#2082 | Tales from Tokyo: Harry’s Hedgehog Cafe, Harajuku

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Tokyo, Japan
All pictures are taken on a Nikon D750, lenses – nikon 35 f/1.8 and 85 f/1.8

So I was in Tokyo in April on a work trip for Klook Travel, with my sister along as my photographer/videographer, also her specialisation in university. Her first time in Japan, so the whole trip was a bam bam bam nonstop slew of scheduled eye-opening amazement for her, but not much in the way of blocks of free time. We did have a bout of unscheduled time the morning before we flew out though, and this aspiring filmmaker turned to me with a sort of plea in her eyes, saying that her life’s Dream was to see a hedgehog live. After laughing at her for an hour – I mean, who am I to ask about whether her life dream should be, yknw, succeeding in her film career or anything like that? – we did some googling, made some plans, and rocked up early in the morning at Harry’s Hedgehog Cafe.

I lie. It opens at noon. We rocked up at noon. It just felt early because it had been a long and exhausting(ly fun) trip and we were at the tail end of it. Anyway.

People online often recommend making an advance appointment, but I personally think this isnt necessary if you’re going on a 1. weekday and 2. during non-peak hours. This is because reservations are for minimum an hour, as opposed to half an hour blocks for walk-in, and an hour is a lot of time to be staring at a bunch of spikey hamsters. And, hedgehog cafes are expensive, dude. They’re far more expensive than cat or owl cafes in Japan, going at a rate of about $15 per half hour.

There are two big hedgehog cafes in Tokyo, both under the Harry’s Hedgehog Cafe chain. One is in Roppongi, and I hear that one requires a reservation two or three days in advance! We went to the one in Harajuku, a short walk down from the Meiji-jingu shrine.

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Vending machines for your drinks

Your entry ticket comes with a free drink which you have to redeem yourself from the vending machines at the back of the cafe. Unlike most pet cafes, hedgehog cafes smell pretty normal – I suppose its because hedgehogs themselves dont smell like much. The space was pretty big and clean, but it filled up really quickly so I recommend going once it opens if you dont want to make a reservation!

The staff kind of give you a short briefing about how to hold a hedgehog and what to do, but its nothing too elaborate. There’s the option of buying mealworms to feed them (ugh) which my sister went for because, again, she freaking loves hedgehogs. I do not feel strongly about hedgehogs so when she offered me a worm, thinking she was doing me this huge favour by letting me feed them with the worms she paid for, she was pretty surprised when I gave her an empathetic no thanks.

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There are also gloves lying around which I recommend using because those things are pokey.

This is not my first experience with hedgehogs. I must admit I’ve never been very keen on them because the first time I saw one it was in the basement of a mall in JB, at a shop which sells illegally imported animals including sugar gliders and snakes. Those hedgehogs – kept in a ratchet looking cardboard box – looked weak and kind of sickly to be honest, and I got a bit upset looking at them because they looked like they were about to expire any moment. The second time I saw a hedgehog it was last year in Tokyo, when a little girl was walking hers in the park. That one was significantly more healthy, but it kept running away from her and she was basically scolding it her entire walk. Which was pretty funny to watch, but you know, didn’t really do much for me in terms of endearing me to the hedgehog.

These hedgehogs, the ones at Harry’s, were much easier to be around. They weren’t as irritable, looked like they were reasonably healthy, and if they didn’t want to play with you, they just went to sleep. Simple!

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They also burrow into your boobs because they like to hide. #pervhog

I think because their day job is literally being cute with humans day in day out, they’re not really shy with people either. I held one and it ran up my arm and into my sleeve. I wanted to die. But on the other hand, it didn’t shit on me, which is what it did when my sister picked it up. HA!

The ones at Harry’s come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve only ever seen hedgehogs that are more or less half-palm sized, but there were some pretty colossal ones in Harry’s. Picking them up was like doing a weight lift or something. It was hilarious. Those also sleep a lot, and they’re funny because their limbs are all way disproportionate in relation to their bodies. What are hedgehogs even?!

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This fat hedgehog looked seriously grumpy next to my sister. Seriously my sister is going through that phase of post-teenhood where she’s like perpetually looking uninterested in everything, so I have literally never seen her look this harmless or happy in about eight years. This picture made me laugh so hard you guys!

Our half hour was up relatively quick. The staff keep an eye on everyone who comes in so they’ll let you know when your time is up, and if you stay beyond that they charge you per half hour block. We had a flight to catch so we didn’t stay on, but I do think half hour was a pretty decent amount of time to be spending in there, especially since in quantifiable terms that’s fifty cents a minute.

Thinking about it after leaving, I’m still not sure how I feel about the hedgehog cafe. I suppose it’s the same feeling I have with all animal cafes – it’s not that I’m a huge animals-should-be-wild-and-free activist, hell, I have a pet cat at home. I suppose it’s just that at animal cafes, how manhandled the animals end up really depend on how strict the staff are, and the staff are often caught between doing the right thing and wanting to keep customers happy. The owl cafes i’ve been to in Osaka and Tokyo have been pretty strict about this – the Osaka Owl Cafe i blogged about two years ago would only let you hold an hour under their supervision and for a very short period of time – you’d pretty much have to be content having a coffee in close proximity to some owls and staring at them while you sipped. Cat cafes are similar – you’re only allowed to pet, but never to pick up or carry the cats. This is standard throughout all cat cafes I’ve been to – in Japan, Korea, Singapore.

But I’ve seen pictures on instagram where people manhandle owls for a picture in other owl cafes, and in the hedgehog cafe, I saw a couple of people try to flip the hedgehogs around into a cute position even though the hedgehogs obviously didn’t want to be on their backs. The staff didn’t step in until people started carrying the hedgehogs around – you’re only supposed to hold them above their glass boxes so if you drop them they end up back in their box. Maybe the cafe was too big and they couldn’t really see what you were doing, but hmm.. to be fair, the two girls in charge of that shift also looked like they were pretty shy to me, so perhaps they were part timers and didn’t know how to enforce the rules? In any case, I wouldn’t say that anyone there was causing the hedgehogs any pain, but some tourists were definitely annoying a couple of hedgehogs more than once. So yeah, mixed feelings.

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Anyway, if you want to head there regardless, there’s one branch in Harajuku and one in Roppongi! I’d still say it’s a pretty interesting experience, but also – to be a responsible guest when you’re there, and treat the hedgehogs the way you’d want your own pet to be treated by strangers 🙂

Harry’s Hedgehog Cafe
1-13-21 Jingumae | 4F, Shibuya 150-0001, Tokyo Prefecture
+81 3-3404-1180


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All pictures are taken on a Nikon D750, lenses – nikon 35 f/1.8 and 85 f/1.8

x
Jem

This was part of a Tokyo work trip with Klook – a travel activities booking site

#2080 | Tales from Tokyo – BEST DRESSED KIDS OF DISNEYSEA

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DisneySea Tokyo
Tickets booked on Klook – fuss free, no queue, instant confirmation. Occasionally discounted. More here.

Konnichiwa and all that. Hello from DisneySea, the most alternatively happy place on earth (the happiest being disneyland), best theme park in the world, the place where wardrobes are taken seriously and intensely. I suspect this is more a Japan thing than a Disney thing, because the past three times I’ve been to theme parks in Japan (tokyo disneysea, osaka USJ, tokyo disneyland, and this is my fourth time), the cosplaying going on has been a real and legit thing.

Last October, when I was in Tokyo Disneyland with my boyfriend and friends (anniversary trip, how has three years passed us by so quickly?), one thing that quickly stood out to us was the consideration with which each person dressed – disney-bounding with their favourite characters, matching with their friends, so on and so forth. I myself went as Tiger Lily, with my motley cast from Peter Pan (Shane as capt Hook, Martin as the eponymous Peter Pan, Warren as a lost boy). But we had nothing, I tell you, nothing on the kids.

So this trip, here we go. My schizo alter ego as a street/fashion photographer (read: nonexistent) photographed the best dressed kids of DisneySea.


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All pictures are taken on a Nikon D750, lenses – nikon 35 f/1.8 and 85 f/1.8, save for that one iPhone photo somewhere in there.

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Alice from Alice in Wonderland. Freakin love this costume – and it seemed many people did too. The Alice character was very popular this time round is what I’m saying. And it helps that this kid is pretty cute too.

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A match made in heaven!

It’s Woody and Jessie from Toy Story ◡̈ Pretty pleased to have been able to capture this shot of their backs, looking at one of the rides.

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Random cute kid with a mickey hat.

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DUFFY BEAR!!!

DUFFY DUFFY DUFFY

One thing that really ticked me off in Disneysea were all these posters advertising Duffy bear, and Duffy’s Friend Stella, who’s dream is to be a dancer. Hello? Why cant Duffy be Stella’s Friend Duffy?! Sexist! But then my sister pointed out that all Disney Princesses are main characters with lame ass princess who function as little else than stock handsome love interests, which is a fair point i guess.

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Another Alice, holding her Stella bunny toy. Love Stella, i think she’s a newish character.

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Super cute Pinocchio

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This dude, dunno what he’s supposed to be. Half duffy half donald? Still cute though.

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It’s a very happy Daisy Duck!

A slightly less committed Alice. Alice themed dress but not a full out costume – might be smart, cos then she can re-wear it outside disneyland? Cute kid.

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Not really a cosplay but i like her jacket and hat combi. Future fashionista, this one.

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Same – Love the smize.

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“Can I take your picture?”
“Hold up… ok, I’m ready.”

A very serious and gentlemanly Woody. Haha!

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A really happy Donald Duck! Looking at him makes me happy too LOL

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A significantly less happy female Donald. Maybe cos her parents didn’t buy her the Daisy costume?

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Either Chip or Dale.

/EDIT: my boyfriend says it’s Dale

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This Elsa was seriously BRINGING IT. I mean, look at that smize! Future ANTM winner right here. Jeez. Can’t deal.

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My one iPhone photo was of this kid who dressed up as Snow white. Don’t think she understood what a photo was tho. She was really confused.

And my ABSOLUTE favourite dressed up kids:

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This sibling pair – White Rabbit and Alice. White Rabbit has a little white cap with bunny ears (don’t know if you can really see it from here) and he even has that little pocket watch where in the book he goes OH DEAR IM LATE like ten million times!. His sister is Alice, obviously, with a slightly out of character Olaf bag, but who makes up for it with that incredibly awesome pocket watch necklace!!!! LOVE.

This post was originally going to be titled Best Dressed of DisneySea. But you know, theres no point even trying. The kids win. They always do. The winners of every Disney trip are the kids who’s parents are hardcore willing to spend a ton on their kids costumes. Loving it. You stay wacky, Japan.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures – DisneySea guide to come! x

x
Jem

This was part of a Tokyo work trip with Klook – a travel activities booking site. Tickets to Disneysea were also booked on Klook!

#2075 | Sunnier days

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I dont think i actually did a post proper on my January maldives diving trip. I suppose I will, one day. Not today. Today is closing on a rather exhausting note: a late morning start because of a book I just could not put down last night, a series of work related hijinks, bashing through the bramble of my thesis-in-progress, and then the last three hours of my night, spent paying respects (but more so just being there for a friend) at a wake. It all seems so grown up and adult. I miss the times when my greatest worry was bumping into a pufferfish or stepping on coral underwater, while simultaneously holding the knowledge that the sentiment is fluff and nostalgia. I like being grown up, part of me does, because being grown up comes with benefits like freedom and age-related respect and money. But I like my adulting doled out in small, manageable doses. Not the type where people try and fail to pay for mortgages and stress about where to live and also, the type where people get old, and expire at the exact moment when you realise the gravitas of death.

I remember the statistical truth of once having felt that I had it all put together, but i no longer feel the reality of the truth. Perhaps this is thesis, stage four, talking. But surely it has gone on for too long. Is there ever a point where you wake up and think that you’ve got it all figured out? I laugh at my younger self who felt like I did, once: it now seems naive. Perhaps it is that, at also the 1am ennui pressing itself upon me. Another thing: the imposition of age, the wearing down of invincibility. I now feel it in my bones, a grumbly protest, whenever it hits midnight, like some perverse reverse cinderella. My greatest goal now is to nap my life away. And from, you know, chats, conversations, confessions, it seems that this goal is not specific to me but to the stage of adulthood in general.

ah. happy days in the sun.

x
jem

#2066 | #LAdiaries – One Cold Night in DTLA

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The Broad Museum, Los Angeles
Wearing: Her Velvet Vase

My time in Los Angeles was very short, and very sweet. My first time in the city of angels, and for only four and a half days. And no Disneyland! That’s how you know I’ll be back, no disneyland. Ha. I am so predictable as a basic girl in her twenties. I was there on a work trip, as mentioned before, and in my Griffith post I mentioned us not actually having any scheduled free time. But what free time I did have, I made the most of. Consequently my short sojourn in Los Angeles felt like a good block of time spent doing many different things (half of which full credit goes to Airbnb’s wonderful itinerary). Today’s story revolves around this one cold night I had alone in DTLA, after my half-day Airbnb Experience with The Adventureman had ended. I’d found myself back in the city feeling the soft lapping of jet lag and skin kissed by salt and sun. I thought to myself, four days in LA. No time for naps. I can nap when i’m dead (a sentiment I actually heartily disavow on a regular basis, me being a girl who loves my sleep). And so I showered, changed, and headed out again.

My remaining half-hour of sunlight for the day was spent in an uber with a lady driver who had a personality bigger than the sum of our carseat space. She sang ditties nonstop, had no idea where she was going, and then told me that it was sad, real sad! that her GPS was full of shit! A real tragedy, she said again, shaking her head at me, in between breaths of singing along to Bruno Mars. It was like living in a reality tv show. I didn’t really know what to say, so I shrugged and smiled. It’s sad, she said again, then dropped me off outside The Broad.

Im not someone who loves to spend my entire day indoors in a museum when traveling, but I have to say, some of the best museums Ive seen have really blown me away. I snuck into The Broad on my media pass (dubious looks from the guard, but he waved me through anyway) and it was a nice, easy museum that was also very enjoyable. It’s small, for one, just two storeys, and each exhibit is properly explained in real-speak. That is to say, the way a friend would explain it to you, and not in some highfalutin art speak. I wandered around on double speed, moped a bit about having to skip the Yayoi Kusama exhibit (a 1.5 hr wait was too much of a luxury i couldn’t afford), and left after slightly over an hour.

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“Contemporary Art”

When I emerged it was dark. Dark in LA is not like Dark in Singapore. There are dense city lights you chalk up to light pollution, but the stars shine so bright you forget for a moment everything you think you know about science and the sky. From The Broad I basically ran down the road to the Frank Gehry Walt Disney Concert Hall, something I’ve wanted to see for almost five years now. Architecturally it’s a wonder, but you forget all that then you’re faced with the hall. You just stand before it, overwhelmed. Touched? Is it too silly and cheesy to say I felt my heart clench? But it did, and so I will. Some things just take your breath away. Though fair disclaimer – I’m the type who cries at everything. The first time I saw the Eiffel tower at twenty one, I sobbed. Little girl dreams come true and all that.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall was everything I hoped it would be from the outside. People slowed as they passed it, to look up in wonder. Sighs were heard. Other people smiled. The occasional tourists brushed by me holding everything from iPhones for selfies to huge DSLR for mood shots. I gave myself ten minutes to gape at the Hall – I had agreed to meet the rest of the Singaporean media at In-And-Out for our first iconic burger experience in half an hour. But ten minutes was all I needed. When something is as innately beautiful as that, you don’t need much skill. You just need to be impressed, let yourself savour the moment, then snap once.

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the beautiful Walt Disney Concert Hall by night

One day, I told myself, I’ll watch a concert in there. My uber driver honked.

Half an hour ride. It takes half an hour to get anywhere within the city, it seems. I have to admit that the ride there was cold and disappointing. Where was the bustle of the movies, the charm of the streets? Outside the car it was quiet and dark. The stars shone on. The pavements did not. I wondered where all the people were, and something floated back to me as if from another life: a friend casually telling me that you party in LA, at the house of someone if you know someone who knows someone.. bar culture isn’t as strong as it is back in other cities while I looked on in envy. Well, I thought. This is me, looking in from the outside. I know no one, and so the city turns from me.

I do have a flair for the melodramatic, if you hadn’t already guessed.

In and Out appeared so suddenly I must have dozed off in the car. A yellow and red neon monstrosity! The famous Sunset Boulevard. Still feeling mildly underwhelmed, I went in and got seats for the four of us. Somehow defending an empty booth as a single asian girl against hungry Americans seems every bit as iconic an experience as any other. Glares all around! I kept my head down and looked at my phone. I act big when I’m on home turf but abroad I’m always so afraid someone will come and punch me for no good reason. I watch too much TV, I think. And the rest arrived, and we had the famous burgers they talk about, “animal style”.

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In-n-Out Los Angeles

I am heartbroken to be the bearer of unpopular opinion. The burgers were alright. We all stared at each other while eating, making eye contact, waiting for the first person to whimper or moan. It’s always a strange and communal experience, eating messy food with people you cordially know. We got much friendlier later, but these were early days, hours. Finally, Adele spoke up. They’re.. okay.

What a relief! We agreed that they were neither the best nor worst burgers of our lives, and I volunteered my own experience at Shake Shack in New York – mindblowingly average. Do I just not have the right kind of taste buds? Who knows. In-n-Out was really cheap for what it was though, and the old school American diner experience was enjoyable if only because we (I?) pictured myself in a different time, different age half-subconsciously when munching down on my chow. I told my friend this later and she looked at me in disgust. You’re crazy, she said. Those are the best burgers in the world. Ah, well.

Walking down Sunset Boulevard post-meal we all seemed half hopeful. Herein lies the avenue people write songs about. Make movies about. Herein lies the avenue where things seem dead past 7pm. What was going on? We made small talk, wondered where all the people were, agreed that there had to be more to LA than this. Privately I felt personally let down by the city, let down by pop culture, let down by what hollywood had led me to believe. No lights, no bustle. Druggies on the road, neon signs indicating a special kind of ‘pharmacist’. Cause and consequence. The most exciting thing we saw was a 24/7 grocery store – because everyone loves grocery stores. What kind of peanut butter can you get in America that you can’t get elsewhere? Is what i’m saying.

On and on we walked. It felt like we were afraid to give up and go home, because to do so would be to give in to the city’s rejection of us. We could be fun. We could be exciting. Why wouldn’t it open up? At least, that’s how I felt. Only four days in LA, and I’d be damned if I were to waste a night and go home early just because i couldn’t find something new to try.

We passed a comic book store and a couple of people lingering outside, smoking, laughing, and talking. Again I felt the sense of being left out wash over me. I walked over and asked them where they were going, what they were waiting for. There’s a comedy show starting soon at the back of this comic shop..

Lo and behold!

But the comedy show was sold out. Next door, however, had yet another show that had started fifteen minutes ago, that still sold standing room tickets for five bucks. Yes? Yes? Obviously. We went in.

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Enter: the best five dollars I spent in LA. The Nerdist School Stage, which was the name of the comedy improv club we went to, was fantastic. I personally love comedy shows, but I know they’re not necessarily for everyone. A lot of people are adverse to comedy shows because of the heckling, and Improv both eases that fear since the comedians use their own material, and grants you access to comedy anyway.

Three shows, we watched, and the last of which was performed by this group called Beyond The Disney Vault. Where the rejected disney movies live is their tagline. They consist a group of improv actors and musicians (pictured above), who start the show by asking the audience for a word. They then improvise an entire MUSICAL, complete with original song, harmony, and actual character script, on the spot.

It was incredible. I could not even begin to comprehend the kind of talent an individual would have to possess, as well as the kind of insane chemistry with the rest of one’s troupe, to be able to invent, harmonise, and stitch together a coherent piece of work on the spot. And in case you suspect the musicals were pre-written, the audience word thrown out for our show was “Boomerang”. How do you anticipate that?

An hour later, we stumbled out of the club and into the cold, raving and amazed. We were down to two: Kenath and Adele had left earlier, citing jet lag. Serene and I wandered around a bit more, me half reluctant to call it a night, ready to go some more, her wanting to get back to the apartment to Skype her kid. We settled on a workable compromise: called an uber, and asked her to detour and drive down Hollywood Boulevard so we could see it from the car on the way home. It was like a free tour – the old lady who picked us up was so excited to explain the history of the different buildings up and down the avenue of the stars, we couldn’t imagine a better way to have seen the Boulevard. And things were actually happening on that street, people were snapping photographs of the stars on the floor, there were movie theatres, shopping malls. But we sped past them all, gaping at the lights and people, semi-grateful we were able to relax and admire from the darkness of the car.

A left turn onto the freeway. Hollywood Boulevard over in ten minutes and behind us. As the freeway opened up to fluid traffic and the harmony of car sounds, I felt, rather than saw, the city dim around me and cleave to the star spangled sky. Amazing, amazing. Still high from the comedy show rush of exhilaration, I thought of the evening and what we’d done, what we’d seen. Moments of highs and lows, the emotional arc of discovering downtown los angeles. And I thought to myself: not bad. Not bad at all.

x
Jem

#2063 | #seabugged

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We have reached the age where we obsessively document everything via the cloud. This is in part a millennial preoccupation and in part a subset of Apple’s plan to cheat us of our phone space with ridiculously large iOS updates so we’ll have to purchase their cloud plans. Half of our memories now exist in lower resolution shadow copies online, categorised by hashtags and photo albums. We tell ourselves that this, too, is okay since it’s really the memories that count. We tell ourselves, we tell ourselves.

Mid-december a bunch of us did a day dive trip in the name of practice and buoyancy. Both metaphorically and literally. Morning in, night out, yada yada. In reality it was just an excuse to get together and splash around. We all knew we’d see no fish. Visibility in Bintan is a nightmare, it’s like swimming in milk. I think it was my first refresher dive after the Survivor Episode that was Tioman’s PADI open water, trying not to drown, and so there was a mix of excitement and panic there, and a lot of hand holding.

The dives themselves were awful, a mix of bad organisation and unprofessionalism. But at the end of our three dives we sat by the hull, feet dangling off the edges, drinking beer and watching the sunset, and we talked a lot of sentimental bull about how life was good to us and how friendship was the golden elixir of life, etcetera. Georgina, being Georgina, started asking for a group hashtag. After ignoring her for two hours failed to work, we started throwing up a couple of names. You know the basic requirement for hashtags – they have to be catchy, cute, and no one else in the world must have used them before. No biggie. It was a nightmare. Obviously the job of coming up with one fell on Marcus and I (both of us being English TAs in NTU) and yet every suggestion we had was shot down by the others because they do not know what they want. Suddenly my life in advertising dealing with clueless clients came all rushing back to me. PTSD! PTSD! And another flash: Seabugged?

What?
Seabugged.
Sea Buck?
NO. Seabugged. Like the little seabugs that bite you in the water, except we’re the one’s who’ve been bitten. By the meta seabug.

Everyone loved it and I was revalidated as a useful English graduate. Yet another thing to add to my ever growing resume of useless abilities and skills. Nobody is allowed to joke about this except me, of course, but it is what it is. And from there that’s what we settled on: #seabugged. What millennials we are. And how wonderful.

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x
Jem