A-ha’s ‘Take On Me,’ or Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ to name a few). The creativity involved in integrating both pieces of content makes music videos fascinating to watch for me.

Even better, with YouTube everyone now has the luxury to watch their favourite videos whenever they want. Hands up who remembers sitting around in front of the TV – be it MTV, Channel V, or Myx – waiting just to catch a glimpse of theirs?

This week I’m writing about creepy music videos.

First things first: ‘Thriller’ isn’t on this list. (Not a hater here: that dance scene in ‘13 Going on 30’ is a personal guilty pleasure to watch.) While Michael Jackson’s video is certainly iconic, there’s something about the dancing undead that just didn’t scream “scary” to me.  

Source: Vox

Second, I haven’t included anything from Marilyn Manson, Aphex Twin, or anything like that – though some of their videos fall well within the nightmare fuel category. I have nothing against these musicians, I just chose from the universe of music I actually listen to.

Finally, all of the music videos on my personal short list are not shit-your-pants scary. But I vividly remember the first time I saw each of them and all settled uneasily on my mind. Clearly, there they still linger. Here goes.

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1) Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden (1994)

Show me a ‘90s kid who didn’t get creeped out by the bug-eyed ever-widening grins of the suburban townspeople in Soundgarden’s music video for Black Hole Sun.

Throw in other Twin Peaks-esque imagery: an eclectic band of doomsayers, that elderly lady applying lipstick while simultaneously ogling a muscled man and exercising with a vibrating belt, and a Barbie melting on the barbecue, and you’ve got yourself one terrified kid.

2) Breathe, The Prodigy (1996)

In The Prodigy’s Breathe the imagery is less subtle and more in-your-face: close-ups of roaches in a dirty sink, millipedes, a loose alligator. Actually, I found the duelling shots of Keith Flint and Maxim more disturbing. It’s probably all those flashing lights.

But man, what a sick beat. I only recently realised I’ve been singing it wrong for over two decades (it’s not “Psychosomatic-atic insane” haha).

3) All Nightmare Long, Metallica (2008)

I don’t know what I was on when I first saw this video, but it didn’t immediately register that I was watching MTV. I thought I was watching some Blair Witch-type illegal Russian documentary. Also, bear in mind that while nowadays zombies are old hat thanks to shows like The Walking Dead, in 2008 they weren’t as commonplace.

In short, the video scared me for a good eight minutes. Also how chilling is that line, “Hunt you down without mercy / Hunt you down all nightmare long”?

Special Mention: Burn The Witch, Radiohead (2016)

I listened to a lot of Radiohead back in the day when I was an angsty teen haha. I only came across this track recently (I didn’t know they were still active!). I have to include it here because I like how cleverly it merges imagery from The Wicker Man with innocuous stop-motion animation reminiscent of Postman Pat.

Could have been creepier without the scene at the end, though.

As always, I hope you enjoyed this short, musical list. Till next week! 👻

Think critically dear readers,

Here and There

Here’s what I’ve been up to recently.

1) We celebrated the Hub’s birthday.

My surprise Cameo video for the Hub worked out! He and I are both yuuge fans of the LOTR movies, especially the first. We used to re-watch The Fellowship of the Ring all the time; it was our top choice for “movie-in-the-background” – times when we were busy with other stuff but wanted something interesting on TV that we could passively listen to. The Hub and I agreed Sam was the real MVP of the saga. One Valentine’s Day, the Hub even signed off his card to me as “Your Sam” (does that make me Frodo in that scenario?!).

Anyway, when I saw Sean Astin was on Cameo I grabbed my chance. The Hub never guessed!

A screengrab from the Hub’s Cameo message.

I highly recommend Sean if you’re thinking of getting a Cameo (provided you’re a fan, of course). He started off with a Marilyn Monroe-esque ‘Happy Birthday’ song which was pretty funny. You could tell he took the time to personalise each birthday message a bit. I only wrote Cameo a sentence or two about the Hub and Sean was able to build on that for a 5-minute-long video. He even managed to squeeze in his iconic “Po-tay-toes” line at the end. Sulit.

Other things we did on the Hub’s birthday: a nice omakase lunch at one of our favourite Japanese places capped off with drinks at Raffles Hotel. We both wanted to try the original Singapore Sling at the Long Bar but found out the bar was temporarily closed; the hotel was serving cocktails at the Raffles Courtyard instead.

We were seated and comfortable when I opened the menu and found out that an Original Singapore Sling costs S$35 (around Php1,300 or US$26). I reasoned to myself this was the first and probably the last time I’ll be trying it so… okay. Fine.

According to the menu, a Singapore Sling consists of Widges London Dry Gin, Bénédictine, Raffles Signature Grenadine, Luxardo Cherry Sangue Morlacco, Ferrand Dry Curaçao, pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, and Scrappy’s Aromatic Bitters.

Our drinks came with the obligatory tray of peanuts. (Traditionally, the peanut shells are thrown on the Long Bar’s tiled floor.) It was good, but was it worth S$35? The jury’s still out on that one.

2) I realised parts of the old Sentosa monorail tracks haven’t been demolished.

One of my most enduring childhood memories was a short trip my family took to Singapore in the ’90s. It probably got stuck in my head because the trip happened during a school week. I felt like I was playing hooky from school the whole time, and it felt good.

We had a day out in Sentosa Island. Back then, VivoCity was non-existent and the distance was wider between the main island and Singapore. There was no Boardwalk to cross. The Mount Faber Line cable cars were already around, but we took a ferry to the island.

I remember the breeze on our faces as we rode a monorail in Sentosa. Unlike today’s Sentosa Express which only stops at four stations – VivoCity, Resorts World (where Universal Studios is), Imbiah (for the nature walk), and Beach station – the monorail in my memory looped around the island. I even recall passing the giant “Sentosa” logo while on the train. The monorail ride experience and the rest of that day – a visit to a SeaWorld aquarium, a wax museum, musical fountains in the evening – is probably one of my core Joy memories haha.

The old Sentosa monorail, decommissioned in 2005. (Source)

Imagine my delight then, when I discovered while walking on the Imbiah trail the other weekend that parts of the old monorail tracks were still there! I don’t know why I never noticed it before.

Does anyone know why some parts of the track weren’t demolished?

3) We walked some more.

We had dinner at Robertson Quay in one of our favourite Middle Eastern restaurants (so far it’s the only place we found with kebab koobideh that approximates our beloved Alounak).

It was a balmy evening and it seemed everyone was out and about. So, we took the opportunity to walk from Robertson Quay all the way to Clarke Quay.

The Old Hill Street Police Station on Clarke Quay

We finally reached Boat Quay where we caught the bus home.

Think critically dear readers,

Sunday Scares #2: Kids’ Books

In honour of Halloween, this October instead of my weekly Sunday Sofa Sojourns posts I will list a few of my favourite creepy things. Last week, I wrote about horror graphic novels.

Today I found out I’ve been blessed with a new niece! We’re beyond-the-moon excited.

It’s also amazing timing, because this week I’m talking about three of my favourite scary books for young children*. Because you know, #momlife.

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1) The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs”

The Gashlycrumb Tinies teaches your young one the ABCs, except with a deliciously morbid twist. To my mind, it’s classic gothic, gory Gorey. (Fact: In my head, I read Gorey in my best parody of a British accent. I don’t know why; his writing just seems to call for it.)

In the book, 26 children with names that start from A to Z die in various memorable and macabre ways. Each of the deaths is illustrated in black-and-white pen-and-ink illustrations, with detailed hatching and cross-hatching characteristic of Gorey’s art.

Source: The New Yorker

Is the book dangerous reading for kids? I don’t think so. (The concept is not too different from the hilarious Dumb Ways to Die PSA from the Melbourne Metro that went viral some years ago.) You can’t exactly say “Kids, don’t try this at home!”, because most of the children in the book don’t exactly try to do anything harmful. Things just happen. How do you warn against wasting away, getting sucked dry by a leech, or an assault by bears?

Source: Metro Trains Melbourne

On the positive side, with The Gashlycrumb Tinies you can teach your little one fun, new words like devoured, awl, and ennui.

A highly recommended read.

2) Ma-Me-Mi-MUMU! by Jomike Tejido

“Siguro may mumu sa bahay namin. Kasi ang mumu, sa dilim daw nakatira. Baka isang gabi, bigla ko pang makita!”

Jomike Tejido’s Ma-Me-Mi-MUMU! is a wholesome take on Philippine ghostly folklore, through the eyes of little Sophia and her Lolo Nanding. The book begins with a neighbourhood boy taunting Sophia, saying, “May mumu sa bahay n’yo!” (“There’s a ghost in your house!”) Sophia is afraid of encountering a mumu in her house — and imagines one in the shadows of the kitchen, in the bathroom, or just about wherever she goes.

Our well-thumbed copy

Lolo Nanding helps her overcome her fear of monsters by presenting each of them in a friendlier light. Tejido makes clever use of these creatures’ real traits as a way for Sophia to bond with them. For example, Lolo Nanding encourages her to cheerfully splash any siyokoy she sees in the bathtub. (In local folklore, a siyokoy is a half-human, half-fish monster with sharp teeth, known to drown and consume humans.) Similarly, Lolo Nanding suggests that Sophia use the tiktik’s long, snaking tongue to paraglide; teach the tiyanak, a vampiric monster baby, his ABCs; or give the kapre, a cigar-smoking giant thought to reside in big trees, some pakwan (watermelon) candy so he’d dump his cigar.

There’s a picture gallery at the back of all the creatures mentioned in the book. It’s also bilingual in English and Filipino, so you can help your little one learn the language too.

A fun introduction for kids to the Philippine supernatural.

3) Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann (English translation)

“When the children have been good / That is, be it understood / Good at meal-times, good at play / Good all night and good all day / They shall have all the pretty things / Merry Christmas always brings. / Naughty, romping girls and boys / Tear their clothes and make a noise / Spoil their pinafores and frocks / And deserve no Christmas box. / Such as these shall never look / At this pretty Picture-Book.”

In one of The Office’s hilarious episodes called “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” Dwight Schrute whips out a book that his German “Grandmutter” used to read to him. He starts to tell the kids about a tall tailor that visits children who keep on sucking their thumbs – if they do, the tailor takes his great sharp scissors out and cuts their thumbs clean off.

Dwight on The Office. Source: NBC

Friends, lucky for us this book really exists. It’s called Struwwelpeter (translated as “Shock-headed Peter”) and the rest of the stories are just as weird as the one above (which is called ‘The Story of Little Suck-A-Thumb’). Best of all – it’s illustrated in colour!

Struwwelpeter was first published in 1845 and has delighted and scared German children for nearly two centuries since. Hoffman wrote the books as a Christmas present for his three-year-old son.

It’s delightfully graphic, with tales of “the often-gruesome consequences that befall children who torment animals, play with matches, suck their thumbs, refuse to eat, fidget at meals, etc.” Such consequences include being burnt to nothing but ash (‘The Dreadful Story About Harriet and the Matches’), wasting to death (‘The Story of Augustus Who Would Not Have Any Soup’), and a possible rabies infection (‘The Story of Cruel Frederick’).

The titular character’s unkempt appearance. Check out those witchy nails

One of the tales, ‘The Story of the Inky Boys’, is an interesting one – here, Agrippa dips three boys in a giant pot of black ink for teasing a “harmless black-a-moor”: “Boys, leave the black-a-moor alone! / For if he tries with all his might / He cannot change from black to white.” Agrippa’s punishment leaves the bullies as silhouettes that are “as black as crows.” While at first glance, it seems like a lesson in tolerance, I wonder about the punishment as it suggests the colour black itself has negative connotations. Food for thought. But also do bear in mind this was published in the 1800s.

If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to teach the kids to finish their food and stop bothering the family pets, here you go! Bonus nightmare fuel too, haha.

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I know some of you may be thinking “Well, these stories are too scary to read to my precious wee ones” but you know what: kids are smarter than we give them credit for.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the Afterword in Struwwelpeter:

“Many educators, from the book’s earliest days, have had ideological objections to the violence of the action and the drastic fates of the disobedient children, but young readers and listeners over the decades have seen the humour in the impossibly exaggerated situations, and have endorsed Hoffman’s pedagogic views by taking the book to their hearts.”

As always, I hope you enjoyed my short list. Till next week! 👻

Think critically dear readers,

* No Roald Dahl’s “The Witches” or Goosebumps or the Stephen Gammell-illustrated version of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” here; those are for older kids. I’ll save that for next year.

Sunday Scares #1: Graphic Novels

We blinked and it’s October!

You may already know that I like spooky things. So, I thought that for today and the next three Sundays, instead of my weekly #SundaySofaSojourns I will list a few of my favourite creepy things to celebrate the season – nay, the Mood – that is Halloween.

If you’re thinking “Well this year is already horrific enough as it is without adding zombies into the mix” then it might interest you to know that watching films / reading fiction / engaging with the horror genre has been found to be useful in this Covid-19 era. A recent study concluded that “exposure to frightening fictions allow audiences to practice effective coping strategies that can be beneficial in real-world situations.” (You’re welcome!)

This week, I’m listing down three of my favourite horror graphic novels.

In my view, the graphic novel as a medium adds another layer of immersion to any story. It works especially well for the horror genre – to see a shock of bright red or dark moody hatchwork complement the black-and-white text next to it amps up the scare factor for me by several notches.

Creepy Post-it artwork by John Kenn

Here are three of my picks…

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1) Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

“It came from the woods. Most strange things do.”

Through the Woods has five original stories, not counting ‘An Introduction’ and ‘In Conclusion.’ I like that Carroll’s stories are mostly about women — a lady trying to uncover the terrible mystery of her sprawling, dark manor and her husband with red-stained lips in A Lady’s Hands Are Cold; three sisters dealing with a bruising winter in the unsettling mystery of Our Neighbour’s House; a lonely girl whose mother’s cautionary tales saved her life as she uncovered her pretty sister-in-law’s hidden secret in The Nesting Place; and the sinister story of two brothers in His Face All Red (also published in full on Carroll’s website – check it out. Don’t miss Out of Skin and The Prince & The Sea too).

Opening panel in His Face All Red. (Source)

‘In Conclusion’ had a Red Riding Hood-like character narrowly missing the wolf in the forest, and expressing immense relief as she tucked in for the night. Suddenly, she hears something speak:

“Oh, but you must travel through those woods again & again…” said a shadow at the window. “…and you must be lucky to avoid the wolf every time…

But the wolf …the wolf only needs enough luck to find you ONCE.”

Add the jet-blacks and blood-reds colouring her eerie yet haunting art, her spindly elegant handwriting, the oppressiveness of her snowy landscapes, lonesome houses in the woods, and the nostalgic Victorian and 1920s fashion — and Through the Woods ticks all my horror-loving boxes.

2) Trese series by Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo

“When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.”

I would not be exaggerating when I say the Trese series is a rare and very welcome find for me in the graphic novel medium, let alone the horror genre. There’s hardly any Filipino representation out there, as far as I’m aware. (If you know of others, please let me know in the comments.) Bonus points for having a strong and independent woman as the lead character.

In the Trese series, we follow Malate club owner and police consultant Alexandra Trese and her trusty hitmen the Kambal. Trese gets called in to cases that involve the supernatural.

The characters in Trese are as old and familiar as childhood, but with a modern twist – helpful nuno sa punso (who now live in underground sewers instead of soil mounds), well-off tikbalang who’ve upgraded their usual balete tree home to a Makati penthouse, a typhoon deity who watches over an exclusive urban village (as long as the residents made the right sacrifices).

The settings are also recognisable: Manila South Cemetery in Case 6: The Outpost on Kalayaan Street, also considered home by many poor squatter families in makeshift houses (“… and some find themselves joining the dead all too soon”); a crowded MRT train in Case 13: An Act of War, and gritty Manila in Case 1: At the Intersection of Balete and 13th Street from the first Trese book, Murder on Balete Drive.

Trese, redrawn for the US market. Source: Comics Beat

There’s even a nod to local urban legends, for example the snake-like creature that supposedly stalked people in Robinson’s Galleria in the ‘90s (remember that?) in Case 7: Embrace of the Unwanted, which is set in the fictional Robertson Mall.

If you’re looking for a highly engaging and modern introduction to Philippine myth and folklore, I recommend reading Trese. I heard that Netflix will adapt it as an animated series this year. I can’t wait.

3) Uzumaki: Spiral into Horror by Junji Ito

“Spirals… this town is contaminated with spirals…”

Ito is the first artist that comes to my mind when I think about how artwork complements the story in graphic novels.

In Uzumaki, the phenomenon is never explained fully. Kurozu-cho, a small fictional town in Japan, is haunted by a pattern: the spiral (or uzumaki in Japanese – Naruto fans would know this 😉). Spirals start to manifest itself in everything – townspeople start to become obsessed with it, hair independently shapes itself into spiral curls, pregnant women gorge on spiral-covered mushrooms with alarming consequences.

As a pitch, the plot sounds utterly ridiculous: “Town is cursed, driven mad, and ultimately fucked over by spirals.” Err, say what?

But Ito’s artwork makes all the difference. It manages to mesmerise and be deeply uncomfortable at the same time, and is peak form in Uzumaki. It’s my favourite of his many works because the story builds, with all the seemingly unconnected short chapters starting to make sense as the main characters hurtle towards the end. (Watch out for Chapter 8: The Snail. I could not get the imagery of the snail people out of my head for days.)

You’ll never look at a spiral the same way again.

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I’ll stop at three so I still have some to talk about for next October haha. Hope you enjoyed this list. Till next week! 👻

Think critically dear readers,

Hello Moon

I had things to say about the Mid-Autumn festival, Raffles Hotel’s famous snow-skin mooncakes, this year’s Light-Up in Gardens by the Bay.

But life — specifically, work — got in the way. It’s been a tiring week.

So instead, here is a gorgeous view of the full harvest moon from the office, taken on one of these late nights.

Think critically dear readers,

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #15: Bormes les Mimosas, France

We were on the train en route to Toulon, headed to M’s wedding. To my right the sea whizzed past. I saw a few divers bobbing on the surface and wondered if there were reefs in the dazzling blue below.

Before we left the Hub warned me about the number of train rides we needed take on this just-us trip. I told him not to worry, long train journeys didn’t bother me as long as I had something to read. I came armed with plenty of books. One of the books I brought was a dud — after page 49 it was suddenly page 248 — and I made a mental note to exchange it at Kinokuniya even though I had lost the receipt. “If they won’t take it, I’ll make them go viral!” I declared. He laughed, “No one would care.”

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We flew to Nice where we spent a day to experience a bit of the famed French Rivieraalso known as Côte d’Azur — because who knows when we’d be back travelling in this neck of the woods? (In this post-B.C. era, that turned out to be a good call.) The water was as blue as I imagined it to be. The blue was in three shades and the sky did its best to match.

We passed cliffs dotted with what looked like villas and I remembered an old Garfield comic I read when I was really young where Garfield rattles off his wish list to Jon, ending with “…and a villa in the South of France!” I’m not sure why the phrase stuck with me after all these years. Perhaps I did not know what “villa” meant, or why a tubby cartoon cat would want one. But now I think I do — anyone would. The place is a dream.

We found a vintage merry-go-round
Ride-on vehicles for sale — I was so tempted to buy one

We dropped off our bags at the hotel and had an unimpressive seafood lunch near the flower market. Afterwards we had a mojito, praline, and pistachio gelato from Fenocchio which was absolutely delicious. Then we strolled along the promenade.

We passed by a lot of runners. I wondered how they could jog without so much as a glance at that sparkling Mediterranean sea. How was it possible to live next to it every day and not at least look, stare, linger?

We also noticed people were sunbathing on the rocky beach. It couldn’t have been comfortable — it looked like it was just gravel everywhere, with small rocks piled high in mounds in some spots. But the sun was out and the weather was lovely, so I don’t think people minded. We paused to watch two men play beach tennis with a pink ball that flew with the breeze.

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From Toulon we took a bus to Bormes les Mimosas, a small village with tiled roofs and houses all painted the same soothing peach hue. The church where M would be wed was here, Église Sainte Trophyme, and the wedding was that afternoon. We only had time for a quick quiche and a shower. Exploring Bormes would have to wait.

We got lost at first on our way to the church, but a kind French lady left her shop to walk us there. The interior of Église Sainte Trophyme was quaint and the same hue as the houses. Both of M’s sisters and her nanay were dressed in elegant Philippine terno dresses (“Para may representation!” said M’s ate) and of course most guests were from the groom’s side since it was his hometown.

The sermon was delivered in English with most of the service — and M’s vows — in French. A lovely, simple service, with legal formalities at the end, and torotot distributed to the guests for when the couple exited the church. M’s ate did her bridal makeup and arranged tiny rosebuds in her hair. “Sabi ko nga pwede rin pala magpakasal ng simple lang,” M’s nanay later said, when we were enjoying cocktails outdoors before the reception dinner. “Sa atin kasi…” and she trailed off, assuming I knew what she meant. (I did.)

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The reception was at La Magnanerie de Saint-Isidore, a long drive from the church. We booked a cab to take us there. Two hours were allotted for guests to mingle outdoors with pre-dinner Provençal apéro: wine, fruit juices, and various finger foods which I thought were better than the main course that followed.

I especially liked the anchoïade, a Provençal dip made from olive oil, anchovies, basil leaves, and garlic. At M’s reception the fresh vegetables were artfully arranged so it looked like they were growing in the anchoïade “soil” dip. I liked the baby radishes best.

Another favourite of mine was the freshly grilled meat station. I had my fill of bite-sized tender chunks of beef, marinated chicken, and blood sausage. A waiter went around urging guests milling in the gardens to help themselves from a tin bucket of foie gras (yes please two for me).

During dinner, there were messages from families and friends (his in French and hers in English — but M’s ate also delivered hers in French — “C’est magnifique!” exclaimed M’s in-laws, understandably impressed). The Hub and I were seated next to a banker and his girlfriend who asked us questions about Singapore. (Is it true they don’t allow people with long hair in? Can you chew gum there? What’s it like living there? “It’s good for families,” I answered. “We don’t have kids,” he said.)

Unlimited dancing followed dessert but the tiredness was taking over. Honestly, there were times too that I felt like a fish out of water. Most introverts might be familiar with the feeling — by then I had used up my day’s supply of small talk and just wanted to recharge back at the hotel. Finally, the Hub and I hitched with a friend and left after taking Polaroids for the wedding guest book. I took one extra snap of us, for me.

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The next morning we were up early and had our chance to walk around Bormes. The mimosas the town was known for were not yet in full bloom but I could imagine what the streets and the house gates would look like whenever the season was right. The souvenir shops, with their postcards, sweet scented perfumes, ceramic jewelry, and bags of lavender and other dried herbs, were just starting to open. There was no one around.

Some houses were nearly covered in bougainvillea flowers

We had tea and a croissant at the hotel cafe with a truly Provençal view (mountains, the peach-coloured houses with tiled roofs, blooms, and the startling blue sky with a single streak of white).

I thought to myself how difficult it must be to think of the rest of the world and its many troubles if I lived in a place like this.

But in some small way, I was also glad to leave.

Think critically dear readers,

The Saddest Song

Because I’ve been in A Mood lately, I’ve resurrected an old Spotify playlist I made of all the sad songs I could think of.

I chucked everything but the kitchen sink in there, so my playlist ranges from ’80s power ballads (I distinctly remember when I was in preschool crying on the school bus every time I heard Roxette’s ‘It Must Have Been Love’ on Manong’s radio — opo, every time), OPM songs that vividly remind me of my real-life break-ups (Sugarfree’s ‘Kwarto’ — each line was on point, even the dusty jacket in the corner), to indie (‘Your Ex-Lover is Dead’ from Stars is a favourite… “And all of the time you thought I was sad / I was trying to remember your name” …*mic drop*).

Anyway. I’ve been listening to this playlist a lot recently. It got me thinking about what the saddest song ever written could be.

My gloomy playlist certainly had a lot of promising candidates. Who would win the Saddest Song award? Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ (“I wish I had a river I could skate away on” always gets to me)? Would it be Abba’s heart-rending entry, ‘The Winner Takes It All’? Adele’s painful, plaintive request in ‘All I Ask’? How about Alanis Morissette’s ‘So Unsexy’ (to anxious people like me, this song always struck far too close to heart)? (As you can see, I got stuck on letter A.)

Then my random playlist shuffle landed on ‘A Letter To Elise’ from The Cure.

Don’t get put off by Robert Smith’s goth look and crazy hair. Have a listen with your eyes closed.

From me and you, there are worlds to part
With aching looks and breaking hearts
And all the prayers your hands can make
Oh, I just take as much as you can throw
And then throw it all away
Oh I’ll throw it all away
Like throwing faces at the sky
Like throwing arms round yesterday
I stood and stared
Wide-eyed in front of you
And the face I saw looked back the way I wanted to
But I just can’t hold my tears away the way you do
Elise, believe I never wanted this
I thought this time I’d keep all of my promises
I thought you were the girl I always dreamed about
But I let the dream go
And the promises broke, the make-believe ran out

The quiet, aching resignation in those lines. Hay.

Here’s a soothing, gentle cover version from Goh Nakamura.

How about you? What’s your go-to sad song?

Think critically dear readers,

Featured image by Volkan Olmez on Unsplash

Sunday Sofa Sojourns #14: Rome, Italy

Seeing as all our travel plans this year (and the next…?) have been put on hold, to ease the wanderlust I’ll post throwback photos every week from our past trips. Join me as I travel from my sofa!

Rome is a delicious assault on the senses. There is the sight of an almost 230-year old fountain grafted on to the back of a palazzo when you turn a street corner, the taste of thick, creamy gelato as it melts on the tongue, the pain of sore feet when you walk too long on its cobbled streets.

The sore feet are worth it, in my opinion. Walking around Rome is the best way to discover hidden gems. Like finding the Fontana delle Tartarughe, a small fountain with tiny turtles crafted in the 1580s by Bernini himself…

… discovering Bartolucci, a toy shop selling whimsical wooden toys and a real-life Pinocchio…

… or spotting an angel making off with a stop sign.

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Pounding the pavements also allowed us to chance on the unexpected. We went up to Pincian Hill one afternoon and found a giant, yellow can with a radioactive sign painted on it. It had been set up by members of Greenpeace. I forgot what they were protesting about.

Looking up Pincian Hill

The distracting can aside, the sunset view from the hill was romantic and it was peaceful to people-watch from the top overlooking the Piazza del Popolo. We made our way down to the piazza as the big, open space filled with the sound of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ We sat on a bench to the side and watched an MJ-lookalike dance to a medley of songs in the middle of the square. The crowd slowly grew and I could see people singing along.

We stopped at Castel Sant’Angelo where we could see St. Peter’s Basilica in the distance, as well as enjoy a good broad view of the Tiber river and Sant’Angelo bridge.

Castel Sant’Angelo
The view of St. Peter’s Basilica from the top

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On a side note, we visited a lot of churches when we were in Rome. I’m not overly religious, but I find European churches fascinating. The grand cavernous interiors, the abundance of blank-eyed marble saints, the way people automatically whisper when they step inside. The churches in Europe felt more aloof and imposing in my mind, in contrast to the generally relaxed and homely atmosphere in Philippine churches. Parang Gregorian chants lang yung bagay kantahin sa loob.

My personal favourite of the Roman churches we visited was the Pantheon, a formerly pagan temple saved from destruction only because it was converted into a Christian church by Pope Boniface IV. A well-preserved, 1000+ year old wonder.

The Pantheon

There was also a small 6th century church named Santa Maria in Aracoeli next to the Piazza del Campidoglio. It’s at the top of a steep flight of stairs. Legend has it that if you climb the 122 steps on your knees you can win the lottery. (I guess the fine print reads that you can win, not that you will win.)

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All the walking around the city is bound to make anyone thirsty. It’s a good thing the flowing water found in most of Rome’s fountains – and we found plenty of these – is safe to drink. All we needed was an empty reusable water bottle. (Never mind the water in the basin, the flowing water from the tap tasted fresh and clean.)

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We ate our way through Rome too. The Hub and I indulged our sweet tooth at Tre Scalini via a creamy triple-chocolate tartufo ice cream ball with a fudgy cherry centre, topped with cream and a chocolate wafer stick; at Giolitti for hazelnut gelato; and a double gelato dose at Il Gelato di San Crispino.

A tartufo ball

We had a shot of excellent espresso at La Tazza d’Oro, had our fill of excellent pastas and crisp salads with barely a misstep. Maybe we were just lucky, or Rome really doesn’t have bad restaurants.

Fresh salads from popular chain Insalata Ricca

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I think the sight of the Vatican City is impressive to both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Even devoid of all religious associations, one can still appreciate that it’s a beautiful testament to humanity’s creativity. So much to see feel do think, in such a small space.

At the Vatican City

It was a Sunday so there was a blessing by the Pope at noon. We waited in the crowd until he arrived. Actually, we couldn’t tell what was going on since the announcements over the speakers were in Italian. We didn’t even know where to look; we thought the Pope would appear on the front balcony overlooking the crowd. I then spotted an open window with red cloth hanging out and remembered thinking to myself someone was drying out the Pope’s towels. Apparently, this was the window where he eventually showed up.

We made our way up the St. Peter’s Basilica dome for a bird’s eye view of the city. I remember the Hub (then the Boyfriend) and I lingering a little too long at the top of the dome. I thought he was taking his time with his photos – little did I know he was working up the courage to propose.

Our proposal story – saying “Yes” behind the saints

We eventually started to make our way down the dome, and made a brief pit-stop behind these marble statues of the saints. I had the camera and was snapping away when suddenly I felt a back hug (insert K-drama reference here) from the Hub and saw a small brown box open in front of me. I couldn’t see his face but it dawned on me what was about to happen.

Yes, behind these saints

I had imagined this moment perfectly a dozen times in my end. In each imagined scene I promised myself I wouldn’t cry. Why ruin such a happy occasion with tears and what would most likely be a runny nose?

But when the reality of what was happening started to sink in fast, I felt my tears start and by then it was difficult to stop. The actual proposal went something like this:

Hub: (Box open in front of me, revealing the ring.) “Will you…”

Me: (Mumbling to self, realising I was crying.) “No, no, no…”

Hub: Ha?! No?”

Me: Ay, hindi! Yes, yes, yes!”

So that was my Expectation vs. Reality moment. Still, I think it turned out better in real life.

Think critically dear readers,

Up

We’ve been riding cable cars nearly every weekend lately.

I know it sounds extravagant when I say it like that. But we’re simply making full use of a Faber Licence annual pass we bought recently at a promo price. If we rode the cable cars every week for a year, it comes to around S$3 (around Php 100) each trip, with unlimited rides for four people. It’s non-transferable (they check our photos), but still, that’s just Php 25 per person. Sulit naman (It’s a good deal). It’s a fun weekend activity and my kid is a happy camper.

The Singapore Cable Car Sky Network (there’s only one) is made up of two lines: the Mount Faber Line, which you can take from Harbourfront Tower all the way to Faber Peak and back to Sentosa island (a 30-minute round trip ride); and the Sentosa Line, which makes three stops within the island at Siloso Point, Imbiah Lookout, and near the Sentosa Merlion (a 20-minute ride).

There are ongoing construction works now near Sentosa Line’s Merlion Station, so we usually hop off at Siloso Point Station and take the free beach trams around the island, another activity my kid loves.

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Personally, I prefer the cable car rides itself. The views of Sentosa island from the sky are also hard to beat.

There is Brani Terminal and the Sentosa Boardwalk in the distance, with Hard Rock Hotel Singapore in the foreground and Festive Hotel to the right. The terminal will eventually close and move to the Tuas mega-port in western Singapore at some point, as the government intends to redevelop this area into the Greater Southern Waterfront. The port will be replaced with waterfront promenades and residential / commercial spaces. With the Covid-19 situation now, I’m not sure when this would be.

I like seeing the rows of solar panels atop the Bank of America Merrill Lynch building, visible when you approach Harbourfront Tower on the Mount Faber Line.

This is an aerial view of Adventure Cove Waterpark. It’s strange to see the water slides and Adventure River stripped of water. We can already spot small black stagnant pools in some places, littered with leaves. We see the sharks and dolphins are still there, possibly living their “best” life (as can be had within the confines of their tanks) with no humans to bother them.

The giant wave pool at Adventure Cove looks rather lonely now.

This is Siloso Beach last month, when Singapore celebrated its 55th National Day. The heart-shaped installation was made up of 10,000 red and white flags, each with a heartfelt message.

The AJ Hackett bungy jump tower is always a source of interest to my kid. If someone happens to be on a jump or zipping down the 450m zipline from Mega Adventure Park, we can hear the screaming from the comfort of our cable car.

Finally, there’s what is touted to be the “reigning king of public toilets” across Singapore, found in Faber Peak Singapore (you can hop off at the Mount Faber Station on the cable car line). In this glass-enclosed toilet at The Jewel Box, you can soak in superb views of Mount Faber’s greenery and the cable cars while making yourself comfortable on the couch provided. There’s even a fish tank with real fish inside. Best of all, it’s clean!

For your pooping pleasure

Think critically dear readers,