When you can't live without bananas

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Saturday, October 11, 2003

On the off-chance any of my coursemates are reading this, please remember chris wang's birthday is 23 october (i think) ... do something nice for him / to him. Better yet, if you've got a gift idea and are looking for ppl to share a present contact me.

Andrew gan
Interesting stuff from Mike's List

Play the staring game, spot the differences between these 2 pictures game or Shoot Teddy Bears.

Extreme Pumpkin Carving

Count Sheep

Hold The Button for as long as you can (even more bo liao than the World Mouseclicking Competition)

Type upside down

WiFi - SM - device that shocks you whenever news of some tragedy is reported

CDs made from corn

Mouse that cleans your hand with light

Interesting stuff from Daypop and Stumbleupon

Vatican: condoms don't stop Aids

Music Label Cashes in by Sharing - A backlash against the evil RIAA

Teenager In Trouble In Inhaler Incident - Suspended for saving girlfriend's life by giving her a whiff of his asthma inhaler

Link to Ancient Rome

Agnosticism / Atheism - Skeptical Inquiry, Freethinking, & Religious Philosophy

Free Personality Tests

Calpundit: The New Model Republican Party - The true face of the Republicans (at least those in Texas). Among other things, their party platform for 2000 advocates striving till "abortion is completely outlawed, Social Security is abolished, the welfare state is completely rolled back, the book of Genesis is taught in science classes, and the federal income tax is abolished."

So what's their hang-up? - the American Teleservices Association, which opposes the National Do Not Call Registry, nonetheless itself dislikes getting unwanted calls from thousands of people. "The ATA received NO WARNING that it was going to get unwanted calls! Not only that, but these unwanted calls were an INCONVENIENCE for the ATA, and WASTED THE ATA'S TIME! I just hope nobody interrupted the ATA's dinner."

Opening a Window on North Korea's Horrors. Defectors Haunted by Guilt Over the Loved Ones Left Behind

Unintended Consequences: Five Years under the DMCA - the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Chills Free Expression and Scientific Research, Jeopardizes Fair Use, Impedes Competition and Innovation and Becomes All-Purpose Ban on Access To Computer Networks.

Study: Wrong impressions helped support Iraq war - 60 percent of Americans held at least one of the following views in polls reported between January and September:

1. U.S. forces found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,
2. There's clear evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein worked closely with the Sept. 11 terrorists.
3. People in foreign countries generally either backed the U.S.-led war or were evenly split between supporting and opposing it.

Extracts from Dude, Where's My Country, by Michael Moore

The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos (Aves: Anatidae)

Students toil as Spyware Hunters

The fatal grandeur of the Golden Gate Bridge

2003 Rock Paper Scissors International Championships

Voice for Muslim women terrorised by their families

The Real Patriot Act - Imposing a tax of $1/gallon of petrol to finance Iraq's reconstruction, encourage conservation of oil, weaken OPEC and Wahhabi clerics and reduce the trade deficit? Simplistic, but some valid points are made.

Debunking Edward Said: Edward Said and the Saidists: or Third World Intellectual Terrorism by Ibn Warraq

Can use of Ecstacy cause fatal fever? - Apparently as of 2001, only 87 people had died due to Ecstacy, of the millions of who had used it. So much for mindless anti-drug propaganda.

Forbes.com: Is Sex Necessary? - So much for abstinence: Some studies seem to show that having sex even a few times a week is associated with or causes the following:

- Improved sense of smell
- Reduced risk of heart disease
- Weight loss, overall fitness
- Reduced depression
- Pain-relief
- Less-frequent colds and flu
- Better bladder control
- Better teeth: "Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals shown to retard tooth decay. Since this is a family Web site, we will omit discussion of the mineral delivery system. Suffice it to say that it could be a far richer, more complex and more satisfying experience than squeezing a tube of Crest"
- A happier prostate? : "A study recently published by the British Journal of Urology International asserts that men in their 20s can reduce by a third their chance of getting prostate cancer by ejaculating more than five times a week."

So much for old fashioned morality. Also in the article: gender specific benefits and disadvantages (for men only)

The Mind of A Chinese Man

Chinese walks into a bank in New York City and asks for the loan officer. He tells the loan officer that he is going to Taiwan on business for two weeks and needs to borrow $5,000.

The bank officer tells him that the bank will need some form of security for the loan, so the Chinese hands over the keys to a new Ferrari parked on the street in front of the bank. He produces the title and everything checks out.The loan officer agrees to accept the car as collateral for the loan.

The bank's president and its officers all enjoy a good laugh at the Chinese for using a $250,000 Ferrari as collateral against a $5,000 loan. An employee of the bank then drives the Ferrari into the bank's underground garage and parks it there.

Two weeks later, the Chinese returns, repays the $5,000 and the interest, which comes to $15.41. The loan officer says, "Sir, we are very happy to have had your business, and this transaction has worked out very nicely, but we are a little puzzled. While you were away, we checked you out and found that you are a multi-millionaire. What puzzles us is, why would you bother to borrow $5,000?"

The Chinese replies: "Where else in New York City can I park my car for two weeks for only $15.41 and expect it to be there when I return?"

Ah, the mind of the Chinese...

Thursday, October 09, 2003

My Grand Tour of England and Wales - Part 4 of X

Day 8 - Wales-Stow-on-the-Wold

Leaving Wales, we drove back into England, to Stokesay Castle, which was really a manor house - but a genuine medieval fortified manor house, no less.

After that we went to Hereford Cathedral, home of the Mappa Mundi, placed by some marketing genius at the end of a gallery containing the shop (where I bought a 'kimberly' keychain) and cafe to tempt visitors. The Mappa Mundi was remarkably well-preserved, considering that it was made in the 13th Century, and was much bigger than I thought it would be. In the Cathedral library, they also had a stunning collection of manuscripts from the 12th Century onward, all chained to the shelves.

Next we visited Gloucester Cathedral, where they had a good pamphlet offering a Harry Potter tour (since parts of both films were shot there, in the cloisters). In contrast, Alnwick, which was also used for filming, had nothing related to or about the filming except for some cardboard figures scattered throughout the castle. Among the artefacts scattered throughout the cathedral was a Norman Lead Font (c. 1140) - giving babies brain damage for 850 years!

Though the cathedral was grand, the toilets were horrible. They were smelly, one cubicle door could not close, the light in the one I chose was spoilt and when I pulled out some toilet paper, the cover of the container fell and hit my temple. And they had the cheek to ask for donations!

Outside the cathedral and a street away was what was probably the main street, and there were schoolchildren walking up and down, including 2 schoolgirls with skirts covering only 1/2 - 1/3 of their thighs, without stockings. Now, if even *I* was cold and my legs numbing, I wonder how they stood it.

For the night we stopped at Stow-on-the-Wold, near Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Day 9 - Stow-on-the-Wold-Warwick-Oxford-London

Before leaving Stow-on-the-Wold, I tried some Welsh Gold (Honey) Organic Ice Cream which was highly recommended by both Jie and Hwa and indeed it was excellent, and not that much more expensive than normal ice cream (1 pound 25 pence).

I'd expressed my desire to visit Warwick Castle, but Jie didn't want to go there, both because she balked at the price, and it was owned by the Madame Tussauds group, and she doesn't want to visit any place they run. Naturally, Hwa had to follow her lead so in the end I went in alone.

2 PRC girls were going around taking photos of each other at the Castle, and when they started approaching me, I feared for the worst. Luckily however, when they asked me to help them take a photo, it was in halting English.

There were several interesting exhibits in the castle. Among them were a torture chamber with a rack, a stand with several Civil War helmets to try on, a box with 2 swords you could lift (but not remove from the box), a machine to test your longbow draw strength (and corresponding arrow range) which was unfortunately spoilt and a dungeon. The armoury had a fine collection of armour and arms, but unfortunately, most of it dated from the Civil War and later, leaning too far into the Gunpowder Age for my liking.

One of the more interesting parts of my visit was seeing the Castle Bowman (the link is to someone who was so impressed, he set up a fan club for him) in action, replete with full battle garb. He was both knowledgeable and irrepressible, not just shooting 18 arrows in a minute (albeit only 6 hit the target) and 2 at a time (though both flew way off the mark) but also talking about the weapons of English Bowmen (apparently a buckler is used to bash people's faces in and not for defence) and showing some artefacts from daily life. Later on my way out I met the Seneschal of the Castle, but I was in a rush, so I couldn't pull a fast one on him.

If I'd gone in high summer, I'd have caught even more colourful characters and watched some funky re-enactments (being managed by Madam Tussauds *does* have advantages). But then, it'd have been deadly hot, so.

There was an intriguing sounding "Ghost Tower" in the castle, but when I went there, I found that it was so dark I couldn't see anything and had to grope my way around. The music, lighting (mostly red) and voiceovers that were supposed to sound spooky but were just so soft I couldn't make out anything contributed to a Disney-fied feel.

Since the place was managed by Madame Tussauds, they took the opportunity to put liberal amounts of wax statues throughout the compound including "A Royal Weekend Party" (Daisy, Countess of Warwick's weekend party in 1898, at which the principle guest was the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII) and "The Kingmaker", touted as recreating "the mid fifteenth century world of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, Kingmaker". The latter reeked of the generic Ye Olde World smell (a la Jorvik) and had 2 people inside pretending to be artisans, but all in all, it was just a collection of wax statues around artefacts, with an annoying soundtrack played on loop in the background - a rather big disappointment.

In the Great Hall, flash photography was disallowed, which was good for conscientious visitors like me, but after observing people's behavior, I now understand (though still do not condone) why many places ban photography altogether (though the banning of camcorders is still unacceptable). Many people are either unwilling or unable to disable the flash on their cameras, and the stewards are too few in number and so unable to restrain them. To be fair to conscientious visitors perhaps, instead of banning photography wholesale, visitors should be made to sign for a photography permit, and pay a fine if they do not disable the flash.

Much of the Castle had a theme park feel, which was both good (more immersive, vivid, hands-on, entertaining) and bad (commodified feeling, not authentic, many attractions ended at the shop). I would've seen more, but had to run off to meet Hwa and Jie.

Not far from the Castle was St Mary's Church, where I took on the 160 steps up the narrow staircase of the Tower (Hwa having declined, once again, to join me) and got to the top with a case of vertigo. After I got down, I bought 3 cheap (5 pounds 99) medium quality CDs (Royal Philharmonic).

We then went to Oxford, where Jie and Hwa dropped me off, to return on my own later. It took me at least half an hour to find the Tourist Information Centre, thanks to many street signs which had not been updated since the Centre moved in October 2002 (hmmph). My sister asked me to try to bluff my way into Christchurch College by claiming that I was a potential student, but I'm bad at such things and so got fleeced of 4 pounds. At Christchurch Cathedral, I happened to talk to the steward while looking for a rare Becket window, and coincidentally, he did his "National Service" in Singapore 50 years ago at an airbase.

I wanted to go to Merton College later, but it was closed so I decided to go deer hunting at Magdalene, and walked in when the girl wasn't looking (so saving 3 pounds). The grounds were more pleasant than Christchurch, and they even had a river of sorts, with a boat moored at the side which I was tempted to hijack. After I'd finished ogling at deer, it was about 5:30 and my feet were hurting so I decided to take the Oxford Tube bus back to London, and was charged 7 pounds by the driver who thought I was a student. Somehow, I took 2 hours to reach London (damn traffic), and when I reached it, I found to my horror that Jie and Hwa were a long while from their home (as it turned out later, they had gone to Cambridge), so I had to sit in Burger King and read.

Day 10 - Hampton Court-Bombay Dreams-Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat

The next day, I took a squeaky and rickety train which kept swaying from side to side to Hampton Court. The oldest part of the palace, Henry VII's state apartments, had unfortunately been extensively renovated by William II and Mary II, but a substantial portion still remained. After seeing the King's and Queen's Apartments of William II and Queen Caroline respectively later, I decided that, not being especially fond of house interiors, especially 18th Century ones, I would skip the Gregorian Rooms, which were probably more of the same. I don't actually dislike Baroque and Rococo design and decor, unlike my sister, though too much gold gilt is bad for health, and it would have been nice to see more splendid tapestries and historical artifacts (or pieces of furniture, at least) in their original setting, but I was short of time.

The Tudor Kitchens were especially interesting because they had people in their "researching" Tudor methods of cooking. Outside the kitchens, there was a sign advising that people who might be upset with the methods and ingredients used should go elsewhere. Again, as with the sign in the Imperial War Museum North about disturbing images, this flummoxed me - why go to kitchens if you are alarmed by cooking?

I was in a hurry, but before I left I wanted to look at "The Triumphs of Caesar" by Andrea Mantegna. Frankly, I'd never heard of these paintings even though they are "considered to be one of the most important works of the Italian Renaissance", but they sounded interesting. Unfortunately, they were hidden in a godforsaken part of the Palace which had to be reached by a torturous circuitous route, and it took some effort to find them. The paintings were hardly an accurate depiction of Roman times - as for most Renaissance paintings, what Mantegna had done was to put Classical characters and events in a contemporary setting, so the Romans looked like they were characters from Renaissance Italy. There were -some- Roman elements, but they were submerged by the Renaissance elements, though with the low level of light in the gallery, it was hard to tell. I also wanted to look at The Wolsey Rooms and the Renaissance Picture Gallery, but unfortunately they were closed for air-con renovation.

I'm not one for gardens, but the gardens in Hampton Court were rather pretty. The "Great Vine", the oldest known vine in the world, was an interesting sight to behold. And then there was The Maze.

By the time I got to the Maze, there was already a horde of English schoolboys and schoolgirls inside, and from the noise you'd have thought a massacre was ensuing in there. Gritting my teeth and steeling myself, I went in to witness pandemonium, as schoolchildren (mostly the boys) were running around screaming (in ties and coats - they should get proper outing attire) and, from time to time, forming barricades to block others (mostly girls), all the while chanting, "we shall not, we shall not be moved". Meanwhile, the girls mostly walked around in groups chatting and giving the boys condescending looks. At one point, a group of schoolboys eyed me and started to form a barrier to block me, but I just grinned at them: they got the message and dispersed. It would've been fun to break through for good measure (even more fun than running around), but I might've been arrested for child abuse, so. Later, a co-ed group formed in front of me (I think they wanted to take me on) and started chanting the "we shall not be moved" chant, so I started filming them, and one shouted, "He's got a camera!!!".

It would've been great fun walking past the hordes of schoolchildren to find the centre, but I had a train to catch to watch Bombay Dreams and was afraid I couldn't find my way out in time. It'd be even more fun with friends - maybe I shall go back some day with other people. It was the most hilarious thing I'd seen all day (maybe all week, even). The experience was priceless and incapturable, but to catch a whiff of the moment, I took 2 videos.

Misc notes:

My knees, especially the left one, were hurting throughout the trip (and still now). Thank you SAF for injuring me for no bloody reason!

The English must eat Fish and Chips extremely often for the nation to be able to sustain so many Fish and Chips shops all throughout the country.

There was this packet of tropical fruit juice that we got which had 40 cals / litre. I smelt a rat, so I looked at the ingredients and lo and behold, it contained artificial sweetener. However, I still have my doubts - isn't there lots of natural sugar in the juice?

I bought a lot of rubbish in 2001 and almost nothing in 2002. This time it was something in between. Unfortunately for someone, I couldn't find anything chic because of my abyssal fashion sense and my not patronising some types of places.

Why do people like to have their gravestones put on the floors of cathedrals and abbeys? It's cheaper than having them on the wall but won't countless numbers tread on your remains, and isn't that humiliating in the extreme?

English school uniforms are much less restrictive than Singaporean ones. Instead of having to get their apparel from a designated school tailor, all they need to do is to get generic clothes that hew more or less to the prescribed dress code (eg white long sleeved shirt, half thigh length skirt [even for the lower secondary girls, most were in those]), and wear the school tie and coat. Also, it seems the plague of Hot Socks is universal. I saw only 1 schoolgirl (aged about 8 years old) wearing normal socks, but interestingly, also no schoolboys wearing Hot Socks (from what I could see under their pants).

My sister is obsessed with Blue Bear, and likes to draw an image of him, with the acronym "BB" in misted windows.

Hwa and Jie have a tendency to ask me the same questions over and over again, which is damn irritating (and picked up from my father, it seems).

YHA kitchen staff like to wear this hideous outfit consisting of black-and-white chequered pants, shirts and caps, making them look like jesters gone wrong.

Apparently, they used olive oil to oil armour in the 15th Century.

I want a tapestry. Except that it'd be too expensive.

Instead of trying to appeal to people's sense of patriotism (hogwash) and machismo, the Army ads in the UK are humourous.

During the 2 weeks, I got zapped by metal objects quite a few times. I think I'm becoming like my sister.

Oxford had so many people on bicycles, you'd think it was China. In fact, they even have priority boxes for bicycles to wait at traffic lights, in front of all other traffic.

I saw this billboard ad for SIA where the girl had her hair down. That's a first.

The fries at UK's Burger Kings are nicer than those here as they're more crunchy.

I should've bought the "Gay Times" for a certain homophobic friend, but he'd have killed me, so.

I kept standing left when on Tube escalators depite the rule of standing on the right. Guess it's been ingrained into me in Singapore, not least in Nanyang.

It seems all floors in the UK are creaky.


Sunday, October 05, 2003

Fools and Their Freedoms Are Soon Parted

One of the best-running comedies in Washington these days comes from the show the Republicans are forced to put on defending the various screw ups of George W. Bush and his increasingly error-prone administration.

Gross groupies gather to gab about gal-groping

Shigeru Oohori (a pseudonym) is a 35-year-old "elite salaryman" at a major corporation and loving father of a 10-year-old daughter. He's also a dedicated chikan (groper) who gets his thrills running his hands over the bodies of young women on commuter trains.

According to Oohori, there are two types of chikan. One is the "orthodox" type, who become excited by seeing the expression of disgust on a girl's face at the moment they begin running their hands over her body. The other type, the "technician," aims at subtly titillating the woman using practiced erotic techniques that succeed in getting her wet before she even realizes what's happening.

Members of Oohori's group become eligible for hands-on training sessions, aboard actual commuter trains.

"We all pool our money and employ several girls who let us grope them while actually on the train,"

Dolphin Stress Test

"Being born and having grown up in Singapore does not automatically entitle a person to Singapore citizenship."

LEE BOON HWEE, Head, Corporate Communications Branch, for Commissioner Immigration and Checkpoints Authority in the ST Forum 4 Oct 2003


Singapore's hopes for gold in the SEA Games were given a boost on Tuesday after Chinese shot putters Du Xianhui and Zhang Guirong were granted Singapore citizenship.

- The Star Online - 1 Oct 2003


Reasons why Barnabas is not a citizen

I REFER to Mr Barnabas Lim Ah Huat's letter, 'Born and bred here but he is 'Stateless' ' (ST, Sept 27), and the letters by Ms Lydia Rahman and Mr Michael Loh Yik Ming ('Do the right thing by Barnabas' and 'Issue is one of legitimacy, not citizenship'; ST, Oct 1).

We would like to clarify why Mr Lim was not conferred Singapore citizenship at birth. He could not take on his father's Singapore citizenship because, as Mr Lim had noted, his parents were not legally married at the time of his birth.

He also could not be conferred Singapore citizenship through his mother as she was not a Singapore citizen then. These are provided for in the Singapore Constitution.

Mr Lim was called up for national service because he was granted Singapore permanent residency when he was 12 years old.

Every citizenship application is assessed carefully on its own merits.

The factors taken into consideration include the extent of family roots in Singapore, the legality of the parents' marriage at the time of birth, national service performance, the good-conduct records of the applicant and the sponsor, and other compassionate factors.

When Mr Lim applied again for Singapore citizenship last year, our officers explained to him why his past citizenship applications had not been successful. Being born and having grown up in Singapore does not automatically entitle a person to Singapore citizenship.

If Mr Lim needs further clarification, he may wish to contact us on 6391-6186.

Corporate Communications Branch
for Commissioner Immigration and Checkpoints Authority


Wednesday October 1, 2003

Chinese shot putters for Singapore

SINGAPORE: Singapore's hopes for gold in the SEA Games were given a boost on Tuesday after Chinese shot putters Du Xianhui and Zhang Guirong were granted Singapore citizenship.

The two women, ranked among the best in Asia for the event, can now represent the city-state in the biennial 10-nation games held in Vietnam in December, the Singapore Amateur Athletics Association (SAAA) said in a statement.

Du's personal best of 18.67m and Zhang's 18.34m compare favourably with the top three athletes in last year's Asian Games in Busan, South Korea.

The pair also dominated this year's 2003 Asian GP circuit, and having surpassed the 2004 Olympic Games B qualifying standard of 17.20m set by the IAAF, they are eligible to represent Singapore in next year's Olympics in Athens. – AFP

This is ridiculous.

"OCT 4, 2003

Think you know what a condom's for? Think again

I REFER to Madam Cindy Tan Hui Cheng's letter, 'Why a condom?' (ST, Oct 1).

One of the most vital requirements for a jungle survival kit is something to help the soldier collect water. The condom in the kit is meant for this purpose.

It is hygienically packaged and more compact than a folded plastic bag, and it can hold a reasonable amount of water.

The condom can also be used to keep the other essential survival items such as matches and medical items dry after they have been opened.

Public Affairs
Ministry of Defence"
My Grand Tour of England and Wales - Part 3 of X

Day 6 - Lake District-Manchester-Imperial War Museum-Wales

Leaving the Lake District early, we drove down to Manchester, where Jie and Hwa took the Manchester United Old Trafford stadium tour. Not being interested in football, I trekked down to the Imperial War Museum North (newly opened in July 2002) which, though only including artefacts and exhibits from the Boer War onwards, was nonetheless interesting and informative.

The building was vast but had an empty feeling as there was much white space about not filled with exhibits. The reason for this was revealed later during 'The Big Picture', a light and sound show where images were projected on the many walls and empty spaces of the building. Visitors were warned that "The Big Picture" was something "some visitors may find distressing". If so, wth did they visit a WAR Museum? The Big Picture itself was chaotic and disorganised - perfectly in tune with modern sensibilities. One could say that this was to convey the chaos of war, but it was just annoying.

Interesting artefacts:

- A Harrier
- A Russian T-34 Tank
- A handbill recording the escape of the Transvaal President Paul Kreuger to Portugese East Africa which read:
Will be paid by any of our 'Gentlemen in Khaki'
to any person giving information that will lead
to the apprehension of
who on or about 21 May 1900
and absconded with all the available money in the Transvaal, and left his wife and family on the parish relief of Lord Roberts and his army. Was last seen making another foolish speech from a cattle truck on his way to Machadodorp.

DESCRIPTION: Height about 5ft 6in: age 73 (or in his second childhood). Would be easily recognized by his lunacy actions. Iron grey hair, turned white since the relief of Ladysmith. Was last seen wearing a very shabby frock coat suit, a very old silk hat (one of the first that was made and was found after the flood) and always smoking a big badger's pipe. No underclothing, Union Jack socks and brown boots.

The above reward will be paid by any right-minded Englishman.

June 1900 By Order
- a bell from the Lusitania
- Argentine magazines from the time of the Falklands War which depicted Margaret Thatcher as the Devil and Hitler
- A little Red Book (I never knew it was so little)
- an Anti-War poster: "Fuck W*r [Footnote: US govt regulations prohibit the printing of obscene words]"

There was an interesting section on National Service. Apparently that deceptive euphemism came from the UK, where it was in effect from 1947 to 1963. Odd that Singapore implemented it, and stole the euphemism, after the enlightened British realised it should be abolished. At the same exhibit was an inspiring story: "William Harrison was a pacifist. His conscience told him killing was wrong. He joined the No Conscription Fellowship which was opposed to compulsory recruitment. In 1916 he refused to be called up and was arrested in March 1917. He was court-martialled in North Shields and sentenced to hard labour in Wormwood Socks and Newcastle prisons. He was finally released in April 1919."

[Additional material from elsewhere: Clifford Allen was the founder of the No-Conscription Fellowship. He was conscripted in 1916 but when he refused to serve he was sent to prison. While in prison Allen developed tuberculosis of the spine. Allen made the following statement at his Military Tribunal in 1916.

"We are all young men, and life is a precious thing to such men. We cherish life because of the opportunities for adventure and achievement which it offers to a man who is young. They say our country is in danger. Of course it is, but whose fault is that? It will be in danger in fifty years time, if our rulers know they can always win our support by hoisting danger signals. They will never heed our condemnation of their foreign policy if they can always depend upon our support in time of war. There is one interference with individual judgement that no state in the world has any sanction to enforce - that is, to tamper with the unfettered free right of everyman to decide for himself the issue of life and death."]

They also had an interesting item on propaganda - in the UK, a Ministry of Information was set up to co-ordinate UK propaganda (what about our Ministry of Information -and the Arts- then?), and the full name of the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda (one thing about fascist governments - at least they were honest about it) was the Ministry of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. There was also some grotesque TV footage from the Vietnam War. At the part about World War II, they debunked the widely propagated myth that Britain fought alone after France had fallen to Hitler, as it had its Commonwealth. And then to display the effects of rationing and other post-war restrictions, they had a grotesque home-made teddy bear.

As I was walking back from the museum to join Jie and Hwa, I discovered that my sister had made a call to Singapore the night before without telling me. She *had* asked me if I could use my phone, but she had refused to tell me who she was calling, so I was extremely annoyed due to the sheer waste involved (using M1's SmartRoam, one can save a substantial amount compared to making calls the normal way), all because of her pathological secrecy, inherited from and decried in my parents.

Our next stop was Lyme Park, used for filming in the BBC's production of Pride and Prejudice. I really don't understand the British obsession with houses and gardens. They're nice enough, but I don't know how they can stand seeing so many of them.

Then we crossed into Wales, where suddenly all the road signs became bilingual (with English placed below Welsh, confirming the latter's status as the region's principal language), the number of hospitals with signs pointing to them skyrocketed (maybe Wales is a dangerous or sickly country) and every other place and person's name started with "LL".

Contrary to what their names might imply, the Youth Hostels didn't have many youths staying in them - we most often saw old people and families with young children. The only one where there were a lot of youths was Conwy, our stop for our first night in Wales, because the St Helens Youth Brass Band (National Champions 1997-2003) was there for their retreat. Of course, this had its disadvantages - I was sitting beside the pay phone waiting for Jie and Hwa to finish watching TV and the phone kept ringing, only for the line to be cut off when I answered it (since the number of the payphone was pasted there for all to see), and looking up the stairwell, I often saw faces peering down at me briefly. Also, they made a lot of noise and were hyperactive, but I was generally okay with it, especially seeing as I would've done the same if I were with a group of friends. Hwa told me that there was one guy using the Internet terminal (provided by the same cartel) who kept putting in money while cursing loudly all the way, "this computer sucks!" and banging the table.

Day 7 - Castle Sighting in Wales

The next day, we went castle sighting. Now, Wales is home to no less than 4 Castles (Conwy, Caernarfon, Harlech and Beaumaris)which have been designated World Heritage Sites under the collective label of "Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd", and that really makes you wonder. First, we looked at the one in the town we spent the night in - Conwy Castle. Unfortunately, it was too early in the day so it wasn't open. After that, me and Hwa walked along part of the top of Conwy's town walls - preserved in excellent condition, yet not restored so much that you know it's restored (ala York). We then drove to Beaumaris, home of Beaumaris Castle - the "most technically perfect medieval castle" - except that it was never completed. The inner curtain walls being higher than the outer ones, thus allowing 2 fields of fire and fire from the inner ones when the outer ones were overrun, were a nice feature. But I wonder what use half a moat was.

Later, we moved on to Caernarfon. The toilet there was too high tech for me - instead of a normal sink, there was a metal hole in the wall. So I stuck my hand in, hoping to get some water to wash my calf, and wondered why so little water came out, and why it was so cold. It was soap. By the time I made this shocking discovery, the water had been flowing for a while, so I had to get more water to wash off the soap. So I stuck my hand in briefly and withdrew it as quickly as possible, but the nozzle was so well positioned that some soap still got onto my hand.

In the Eagle Tower, there was a theatrette screening a video that gave an overview of Wales' history, and of the castles of Edward I. It was good, except for this annoying chap who kept popping up in various garb, presumably to give the video a more personalised touch. Later, I climbed to the top of one of the turrets in the Eagle Tower (the highest point in the castle, I think) and ended up winded. All in all, I really liked Caernarfon (though my all-time favourite is still Krak des Chevaliers, the enduring image of which will always bring a tear to my eye) - it had a good exhibition, was well restored without giving the feeling of reconstruction (I like reconstruction too, but each has its place). Too bad I couldn't take a delicious aerial shot to encompass the totality of the castle.

We then drove through the expanses of Snowdonia. The sheer slopes of the mountains of slate, their tops shrouded in clouds, the rocky crags and outcrops sheathed in heather and sparse scrub or the plunging, verdant valleys - the general grandeur of it all was most impressive. Best of all, it wasn't raining like in the Lake District, so I actually preferred it to there. But again, as with the Lake District, there were no laybys for much of the way so we couldn't stop and take photos at some of the spots with the more spectacular views. Worse, at one point, when I was sitting on a rock in the middle of a river with Hwa, who had expended much more effort, with a great deal more fuss than me in getting there, posing for a shot to be taken by Jie, she couldn't figure out how to take a shot (women!) and by the time I went back to adjust the settings, my camera was low on batteries only 4 days after the last full charge. Amazingly, my backup batteries chose that moment to go flat too, and jiggling with 2 of Hwa's spare batteries to replace 2 of my 4 expended ones did not work, and I hadn't figured out that I could still take pictures by turning off the LCD. So that shot of us in the river was only taken with Hwa's 2 1/2 year old digital camera, with less than spectacular results.

As we drove through Snowdonia, we noticed not a few people had parked by the road and gone hiking in the mountains. Ugh. Apparently mountain hiking is really popular in those parts, as at one point there was even a spot with a car park, a cafe and - get this - a youth hostel (which I bought 4 AA batteries from at the princely price of 4 pounds 99 pence, which even scarier was not far from their price in more civilised areas - I think I could get rich smuggling film and batteries into Europe from Hong Kong).

At one part of Snowdonia, near a rather large town, we found what appeared to be the cheapest petrol in Britain - 70.9 pence/litre. On closer inspection, we found this to be a charade - the petrol kiosk had long since closed, but there was still a Little Chef there. I bet the price was deliberately set at that rate by Little Chef, so drivers would be conned into stopping and eating after they found out petrol wasn't actually being sold!

Our Youth Hostel for the night was Llangollen. There they sold "glowsticks, necklaces and bracelets - useful in an emergency, ideal for clubbing!", had an amusing poster on how to and not to use the shroud, and had internet access provided by another company, which was cheaper, faster and better. Oddly though, the door to our room could only be locked from outside, and not from inside. There was also an irritating pussy which kept brushing against my leg in a vain attempt to get me to feed it.

Misc notes:

Throughout the 2 weeks, Jie and Hwa kept claiming I was chopping consonants off the ends of my words. Partly this is because they are very niao, but I suppose my tongue has become lazy in Singapore, especially during my slavery. Incidentally though, even at my most pedantic, I never corrected people many times a day.

My camera seems to deliver overly-bright images.

The UK must be the only country in the world without Oreo McFlurrys. More's the pity.

There's something about these suspicious Youth Hostel descriptions. York, for exampled, was described as a "soothing stroll" from the City Centre, but we found it to be at least 40 mins walk from there. Many places were described as "ideal bases" to explore certain locations or attractions, but were extremely far from them. And there was deceptive advertising - the picture for Wooler showed a cyclist resting on the ground, with his bike thrown willy-nilly, looking out at the island of Lindisfarne. In the end, it was like half an hour by car from Wooler to Lindisfarne. I guess he was so upset at being tricked by the description that he threw the bike down in frustration and rage.

One of the girls in the St Helens Youth Band had this funky hairband with 2 devil's horns on them.

Hwa and Jie confess they are deprived - they get excited whenever they see a superstore.

I have serious doubts about the power of symbolism. The Eagle Tower in Caernarfon Castle is named such because it has sculpted eagles on top of it, and Edward I supposedly included this to gain the respect of the Welsh, who still remembered the Romans, if not fondly, then with respect. I think that the influence, strength and memory of the "collective consciousness" is very much overrated (Edward constructed his castles a century after the Romans left Britain).

In the 8 days, I kept seeing signs warning of speed cameras, but rarely saw one. I bet it's just a ploy to get motorists to slow down on the cheap.

Youth hostels should allow the truly destitute the sleep on the couch in the lounge for half the price.

The National Trust is really paranoid by not allowing indoor photography. Luckily, that doesn't affect me that much as I'm not that fond of houses.

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