Political rallies and the tactility of collective effervescence.

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I’m in the stands at a sports stadium watching a political rally.

~60yo man on my left is clipping his toe nails.

~30yo lady on my diagonal left is Instagramming.

~20yo man in front of me is having McDonald’s.

~40yo man on my diagonal right is explaining the speech to his ~10yo son.

Two ~50yo men on my right are muttering back channel responses to themselves.

~50yo lady on my diagonal left is on Candy Crush.

Three ~40yo men behind me look like security attempting to camouflage with the crowd.

So many prams and babies and toddlers with squeaky shoes. One ~10yo boy on a skate scooter. One ~15yo girl intently reading a pamphlet.

Crowd control police working over time on a Saturday, clad in scruffy uniforms in this humidity.

Politician on stage criticizing rising costs of living. Volunteers off stage hawking party merch to us.

This is all so visually and aurally exciting. If only my phone batt wasn’t at 2%. Switching over to organic memory now. Over and out.

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Hello from a political rally in the middle of a huge field right between a public train station and several blocks of public housing.

Several picnic mats and baskets and stools amidst clusters of enthusiastic peoples, party flags and torches in tow.

Young couple on my left have a tiny toddler in a back harness.

Two elderly folk who were ~2 meters apart now shoulder to shoulder after exchanging several gazes in agreement throughout this speech.

At dramatic points of the speech, people look to long pauses as cues to whistle and blow horns and applaud and wave flags.

But this one dude right in the middle of the pack has been holding up his flag silently throughout, tiny red cloth fluttering in the breeze.

This ~60yo man just told his friend it’s good to listen to different parties, unlike his peers who usually only bother with The One.

Code-switching 101 is yelling your head off at a rally in heat, then politely guiding the crowd off site in the next minute.

End of rally. Elderly folk hobbling off site. Brb hopelessly romanticizing aging and patriotism.

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I am at a political rally in the middle of a muddy field situated between blocks under construction, HDB flats, and private condos.

I wonder if the officers on duty get to pick the sites at which they have to be stationed.

Muddy shoes and bare feet from the rain this afternoon.

Heavily saturated air clouding over head with the haze.

Sticky, sweaty bodies in close proximities radiating heat.

Scents and stench of grab-and-go dinners in plastic wrappers and paper boxes.

Cellphone notifications interrupting dramatic pauses and awkward lulls.

Red tents. Red posters. Red flags. Red batons. Red torches. Red shirts.

Aural mixbag of English, Mandarin, Hokkien, Malay, and Tamil (so far).

For a nation of peoples housed in cookie cutter concrete, diversity has never been more tactile and unifying.

The day before thesis submission.

I am submitting my thesis tomorrow.

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For all the hype over submitting, thesis printing is extremely underwhelming.

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To you, it’s the end of an era.
To the printers, you are merely one of several submitters they’ve seen today.

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You spend four years poring over a great good thing.
And the last few hours battling basic formatting woes.

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There will be celebrations of sorts,
only after you’ve waited out the stench of carbon and the sound of machines.

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You express excitement and joy to all the service staff.
They mobilize routine affective customer service small talk.

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You think about all the text you left on the cutting board.
They tell you incorrect prints must be paid for.

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You secretly wish this was more momentous.
Undergrads crowding the printer just want you to be done ASAP.

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The printing is done.
You are underwhelmed.
Until you find new typos in the final copy.
Which would obviously happen.

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The end.

Academic precarity and transient intimacies in 28 Tweets.

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A series of brainfarts about the most memorable ten-minute cab ride in the history of forever:

I am an anthropologist at a social media conference, literally half the globe away from where I live.

Hopped into a cab tonight. Made small talk with the driver. He learns I’m an anthropologist on an academic conference and becomes excited.

Dude did his first MA in heritage conservation, and his second MA on museum ethnography. I start to squeal and explode inside.

He studied a Swahili belt of cultures and conservation practices focused on Tanzania. We start to geek out about museums.

He tells me he left his hometown in Ethiopia for Toronto in hopes of better academic work to no avail.

“The market is very hard here. I tried for very long and looked every where but there was nothing open.”

Dude says he eventually gave up looking for academic work because he felt guilt and responsible towards his wife and three children.

We chat a lot about how he misses pursuing his passion but how it was no longer practical. I see how this could be my future.

Dude became a cab driver: “I wanted to do any thing for my family to have a good life, to be responsible to them.” I realize my privilege.

Dude asks about my thesis. We trade stories. He reminisces his research days: “I wrote many papers. In [grad] school I got many As. But…”

We trade mini flash lectures about how indigenous cultures are being studied and archived in our countries.

Dude stops the cab for a while so he can face me to chat. He laments the erosion of ethnic archives & artifacts because it’s a dying trade.

To make up for giving up his dream, he volunteers at the museum as a guide on top of his cab driving.

He tells me guides are bilingual in French and English, but he can only manage in “not so good English” as a non-native.

And then he embarks on a magical spiel about how he enjoys watching museum patrons appreciate artifacts and art.

He has a brother who similarly left Ethiopia for Melbourne in search of better work and living conditions.

And they haven’t met in ages because of the travel distance and time and cost involved. But he hopes to bring his family there one day.

At this point it has only been ten minutes since I got in the cab. We’re at my destination.

Dude volunteers to take me to the museum later in the week but I fly off soon and am unable to. He makes me promise to come back.

He wishes me all the best for my PhD, and hopes I finish and get a job I enjoy.

I feel so much respect for dude, but also a lot of vicarious heartache because he dropped out of this precarious route I’m still attempting.

I tell dude to keep trying, that maybe some thing might come up in the future. He tells me he will try, and that I must too!

I don’t know how to close this magical chance interaction I have with dude. I do the awkward “by the way my name is x” and he reciprocates.

I shake his hand and tell him I’m really glad I met him tonight. He tells me that ethnography is very beautiful. I want to cry inside.

So here I am sitting by the door of my room and serial tweeting this magical encounter.

I can’t stop thinking about our mutual liminal optimism: “When you come back to Toronto, come here into my cab!”

We’re probably never going to see each other again. But I’ll keep this magic in my pocket forever. Transient intimacies indeed. End.

Bob.

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“Weber is overrated. The only good thing he wrote was the Protestant Ethic. That really impacted society, how we thought about life. Every thing else was forgettable. He was a good writer, yeah, but never in the ranks of Durkheim and Marx. I would never place him in the ranks of Durkheim and Marx. Even Marx is overrated and gets cited way more often than he should be. Durkheim’s work is the most enduring. What do you think?”

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“I belong to the Penguin Books Association in London. You know, in London, you can find a club for just about any thing. These Londoners are such hobby people. Do you know Penguin Books were the first to publish for the working class? They gave every one a chance to read any thing and made it affordable. I used to collect Penguin Books. Whatever you see in this library is only a portion. I have lots more at home.”

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This is where he sits and reads over tea until some one pops into his bookstore. Also, if your conversation happens to bring up phrases and strings of words that are lyrics in classic songs, Bob will interrupt to sing you the song – complete with some serious eyebrow game and dancey footwork.

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I spotted this postcard of Bob on one of the walls and jokingly asked if he was a famous person –

“Oh noooo. Some one came in here and asked if he could take a photo of me. I said, why not! And he came back to give me a copy. Do you want to take a photo of me too?”

Look at all these penguins. How are Bob and I not related?!

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Before we left, I told Bob I felt he was very precious, and that it was amazing he knows just about every book and author at the back of his hand.

“Oh I’m just an ordinary guy, my love. Just an ordinary guy who loves to read and reads a lot.”

I guess he must like me too, since he gave me a pound off my purchase :)

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Bob asked what I was doing in life.

“Digital anthropology? What the hell is that? There is only one age, my love – The old age. The new age is always in flux. There is no ‘new age’. You know Malinowski? Smart guy. With a title like Sex and Repression in Savage Society, who’s not gonna read that? What are you writing about? You need to read Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. Not digital anthropology. Come on, love! Okay? Bye bye, love.”

Find Bob here.