Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Business as usual

So the world cup is finally over and it rained most of the day today with the humidity above 90% when it wasn't -- it's back to business as usual in my little neck of the (pun unintended) woods.

I take Lift #15 down eleven floors from my office. Stepping out at Lower Ground 7th, I take a right under the tunnel that connects LG5 to the post-graduate residence hall. I follow the tunnel down for a minute, to the road, then turn left into the glistening night air. It's been raining again. Bull frogs call wantonly, their loud bleats full and warm on the nocturnal stillness. My head is up, nostrils snapping open to the cool, fresh air, the lidded staleness of yet another day spent squinting at the screen slapped away in a second. Yet I have to be careful as I walk -- for six months now onwards the sidewalk underfoot is liable to feature strange denizens of the underworld, winged, multi-legged, strangely-shaped insects, or sometimes just cockroaches. The large, flying kind.

The air is never as fresh when I walk back to office after dinner. Then, it's only late evening, the warmth of the day and the recent dinner both sit heavy on me. Cars drive past occasionally, the drivers of those coming from the direction of the office looking quizzically, if not sympathetically, at me. The walk is uphill, I don't notice the bullfrogs, the right turn into the tunnel reveals no light at its end. Just the odd hand-holding pair of undergrads enmeshed in each other's senses. Ever so rarely one of them will turn out to be a student of mine, past or present. Sometimes they look away, other times they greet me happily - "Po-fe-sa!" - music in their voices. While the partner looks away, embarrassed, confused.

As I wait to take the lift up, sometimes I bump into a colleague stepping out, returning home for the day. Such times they look at me boldly, defiantly, with a trace of guilt in their eyes. I return the look feeling jealous. We both smile and greet each other. Eleven floors up, hopefully uninterrupted, I step out on the fourth floor where the airconditioning is now off. Things have definitely taken a worse on the air conditioning front. The thought police now wantonly switches off the ventilation at any time of the day, and I mean any time. I've had to call them up after lunch, it's been like settling into a sauna. And every evening I call the extension - 6465 - to make yet another ad hoc request. Sometimes the guy at the other end recognizes me and sounds pleased. I hear his voice and feel his existence must be as miserable as mine. One of us has to beg to be able to sit in his office, the other has to sit in his office so others may beg. Such is the way the system works.

With a whoosh the airconditioning comes back on. Sometimes it doesn't, in which case I go to fill my water bottle then come back and call them again. Sometimes they request me to wait while they send the 'craftsman'. Sometimes the craftsman comes and fixes the thing, other times he takes a ladder and disappears from sight, the only evidence of his existence being the pounding sounds around the false ceiling above my head. Such times I blogsurf, or refresh my skills at Spider Solitaire, or reply to less important emails or converse with people over messenger. I'm always astonished how much of my work gets done over messenger. That may be one reason I don't want a Blackberry. Sometimes abstinence works. Eventually I fire up SPSS or whatever other thing I'd been doing before dinner. Sometimes before dinner I've finished off all the piddly little things that take up mindspace and distract me from what I'd really like to get done -- those days I might just get lucky on the efficiency front.

In the days before the World Cup and the Great Airconditioning Squeeze I'd given standing instructions for the A/C to cut off at 1:30 as that was a decent hour to get home, leaving time enough to unwind on the balcony, glass in hand, rig playing soft, powerful. I'm always annoyed that of all the inhabitants on the twelve stories of my building, it's only my next door neighbor who stays awake as long as I do, and from my balcony I can see the top of his bald head from over the back of his stuffed leather couch. He likes to move about in his underwear at night and that spoils the romance of the moment for me. Sometimes I switch off all the lights and look straight out to sea, just pretend he's not there. Sometimes it works.

It's a short walk from the tunnel down to the back entrance of my building -- just long enough for me to revive for this, the last, good, part of the day. As I trip blithely downhill, I contemplate what I will pour myself, and what I feel like listening to. Of late I have picked up a wonderful Dagar brothers disk with Ragas Lalit and Kambojhi, the classic recording of Bill Evans live at the Village Vanguard, and Jaco Pastorius' debut album -- all three of which make for excellent night-time listening. It's cool enough for my Morangie. Tomorrow is my last day of real teaching for the semester -- in fact till January if things work out as expected. There's a cool breeze, must be nicer up there on the balcony. I feel in my pocket for my keychain, and pull it out holding the yellow one that goes into the rear entrance lock.

Life isn't bad you know, when it leaves you alone like this.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Guttin' tag

Pesky, pesky, pesky.

1. Pick out a scar you have, and explain how you got it.
This long scabby thing running down the front of my shin -- caused by a perfect sliding tackle which unfortunately happened to be executed at a point where some bricks were showing through the grass. Don't ask why. Great tackle, great scar. Actually, it was so long ago that I don't even remember which leg it's on. But it still hurts though. On winter nights. In Prague.

2. What is on the walls in your room?
Room? Which room?
In my office I have a bunch of pictures I've taken, plus a couple of Absolut ads relevant to my research (self-control) and interests (Miles), plus on a shelf I have some of the cooler stimuli from one of my experiments, and an *extremely* cool can of Campbell's soup on which is stuck a picture of ~ hold your breath ~ a Warhol painting of a can of Campbell's soup. (Not my idea, though -- this can was one of a set of ten created by a man I was happy to have on my committee and am proud to look forward to as a colleague come summer.)

3. What does your phone look like?
It looks like it needs a battery.

4. What music do you listen to?
Good music.

5. What is your current desktop picture?
A pen and ink impressionist sketch of Durga and the train, the scene from Pather Panchali.

6. What do you want more than anything right now?
This madness to end.

7. Do you believe in gay marriage?
Yes. I go down on my knees and pray to it every morning, and before stressful events like exams and interviews and when Ajit Agarkar comes on to bowl.

8. What time were you born?
On the seventh hour of the seventh day.

9. Are your parents still together?
They're not quite all together, and I've suspected that for a while now. Thanks for asking.

10. What are you listening to?
At home, Graceland and The Rhythm of the Saints (Paul Simon phase, possible post coming), Rabbi - Rabbi Shergill's eponymous album (for my Jewish kick, you know?), Dekhte Dekhte by Bhoomi, and the Dagar Brothers. At work, GD 5/8/77, an event that should have changed the world (indeed a whole fortnight of wonderful 30th anniversaries coming up!) and WBGO streaming -- nothing adventurous.

11. Do you get scared of the dark?
No racist questions, please. This is an equal-opportunity blog.

12. The last person to make you cry?
The guy in my 2 o'clock section. The one who walked into my office for career counselling back in the second week of the semester. The one who yesterday showed me his draft questionnaire *two weeks* late and done *all wrong* despite my having gone through the whole process *twice* in class, posted two different handouts in two different formats online, both showing the "RIGHT WAY" and the "WRONG WAY" to do this, despite this being a *key* part of the course, despite the fact that he's wasted over four hours of my time already whining about how it's hard for him to "think the same way as the book" and so he's worried about his grade since "Hong Kong students are so competitive". And then had the nerve to argue about why his "method" made more sense. Well, if you really are so concerned about your grade, buddy, QUIT WASTING MY TIME AND FOLLOW THE GODDAMN INSTRUCTIONS. And next time, don't try to defend something that I've spent an hour dissecting as being plain WRONG. Sheesh.

(Hmm. Maybe doing this tag wasn't such a bad idea after all.)

13. What is your favorite perfume?
Barbecue, Laphroaig

14. What kind of hair/eye colour do you like on the opposite sex?
Sorry, don't like Holi.

15. Do you like pain killers?
Depends -- legal?

16. Are you too shy to ask someone out?
Not really, although I've never had to do it. A little tough sarcasm in the first week of class goes an awful long way, especially with latecomers.

17. Favorite pizza topping?
Vodka golgappas.

18. If you could eat anything right now, what would it be?
Dan-dan mian from Crystal Jade.

19. Who was the last person you made mad?
That's tautological, I'm married.

20. Is anyone in love with you?
You mean madly?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The quest for world domination

I know it's early in the morning, maybe that's why I had to reload this page and read it three times, reminding myself that it was the BBC News website and not a hoax or joke published on some random blog.

Here's the deal -- the Royal Society of Chemistry is concerned about the differences in math standards between undergraduate English students and high-school Chinese students. With just cause for concern, as the following examples demonstrate.

First, the Chinese one.

And then the English one.

Excuse my hooting, please. I can't seem to stop :-D

Barmy-Army! *clappity-clap* Barmy-Army! *clappity-clap*

Here's the original link in case anyone would like five hundred pounds.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Farewell, Prince!

Truly, he had diamonds on the soles of his shoes.
(And I mean everybody here will know exactly what I'm talking about.)

Brian Lara steps out at the Queens Park Oval for the last time in a one-day international, 28 May 2006

I started following your career nearly twenty years ago. I watched as you batted, in front of our eyes instigating reactions usually reserved for descriptions of those who had gone well before. Every record you broke, I saved the photograph. You are truly the greatest batsman of our era, the peaks you scaled so much higher than the peaks of any other batsman I have seen, yet achieved through aesthetic grandeur that was scarcely credible. I hope I never forget the sight of the flourish of your backswing, your bat whipping down like a wand from up on high, creating brilliant breathtaking magic. "Have I entertained you?" you asked. Yes, maestro, as I stood and clapped for you last night, as I wiped a little tear from the corner of my eye, a tear that wells up again now reminding me of these twenty years that have passed, I knew that I am happy I can say that in my life I saw you play.

Thank You, Brian Century Lara! I hope your life post-retirement is dignified, peaceful, and satisfying.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Dreamt that someone was chasing me and my colleagues and students across campus. Shooting at us. I turned to see four bullets coming right at me.

Woke up before they hit, feeling strangely calm. It will come to this some day, won't it? Something like it.

Turned over and went back to sleep.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

In which Tabula gets his Dabba back

Dabba: H डिब्बा ḍibbā, (local) डब्बा dabbā (q.v., and cf. P. dabba), s.m. A box (generally, a round wooden box, for keeping scents, or jewels, &c. in), a casket (syn. baṭṭā); a cartridge-box.

The self-consciously pretty receptionist re-entered the crowded alcove, manoeuvring round the stack of cardboard cartons and pretended to busy herself with the receipt. I looked away, at the screen playing a Hong Kong gangster movie. Someone was being arrested. A young Chinese guy stepped out from the inside room carrying my precious Denon player. It had been two weeks since I'd dropped it off for its increasingly frequent misdemeanor -- that of refusing to recognize all but a select few members of my compact disk collection. DVDs, no problem. CDs -- all but a few select commercial American releases censored. The nerve!

But two weeks of relying on the boombox in the bedroom, the poodle, the laptop, the audio streams on the office machine, the cricket world cup. No comparison. How I'd missed you, life of my rig!

I settled back on the couch with forced unconcern. The technician connected the various wires. Twiddled the knob. The gangster movie disappeared from the screen, replaced by an error message. This was not going well. He reinstituted the startup procedures. And the dignified tones of Debabrata Biswas warmed this aseptic corner of Hong Kong. Eshechhe eshechhe, aa-ha, mor angan eshechhe [1]. I'd left this disc with them because it had never played on this player; I hadn't known that he'd left the disc in. I was pleasantly surprised. I stood up.

Mr. Hong Kong interrupted the song, pressing the remote control to skip a few tracks. Georgeda was not to be suppressed. Ami choncholo hey [2]. Mot juste, maestro. Mr. Hong Kong pressed eject and inserted the other disc I'd left with him. For a few ecstatic seconds, Donald Byrd funked out the joint. The receptionist looked up startled, semireceipted. I smiled at the technician. He hurriedly switched the player off, then checked to see whether I was satisfied. I asked him what the problem had been. He didn't understand my question. His English wasn't so great. Eventually, I learned that we now had a new pick-up.

Whatever it takes.

I wrapped my dabba in the blanket I had lovingly brought for it, and the guy helped me put it into the oversize plastic bag. Signed the receipt and paid the woman. I then carried my nine kilograms of happiness out into the drizzle below and escaped home in the sanctuary of the nearest cab. It sits here now, in its rightful place in front of me. Once more the Bitch is Brewing, the house is rocking.

Day before yesterday the downstairs neighbor came up to complain about the use of a vacuum cleaner before ten in the morning on a Sunday. N00b. Vacuum cleaner? You ain't met my Wharfedales yet, good sir. I hope this Pharaoh's Dance is blasting your little engineer brain into the middle of next week's capacitor.


I decided to save the serious part of this post for next time. Party on.


[1] She's here, she's here, aa-ha, my beauty is here!

[2] Me's restless, yo!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dropping Angkor (III): The hijack

It's almost allegorical. A full month after the pictures and the words, come the thoughts.

I'd ended the previous post with the words:

Yes, they are a very pleasant pippole, gentle, smiling, bowing, courteous. Hindu and Buddhist monuments co-exist, and have done so for over a thousand years. Rulers of different faiths did not pull down their predecessors' temples, at worst they defaced them -- turning Buddhas into lingams and vice versa. Yet it's stunning to think that less than thirty years ago, some of these very same Cambodians killed off over one in five of their countrymen. Thousands of them are crippled to this day, and millions of landmines remain strewn over their fields and forests. The country is one of the poorest in the world. We talk about India as a land of contrasts, but this contrast, between the cruelty of the country's present and recent past, and the patina provided by the serenity of its heritage, could not have been starker for me. Whence the beauty, whence the horror? My mind is enmeshed in this contradiction, and I'll try and post my thoughts about it in a few days.
It's been a month and no, I have not been able to resolve this contradiction. But I've thought a lot about it since I wrote that, and I've read a lot of stuff as well, including a couple of very informative books that I bought in Siem Reap. And in the face of multiple recent posts encountered on the topic of happiness (1, 2, 3), I really felt like I needed to talk about what I have learned.

The first book I read about Cambodia was the thinner of the two that I had bought. It's called "Daughter of the Killing Fields". It is an autobiographical account of the terror of life under the Khmer Rouge, written by someone who was four when the regime took over in 1975. One can read the book on three different levels -- as a historical document, for what it reveals about the author, and simply for the narrative and the presentation, i.e., as a book in itself.

The book is probably weakest when considered along the third dimension. While it is an intensely moving and deeply searing narrative, it reads like a draft. There are repetitions, redundancies, and the language is often self-conscious. This is a little unfortunate since the story is so incredibly powerful. Theary Seng, the author, had her father killed by the Khmer Rouge soon after they came to power -- ostensibly for the crime of being a teacher. She, along with her mother and brothers, was imprisoned soon afterwards, and her mother too was taken away one night while the children slept by her side. Somehow the siblings survived, and fled the country in 1980 after the regime was overthrown by the Vietnamese invasion. Reading the book, the privations described are scarcely credible -- the family traversed the country mostly on foot, food was scarce, freedoms of all sorts non-existent, the country had been driven back to "year zero" and, of course, people were being killed everywhere. The fields were full of shallow graves that victims were made to dig before being bludgeoned on the back of the head with an axe. As one reads the book, the strength and desperation in the author's character flood through. It takes a special person to survive the killings of one in five of her compatriots, and the scars are still raw -- even after thirty years, even though she was too young to comprehend or analyze what was happening.

I know most will not have the time to read the book but do spare half an hour if you can and watch Theary Seng on BBC's HardTalk. Step out of your skin and look at the pain in the eyes of a truly remarkable person.

The third level at which one may read the book is as a historical document. I found it very useful as an introduction to this horrible piece of history that passed me by during the course of my lifetime. As I read the book, I couldn't believe that I had been stuffing my face happily in Bangkok only a few months after Thai soldiers had fired on scores of semi-starved Cambodian civilians at Dang Rek mountain, forcing them down through a minefield where the only safe path lay over fresh corpses since they had detonated any live mines directly underneath. But then, what else could I have been doing? This I realized after reading the second book: Washington Post journalist Elizabeth Becker's detailed history "When The War Was Over".

I gleaned two lessons from this very informative book. One, it signalled to me that what the world did to Cambodia in the 1970s and 80s -- a calamity born of the unhappy union of realpolitik with sheer neglect -- may well be what happened in Rwanda in the last decade, and in Darfur today. Does anyone really know what is going on there? Cambodia suffered bitterly as an aftermath of the Vietnam war -- caught in the crossfire of America's cussedness, China's ambition, and Vietnam's stupidity. No one knew what was going on there, everyone had their own version of events that they preferred to believe, and no one really cared anyway. Meanwhile, people died, so what. Life is but a breath, as Theary Seng's book keeps repeating.

The second lesson was, I thought, even more scary. What happened in Cambodia can happen anywhere. The Khmer Rouge wasn't a lunatic fringe bunch of homicidal maniacs to begin with. They started off as a group of young students in Paris, reading Sartre and writing intelligent papers on economics and democracy. Somewhere along the line, faced with a Cambodian status quo that went from a double-dealing quasi-monarchy to a crazed right-wing general, they went underground as guerillas and surfaced as a military force that took over the government. Even then, there wasn't very much to suggest at the genocidal machine they'd unleash -- peculiar in history as being one that was turned upon its own countrymen. Cities were evacuated, and anyone outside the party hierarchy who had any sign of intellect was summarily executed -- instantaneously if lucky, and after months of torture and forced 'confessions' at the Tuol Sleng concentration camp, if not. Soon, having exhausted itself of intellectuals, doctors, and the like (administration of the medical arts was left in the hands of uneducated workers), the machine turned its attentions to other enemies of the state, such as husbands and wives who dared to express their love for one another -- extracting confessions that justified their murder. As the years went by it turned even more inwards, decimating parts of itself until eventually it was so weakened that the neighbors walked in and helped themselves to the country. The details of this story are beyond macabre and gruesome, and are completely rivetting. I will not go into them in detail. The only thing I want to point out is a little detail that was common to the two books I read. Both the authors met key leaders of the Khmer Rouge -- Theary Seng met Khieu Samphan and Elizabeth Becker met Pol Pot. Both commented on how disarmingly pleasant they were.

The leaders of the Khmer Rouge were ordinary people. By some accounts, they were even pleasant to be with. There really wasn't anything, anything, that marked them aside as some of the most brutal murderers in history. This sort of fanatical absolutism could happen anywhere -- and who knows, bring with it the accompanying terror, misery, privation, and genocide. India almost went that way, with the Emergency in 1975. America brandishes its Patriot Act. Tomorrow it could be you or me, snatched out of our houses by a sudden change in the political climate, our four year old daughters left to fend for themselves in a long night tainted with the sound of bludgeoning axes.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Well above average

There was this guy I used to know in high school and then college. Bagchi. He was one of those select few who were known to all only by their surnames. I think he was a year ahead of me. He went to a different high school, and then he went to a different college. We used to bump into each other on the quizzing circuit -- maintained a polite hello-hi friendship. Later in college I found out that he was a close friend of one of my classmates as well, and we had a couple of brief friendly conversations the few times he stopped by to see her. I graduated from college; it wasn't long before I forgot about him.

I googled him one idle grad-student night a few years ago and determined he was currently a grad student as well. Thought for a second about whether to email him or not. Decided to do it if I ever found myself in his city (I used to drive past fairly frequently.) Forgot about him again.

Years passed, and I got an email last month from a guy I work with. It was a forwarded message from his sister, telling him about a new book written by a close friend of hers, and asking him to spread the word. I clicked on the link and found myself looking at this name from my past. Bagchi.

My first reaction was one of pleasure. Yet another of my old acquaintances had made good! This was tempered with a little question mark -- he'd finished his PhD, but he's now on the faculty at IIT-Delhi? Hmm. I replied to the person who'd sent me the email. His answer was mainly work related. True to form, I forgot about Bagchi again.

Week before last, I was in tumult -- tearing up my apartment looking for some papers I knew I had. Digging deep into the drawer containing Important Papers, I came across a letter written to me by my brother in 1995. The postscript caught my eye. It mentioned a quiz he'd gone to, quizmastered by Bagchi. This time, I remembered, and yesterday, my first really free day on my trip to Gurgaon, I walked down to the mall and plucked out a copy of Bagchi's new book from amongst the front row of new arrivals. I read it overnight.

As I read, I could not help feeling that the book, written in the first person by a middle-class Delhi-ite Bengali IIT aspirant who makes it to the top 100 and thence to the US, was strongly autobiographical. As I started reading, giving it allowance for the fact that I've become seriously intolerant of fiction lately, I pretended the protagonist was really Bagchi. I started guessing at who some of the characters might be based on. Parts towards the beginning were slow. Parts tended to drift. Characters were introduced who then faded away halfway through the story. Other plot lines meandered and disappeared. The language was occasionally simple, direct, and evocative, as I like it, and at other times overly ornate and flowery. Yet something about the narrative kept me turning the pages one after the other. There was no doubt, I was gripped.

The second half of the book really came together for me. Maybe that was when the housing colony angst bits and the aspiring rock star angst bits gave way to the academic life angst bits. I found myself identifying / identifying with aspects of every other character described there -- from the wannabe "great theoretician" who went all practical in making his life's biggest decision to the guy who proudly ditched his grades in courses he considered non-essential to the acerbic squash-playing professor. Sure, there were threads that seemed to make no sense. And there was a little bit of maudlin stuff and a little bit of self-conscious sex and a little bit of gratuitous violence. But that's life, right? The last fifty pages I didn't want the book to end.

Great going, Bagchi, though I wonder what you're going to do for a sophomore effort now. I hope this book does really well. Maybe if they make it compulsory reading at IIT study classes across the country -- that should help with the small flats and petrol prices. I can see the amount of work that went into this, and I don't know why but I'm really glad you pulled it off. Cracked it.

Go buy the book, the rest of youse.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

In which propaganda is revealed to be like sausage

From: University Staff Association
To: All staff

Campus Safety Slogan Design Competition Results

Dear colleagues,

Thanks very much for your keen support to the Campus Safety
Slogan Design Competition organized by the Staff Association!

We are pleased to announce the winners of the competition
as follows:

Champion: D___ L___ (Department _____)

Äã ÓÖ Ã¦£¬ÎÒ ÓÖ Ã¦£¬
°² È« ´ë Ê© ÇÐ Îð Íü¡£

You are busy, I am busy.
Don't forget measures of safety.

1st Runners-up: LYOM (___)
2nd Runners-up: SL (___)
Merit Awards: DW (___)
KKYS (___)
KN (___)
PL (___)
TLHL (___)

The Prize Presentation Ceremony will be held:
- at 9:15 a.m.
- on 11 April 2007(Wed)
- at ___

Souvenirs for all the participants of the competition
will be given out from 9 to 10 a.m. on 11 April 2007 (Wed)
outside ___. Participants please bring your CONTESTANT NO.
and come to collect the souvenir by yourself or your

The winning slogan designs will be displayed at the
Academic Concourse from April 11 to 13, 2007.

All faculty and staff members are cordially invited to
the Prize Presentation Ceremony on April 11!

Staff Association


1. I don't know what is more remarkable -- the winning slogan itself or the fact
that there were others deemed
worse (despite their keen support).

2. I hope it works anyway. I (and my representative) would like my Campus to
be a Safe Place.

3. No, the winner was not me.

4. And no, I did not take part.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Ghosts and empty sockets

I don't usually proctor my quizzes. I ask my TA and undergrad assistants to do it, and apart from a quick visit to the room about fifteen minutes into the exam, I make myself scarce. Today a concatenation of circumstances resulted in the TA having to scoot out early, so I stepped in for the last 45 minutes. I realized it was the first time I was proctoring something for myself.

One of the first things that crossed my mind as I stood by the side wall of the auditorium surveying a hundred bowed heads was the sudden realization that this was ALL. DUE. TO. ME. It was a sudden surge-burst feeling of huge POWER -- all at once I was seized with the urge to break out into thunderous laughter HEE HEE HA HA HA HA, or play the 3/1/69 Dark Star loudly over the PA all at once. For a lark -- just to see them jump.

Slowly that feeling faded. (It was good while it lasted, but I dared not toy with the idea *too* hard.) I took to walking slowly round the auditorium, keeping randomly away from the paths traced being by the undergrad assistant. On one of my first circuits, as I reached the front of the room, I noticed this woman sitting in the second row.

She was asleep.

I found it funny for about a second, then my professional side kicked in and I wondered -- should I go wake her up? I'd designed this quiz to be tight on time, so every minute spent napping would hurt the kid. I felt sympathetic -- maybe she'd been up studying all night (because of ME), and now all that effort would go to waste. Poor thing. On the other hand, I thought waking her up might be unfair to the other kids -- those who had prepared themselves physically as well as from a course material point of view, and deserved the advantage they'd worked for. Plus I wouldn't want to wake the girl and embarrass her publicly. Maybe she was done, anyway, and *wanted* to sleep. Who knew?

So I stood there and looked at her.

Eventually the assistant wandered round. As she approached I signalled to her to join me at the front, and then I pointed out the sleeper. Her first reaction was to cover her mouth to suppress the giggle. (The grin stayed fixed on her face for quite a long while, even after our brief conversation.) A kid in the front row heard the giggle and looked up and smiled knowingly at me. I smiled knowingly back at him. I knew he didn't know what was funny.

I asked the assistant whether she'd ever seen other instances of people falling asleep during quizzes. She said she had (but kept grinning anyway). Somehow, that reassured me -- I'm not sure why. Then I asked her whether she thought one of us should go wake the kid up. She said no, pretty emphatically -- for one of the reasons I'd listed above, I guessed. So I decided to let the sleeping kid lie. I wandered off on another circuit of the auditorium. The assistant stood fixed to the front, eyes locked, hand barely covering grin. Eventually, something else drew her attention and she drifted off. The next time I went round, the kid in the front row had woken up and was staring into space. Then she looked down at her paper. Other kids started raising their hands indicating they'd finished, so my attention got diverted.

But I haven't told you the punchline yet. The sleeper - a quiet, nondescript, backbencher sort - had been wearing a black zippered sweatshirt with a stealie on the back. That stealie was one of the first things that had caught my eye as I'd stepped into the auditorium. It's the first stealie I've seen in Hong Kong, outside of my own possessions. It was probably the reason 3/1/69 came to mind in the first place. As the quiz ended, I made it a point to walk up to the kid to take her answer sheet. She noticed I was about to say something and averted her eyes instantly. Even before I spoke, she blushed.

"I love your jacket," I said.

"Oh really?!" Total shock.

"Ya it's my favorite band."

As I'd expected, she had no idea what I was talking about. She was just glad to be off the hook -- she could go home and hope then pretend that no one - least of all, I - had seen her sleep in the middle of her blah quiz.

And I went home and wondered whether I should have woken her up and forced her to keep working, because that's what I'm supposed to do -- not stand around giving angles about obscure cultural emblems.


My MBA training proclaims that every problem is an opportunity. Great sound-byte for class. My PhD experience observes that every opportunity brings along a dozen freaking problems.