Giovanni’s Room

I’m trying to read a book a month this year. Part of it is just to rediscover my love for books (I never stopped loving them per se, or buying them, but I had stopped reading in general) but another part is me spending some time not staring into the screen.

With a new job, I also wanted to make sure I made space for “me time” – just lazing in bed or on the sofa, reading. I’m going to try to see if I can make sure they are all fiction, or at least, not related to my work and research but who knows if I have the time for that criteria?

Giovanni's Room book cover

Giovanni’s Room is a book I encountered by accident. When lockdown happened, I was looking to see how I could try to help support some independent book stores (I’d started buying books from Hive, for example, and quit Amazon because … oh, where do I start?).

I checked out Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, and they were doing these book mystery boxes where you could let them throw together some books for you (valued at £50 or £100). This was at the time the Black Lives Matter protests in the US were very much part of the news cycle (which subsequently swepts across the globe) so my brief to them was that I wanted books by black writers, but also because it was Pride month, some books by diverse queer writers.

The box arrived with about 6-7 books and one of them was Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. I’ve heard of him, of course, but not the book – which was surprising to me because it’s been called one of the greatest love stories ever written (and it has strong gay/bisexual themes).

Well, I finally found time to read it this month, and finished it yesterday, just in time for the end of January.

This post isn’t meant to be a review, or critique; it is merely for record. But I would recommend the book for sure (here’s the link to buy it off Hive, which supports independent bookstores). I also found this interesting NYT fashion piece about the story, with some great photos.

The makings of a cybertrooper

I woke up yesterday to a text message from a producer at BFM Radio in Malaysia asking if I’d talk about cybertroopers, in view of the recently released annual report for 2020 on organised social media manipulation by the Oxford Internet Institute.

It was a good thing I had read the report, and read a draft of the Malaysia case study document (I reviewed a version during the research process as a “country expert”, as I did for the 2019 edition as well) which I don’t think is available yet, so I knew about its contents.

You can listen to the interview here. I am currently working on a book on this building on from my doctoral research.

Last trip with the parents

Facebook today reminded me that five years ago today, my parents and I landed in Siem Reap. My dad would pass away just under a year after that trip, so it was essentially our last trip together as a trio. This was us at the airport.

Photo quality from 5 years ago alone is so awful. But I digress.

That trip will always be memorable for me because of it was my last trip with dad. Angkor Watt was one of the few places he had wanted to visit that he never made it to (the other two were Japan and Hawaii) so I’m glad I was able to accompany them there. It wasn’t easy – by this stage, his dementia was quite advanced and he was already prone to have seizures (there was an episode at one of the temples when we visited Angkor Watt, so mum sat down with him for a bit while I explored a bit – thankfully not serious).

I really enjoyed the trip as well so much so that I wanted to revisit again. If I didn’t get my scholarship to head over to the UK later that year, I think I would already have gone back to spend an extended time writing and working remotely. I enjoyed the culture, a nice mix of touristy and non-touristy spots, the people were great and it was cosy as a city.

In 2019, my second sister ee che and I took mum to Vietnam. As a family who loves travelling, I look forward to when we can move around again so that I can take my mum somewhere else.

First day back at work

Following a tough semester last year, the university was closed for an extra few days. Staff needed it and I had grand plans of working on a book proposal, but Covid-19 had other plans for me.

Because of that, I ended up taking an extra few days off work last week on sick leave to recover. I’m not fully well yet but returned to work today in preparation for the return to teaching next week.

I needed to take breaks to rest – the fatigue is still bothering me and some symptoms have reappeared over the weekend – but it was nice to be doing something productive again after a couple of weeks of convalescing.

“Asking” for forgiveness

I had totally forgotten about the incident but Facebook today reminded me that 12 years ago, I took a full-body dip in this fish pool at a spa located in Merchant Square. I don’t remember its name or if it is still around.

But the story about that day wasn’t really to do with my allowing hundreds (thousands?) of fishes to nibble at every bit of my body. Not by a long shot.

The short story is that after this dip, I was in one of the rooms getting a massage when someone barged into to explain to me that the locker room had been broken into and that all my posessions had been stolen.

The long story goes like this:

In 2009, I was invited to be a judge for a spa awards. This meant that for months, I would receive vouchers for various spa outlets in the country and then fill in a form with my ratings and comments.

I don’t remember all the details but have a foggy memory of signing in, sent to the changing room where I put my wallet, phone and other items into a small locker. I then went into the pool pictures above followed by my massage (I don’t remember if I went back to the changing room or I went straight to the massage).

Anyway, once they told me that my things had been stolen, I dressed up and sat in the waiting area. I had expected them to call the police but instead, I was told that they knew who did it and was looking for the perpetrator. I was very confused.

It took a while, many phone calls, lots of hushed conversations and suddenly, I was told that they had found the person (in a coffeeshop nearby?).

Now, here’s the thing, they wanted that person to come to me and ask for my forgiveness. This was something I was completely uncomfortable with – what kind of gangster movie was I in? I declined and said, I only want my stuff back. I didn’t even want to press charges.

The manager (boss? owner?) spoke to me on the phone and said that I need to meet that person who did it. I kept refusing. In the end, the compromise was that they made that person call me to admit wrongdoing and apologised.

I don’t remember if at this point, I had all my items already and just didn’t know how to excuse myself, or if I was still stuck there because my things haven’t come back to me yet.

All I know is that I had what was probably the most uncomfortable conversation in my life.

Eventually, I managed to leave and went straight home to tell my parents the story! I also told the organisers that I couldn’t judge that place – how do you rate an experience that was disrupted that way?

Anyway, the story is now recorded on here for posterity. I’m not sure I told many people this story even.

Only took 9 days before I missed one day of blogging here for 2021. Oh well … I totally forgot.

At the US Capitol – 2014

The events of the past few days has reminded me of my trip to Washington DC in 2014 when my friend Tori managed to arrange for me to visit the US Capitol, and meet a congresswoman and Senator.

I posted the picture below – me in the House of Congress, if I recall correctly, on my Travel Throwback Tumblr, which I used to remind myself of all the amazing places I’ve been to and have had the privilege of visiting. I’d not updated it in over 3 years.

Sad that it took an insurrection like this to make me remember that it existed.

From one lockdown to another

The Prime Minister has just announced another national lockdown which will last for at least six weeks. In my head, this is the 2nd lockdown, after the first in March this year.

There was another one in November but schools and university remain open, I believe, so it wasn’t really the same as the first one. Besides, I had to go onto campus twice a week to teach in the autumn semester so it didn’t really feel like I was in lockdown.

This new one is meant to start on Wednesday, the last day of my self-isolation based on the NHS app. From one lockdown to another.

The good news, I suppose, is that I feel better today and seem to be on the mend. I think a few more days of rest will get me fighting fit soon enough.