Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Another happy list

I am officially stressed. Must do happy list. Happy list make me smile. Nice things on list. Ha-ha. Ha-ha. Make me think good time. Gooooooood.

Happy food:
  1. Popsie's lasagne when the cheese on top isn't burnt and leathery, and I get to eat it fresh from the oven
  2. Mama's sayur paku masak lemak, jiu hoo char, pai tee, asam fish, asam prawn, pineapple cheesecake, 'apong bokuah'... mmm. Practically any Grandma Saw food will do.
  3. Yellow chang with good, thick gula Melaka syrup
  4. Warm garlic focaccia
  5. Sushi
  6. Lemon chicken which is still crispy from the deep-frying, with real lemon sauce, not some starchy, glue-like substance, poured on it
  7. POTATOES (I think they deserve to be in block capitals because they're my favourite meat. What, does something have to come from an animal in order to be meat?)
  8. French balls (they're not from France and they're not... look, they're good, clean food. I would serve them at a children's party. What's with that look?)
  9. Cendol (the mellow, pandan juice-dyed type, not the radioactive green stuff from the frozen food section in supermarkets) with fresh santan and gula melaka
  10. Warm carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

OK, I feel happy enough now that I'm done with that. I'll save the "happy books" and "happy music" lists for later.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Lessons of the past few days

For the past few weeks, I've been balancing work with the (now very minimal) tasks connected to a certain Christmas musical plus practice sessions for a dance gig at a corporate event.

As of yesterday, that event is over and it's a huge sigh of relief for me. I've learnt my lesson. Or lessons. Yes, there have been many this weekend, and most arise from my fateful decision to agree to dance at a Japanese car manufacturing giant's absolutely un-fun weekend fun fair. Others are just the usual deep observations I've made in the course of, you know, life.

Lesson #1: 'Good morning, everyone!' is a nice way to greet guests, whether at a house party or 300-guest corporate outdoor event.

Lesson #2: Tissues are a cold-infected human's best friend. In other words, if you have the sniffles, carry a blasted packet (or 10) of tissues around with you so you don't gross out the entire cinema-ful of moviegoers with your snifflings and splattings. The humble tissue can do much to keep germs from spreading and people from disgusting other people.

Lesson #3: Not only tissues are humble. Apparently, so are onions and tau geh.

Lesson #4: 'All right, everybody please come over to the stage NOW because we're going to start, I mean we're starting now, our event. So everybody come over to the main tent, NOW!' is not a nice way to greet guests, lack of preparation notwithstanding.

Lesson #5: Always check that you have your ATM card before queueing for 5 minutes in a hostile line of shoppers. Always check that you have your ATM and credit cards, period.

Lesson #6: There's a reason why good Asian parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers and assorted other elders teach us to smile and greet people from an early age. That way, if we're suddenly required to do it to hundreds of people on the spur of the moment, we don't freeze up and wonder how to be nice. Maybe some big car manufacturers could do with putting this in the staff training manual.

Lesson #7: Dancers need food in order to dance well. Otherwise they get dizzy and/or cranky and may fall down or break legs (not necessarily their own, especially if they're really very hungry and cranky).

Lesson #8: The Ugly Malaysian is alive and well. Still descending on newly served food like a swarm of locusts. Still grabbing 20 sticks of satay and gobbling down 15, then chucking the rest in a heap because all that gobbling has given him indigestion.

Lesson #9: All-in-one cereal powder is a cool snack. There are many ways to flout the manufacturer's instructions to shake it out of the sachet into a mug of hot water, stir and drink. Years ago my dad taught me to just eat it dry, straight from the packet. Today I discovered the best way so far to eat the stuff. Pour about an inch of water in a mug, then shake one sachet's worth of cereal in and stir it into a gooey mash. Some bits will not absorb any water, resulting in a multi-textured, chewy-crunchy delicacy. I think I may have found the warm alternative to ice-cream.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Cats in My Life: Whiskey

In my 25 years I've been privileged to know and love several cats, thanks to my animal-loving parents. Each of them has/had a unique personality that I would have recognised even if they'd switched colours overnight.

Of all the cats my family has had, O'Malley was actually the closest I had to my very own cat. But there was something about Whiskey that set him apart from the rest of the cat race and makes him, I believe, deserving of this first "Cat Profile" of many.

Whiskey was the last of three kittens my family adopted from the same litter. My mother's colleague's cat had given birth and the kittens were not exactly welcome in an already cat-saturated household. So after some discussion, my mother agreed to take in the brown tabby and the white one with black spots.

The week after Brandy and Pepsi came home, my mother's colleague mentioned that there was now only one of that litter left behind and asked my mother if she was interested. I think my mother would have taken in all the cats in the world if she could. Besides, the description "all black except a white nose" was intriguing.

Whiskey's arrival
One day the following week, my parents told us, "We've picked the cat up. He's very nice."

He was indeed very pretty, but the description was way off the mark. He was a typical bicolour pattern, with a white base and black "cape", tail, ears and face (except the chin). All this gave him a masked appearance, like a desperado from old black-and-white Westerns. His black fur was a rich, black black that gave you the impression that all attempt to describe the word "black" ended there. His white was slightly creamy, and during his favourite activity (sunbaths on the driveway with our dog Frosty) the white furs practically glowed.

Whiskey's 'accident'
When he wasn't quite a year old, one night we found Whiskey at the front gate with a broken leg. He was the strong, silent type usually, unlike his extremely talkative sister Pepsi. But that night, he yelled his lungs out until we went to him.

The vet said he might have been in an accident, but from the looks of it he'd probably been hit on purpose by a human holding a hard object. I may be naïve, but I still cannot understand how humans can be so cruel. Don't even get me started on how some of us treat other humans.

The vet pronounced the injury very serious and warned my parents that Whiskey might lose the leg. He suggested that euthanasia would be more merciful than amputation. My parents wouldn't hear of either one.

Whiskey's recovery
At my parents' insistence, the vet repaired the injury surgically. Whiskey became the first member of the family, humans included, to be able to boast a "fist [paw, to be more accurate] of iron". It took him months to recover from the surgery. The vet put him on a course of steroids to speed up healing, and before we knew it, Whiskey was a candidate for Beefcat of the Year. From a sleek, panther-like kitty, he turned into a chunky hunka feline. I'll have to admit, it suited him. When he could walk again, it was with a confident sway that brought new meaning to the word "catwalk".

Whiskey's voice
Whiskey was the least vocal cat we ever had. Apart from the screams the night of his "accident", he hardly said anything except for a few short, high-pitched squeaks. But as he got older, the squeaks got louder and more repetitive. I suspect it was because he was getting hard of hearing and couldn't hear himself so well. It happens to humans, too.

Whiskey's travels
If Whiskey was within earshot of our car doors opening, he would dash over and hop into the car. If we were just going out for an evening spin around town, this meant he would ride with us on the back section of the car behind the rear headrests. Sometimes, when my parents came to pick me up from afternoon school he would be there. My schoolmates were sometimes surprised by the cute "tissue box holder" which suddenly stood up and walked to the other end of the car. When we reached home, it would take some coaxing to get him down from his perch and out of the car.

Whiskey's social streak
When my brother and I were still schooling, my parents would hold garden parties from time to time. They'd rent the requisite Malaysian outdoor gathering equipment: canopy, wooden-topped trestle tables and plastic chairs.

When the guests began to arrive, the dog would be locked in the backyard and the cats would make themselves scarce; all except Whiskey.

I think he lived for these occasions. The sight of red plastic chairs scattered around the garden must have made his little kitty heart leap with joy. He would make his rounds of the guests, saying "How do" to those who bothered to stoop and stroke him. If there was an empty chair in a circle, he'd jump up on it and do his best to join in the conversation. Whenever someone says "party animal" in my hearing, I can't help but think of Whiskey sitting in one of those chairs, surrounded by friendly people. There was something about Whiskey that just made you want to be friends with him.

Whiskey's neighbourhood contacts
I think more people in the neighbourhood knew Whiskey than they knew any human member of our family. I know for a fact that he often spent the night in the home of our across-the-road neighbour. He was very well liked there, by all except maybe one. In the morning when my mother called the cats home for breakfast, Whiskey would trot across the road at a contented, complacent pace, licking his chops. Evidently, two breakfasts weren't one too many for this cat.

In his younger years when our Spitz, Frosty was still around, he and Whiskey would sometimes take naps together on the driveway. It was common to see the large white dog fast asleep in "roast piglet" position, with a stocky black-and-white cat next to him or on his front paws. When Frosty went missing in 1993, Whiskey couldn't get over it for almost a year. He would step out into the garden with an expression of hope and expectancy, as if his friend just might be out there. Frosty never came back, but I think Whiskey never quite gave up on the idea that he might someday. He was never friends with our subsequent dogs, although he was civil to them.

Whiskey probably felt that having to take naps alone on the driveway was too hard to bear, because after Frosty was gone, he took his outdoor naps on parked cars outside our compound, or on the cement culvert across the drain. This made him extremely popular with children, the elderly and just about anyone who passed. He was never afraid of anyone, and responded to their pats with friendly purrs. The few odd times that one of us came out to see Whiskey with a stranger, the person would give an embarrassed laugh and say, "Your cat ah? Nice, ah? Very friendly." Then, with another embarrased chuckle at being discovered in conversation with a cat, the person would walk/drive off.

Whiskey's death
I won't say why or in what condition Whiskey died because it's too sad, but let's just say his last days were a poor reflection of how he lived his life. About three weeks before that, he jumped onto my lap while I was sitting reading in the hall. Friendly creature though he was, Whiskey was never a "lap cat". In hindsight, I wondered if he knew his days were not only numbered but that the numbers were running out. He continued to be unusually affectionate for the next few days, until my brother found him paralysed one morning under the Christmas tree...

I hope that a couple of weeks after that when he took his last breath, what went through his mind was not his discomfort but the smell of freshly boiled kembung and chicken liver; the feeling of sunlight on his belly; the warmth of my mother's quilt when she was still alive and made space at the foot of her side of the bed for him each night; the laughter of good friends in the garden; and the soft snugness of Frosty's fur against the hard driveway.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Trivial Questions: The Papaya Bag

During my after-lunch papaya slice one day, this thought came to me.

"Why are papaya slices normally wrapped in those pinkish transparent plastic sleeves?"

Their coloured baggies never come in another size, another shape, another colour. They're always elongated rectangles in a pinkish-to-orangey sort of red. I think they're part of an odious plan to palm off underripe papaya slices to unsuspecting customers who don't realise the rosy hue comes from the wrapper, not the contents.

If it is indeed just a sales tactic, then why stop at papaya? Why haven't I seen honeydew melon slices being sold in pale lime green bags, or watermelon in bright red or yellow ones? Does the trick only work on papaya? Did the manufacturers lose interest after stopping at the pink bags? When you buy your first shipment of papaya wholesale to start a sliced fruit business, do they also advise you to get the right accessories to move stock along faster?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Quek & Quek (We Doctor Anything!)

Based on our extensive research on the completely credible and dependable source of the Internet, we feel it necessary to offer the following health advice to unsuspecting, undiscerning members of the public:

  1. Do not drink soft drinks anymore. They will eat away your stomach and guts and leave you with nothing to digest other food with. By the time you’re done following our instructions, though, you won’t have much choice of food anyway so this won’t matter as much as you think.
  2. Do not eat instant noodles. They will leave a residue of wax in your body. If you go on eating instant noodles, by 2010 you will have become a large candle.
  3. Do not smell perfume samples you get in the mail. They are dangerous chemicals put there by sick madmen who want to kill unsuspecting women. Anyway, you should know by now that something which makes paper smell good doesn’t necessarily work the same way on women.
  4. Do not eat canned food unless you wipe the can down well before opening. Rat urine on the cans can cause you to get a life-threatening disease that will, at the very least, leave you blind or with a permanent dribble or with the song Two Less Lonely People in the World by Air Supply constantly going through your mind.
  5. Although we have heard non-online people say that canned food is not very good anyway because of their high content of harmful chemicals, not a single one of the forwarded e-mails that has come to our attention proves this point. Therefore we see it fit to advise you to eat as much canned and preserved food as you want (but wipe down the can first).

We hope you will accept all of the above at face value and not make any attempt to verify its truth. After all, the true mark of a 21st century urban human being is the lack of ability to discern fact from fiction. Only dinosaurs left over from earlier, wiser ages actually think about the consequences of their actions. Received another diet warning in the e-mail today? Why check, why consider? That’s for sissies; just forward the message! And if you do it by today, some large American corporation will probably give you three cents for each person you annoy by flooding their mailboxes with this information.


Quek, F & Quek, D
(Holders of Suspect Credentials that Don't Actually Stand for Anything)
We Doctor Anything!®

Monday, November 21, 2005

Why bother?

For a second, she was disorientated.

She stood in the doorway, unwilling to enter but unable to leave.

Inside the room, chaos reigned.

Two toddlers were busy spreading glue in a widening circle around them on the plush carpet. Toxic fumes wafted from the glue bottle.

Another group behind them was stomping a rhythm on a plastic play table, on which a crack was gradually widening. Underneath the table, scattered plastic bricks lay around, their sharp corners waiting to deal out some serious cuts to soft childish skin.

In the toilet, a group of early bloomers, not a single one over 5, was smoking. The cigarettes looked suspiciously homemade.

From her vantage point in the doorway, it looked like a nightmare.

(Fortunately, all this was a nightmare.)

Finally, she caught sight of a Grown-up who looked like she ought to be In Charge of this place. "Hey!" she yelled. "'Scuse me!"

The grown-up looked up from the comic she was reading. She didn't speak. Apparently, intruders like this were common... and annoying.

"They're running wild! They're going to kill themselves! Can you do something, please?"

She replied, eyes back on the colourfully illustrated pages: "Sorry, it wouldn't be fair. They want to run wild, see. Can't be so mean as to teach them self-control, all that stuff. It all works out right in the end, anyway. Natural selection and all that. Just wouldn't be fair."

Short of whacking said teacher on the head with a Mongo Bat, she turned on her heels and left.

And so went another attempt to make things better.

A brick wall would be more receptive
When it's grown-ups who won't listen to our sensible suggestions, that's how it feels.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

And the horse will help you

Lunchtime meeting ended. I debated whether to stick around, read and write in my journal, or go home to do my reading and journal writing.

Opted for home. My thinking, reading and writing spot (aka bed) wins out every time.

Walked up the road towards where my car was parked. Spotted familiar yellow rear bumper and walked towards it, pressing the little button on my "bweep bweep" alarm/lock remote control.

It didn't bweep.

I pressed again.

No bweep.

Suddenly observed that each wing mirror has one of those little round 'blind spot' mirrors stuck to it. Realised that I was now standing next to a car that didn't belong to me and trying to open it.

Quickly recovered composure and walked further up the road to where Spunky, had it a brain, would probably be thinking, "Where's your brains, woman, I have these huge horses on my side and you don't even notice if they're not there?"

Oh, right. The horses. Next time I misplace my car, that oughta be my #1 clue. The horses.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Things That Make Me Happy

Things are getting hot (the way they get hot for turkeys close to Christmas) at work, and now that I’m about to leave for home I’ve decided to compile a list of Things That Make Me Happy. Just to keep me sane, you know.

  1. Dancing
  2. Psalm 91, New King James Version
  3. “Who Am I” by Casting Crowns
  4. Dark, bitter chocolate
  5. Fuzz therapy from an upside-down, purring cat
  6. The Story Girl by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  7. Mua chee
  8. Doodling
  9. Smiles from happy dogs
  10. Daisies
  11. Sunrise in the hills
  12. Sunset on the beach
  13. A good nap
  14. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, 3rd movement (especially if I’m the one playing it. Especially good when anger and other strong emotions need venting.)
  15. Writing in my journal
  16. My soft toy collection
  17. Daydreaming
  18. Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson
  19. Designing blank books
  20. Nyonya beadwork

Friday, November 11, 2005

Linguistically challenged

I am a failure.

I wasted 11 years of my life.

I want them back.

One teensy-weensy phone call in Malay was more than I could handle. I stuttered so badly that even a stutterer with a name like Lelulelouise Lewis would sound positively clear next to me. I managed to get my message across but had the person on the other end of the call been an examiner for the SPM oral paper, I would never have passed my SPM.

I am still amazed that I somehow got a Grade 1.

But still, this means that I wasted 11 years of my life in school, struggling with a language that many dedicated teachers over the years tried hard to teach me. Oh, how they tried. But although I got the basics of grammar and a simple vocabulary that should get me by in the markets (wet, not stock), it is still mostly foreign to me.

Best of all, it was the language of instruction for all subjects when I was in school so my comprehension of practically every subject was probably about 30%. I still don't know how I made it through school.

Some other countries' public school systems offer ESL classes to "linguistically challenged" students who don't come from an English-speaking family.

Why didn't anyone offer MSL classes when I was in school? My 3 years in kindergarten where we learnt the ABCs (which I'd mastered long before thanks to my clued-in parents), 123s and other basics did not prepare me for the sudden barrage of Malay-medium teaching, all day long, when primary school began. It took me a term before I even began to understand the teacher. Thank God, she was a nice, understanding teacher who took a liking to me and explained every sentence in English before making me write it down and say it Malay. Otherwise I'd probably have reached Form 5 still writing my karangans in English.

Yep, it's a wonder that I managed to graduate from the public school system. But I still feel like a failure after this morning's phone call.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A language maligned

I can barely read the local papers without cringing these days.

It seems having to deal with news of murder, crooks ripping off helpless old ladies and natural disasters is not bad enough.

The editors have to let bad grammar, mis-spellings, awkward headlines and downright bizarre phrases through to make my newspaper-reading experience a painful one.

Does anybody CARE about the English language anymore? Or is it going the way of the dodo? Someday soon, we’re going to hear young adults say over their teh peng glasses, “English? Oh, yeah hor, I think larst time sure got one langwich call like dat wan.”

Not so much as a note of mourning will be heard for the language when it finally gives its last breath and dies. Not even 10 seconds of respectful silence will be observed. Not here, anyway.

Why do I say so? Because judging by the standard of English in Malaysian newspapers (and most magazines) today, nobody cares that the language is being mauled to pieces on a daily basis. Apparently, it doesn’t matter how the language is being spoken, as long as we… especially we in the developed state… SPEAK ENGLISH! H’RAY! Break out the bubbly, we’re officially “educated”! And “developed”!

I find it hilarious that the country’s most widely circulated and read English daily has a one-page column on all things English — speaking and writing it correctly, common misuses, etc.

I only find this hilarious because if I didn’t laugh about it, I’d cry about what they’d done to the language in the rest of the paper.

The pink book said!

When I started primary school, my mother bought me a “homework book” to write down all assignments in. I suppose the little pink paperback was her way of making the sudden shock of rules, nasty older students and teachers from a different universe a little more pleasant on me.

One of the first few pages had this “Arabic quotation” (if any Arabs read this, please verify the accuracy of the quote for me. Thank you.):

He who knows and knows that he knows,
He is wise. Follow him.
He who knows not and knows he knows not,
He is simple. Teach him.
He who knows and knows not he knows,
He is asleep. Wake him.
He who knows not and knows not he knows not,
He is a fool. Shun him.

Like Calvin of my favourite comic strip, I wish I could open a roadside stall selling “The Plain Truth”. Imagine this: “Hey, you! You act the grand lady but your grandma at the fish market speaks better English! Looks and smells better, too! That’ll be RM100, please.”

Likewise, there are people who, upon having their English corrected, get all flustered and indignant and insist that they've got it right. How much is it worth to tell them, “Hey, if you were an Arab in the old days, you’d be a fool. Since you’re a Malaysian in the Noughties, that means you're just plain stupid! Ha ha ha!”? Pity I don't have the privilege of being small and cute, no matter how annoying and mouthy.

Like someone who mentioned that a certain project will be publicised through “many mediums”. Correction: “You mean media?” “No, MEDIUMS.” “But… [pausing for reflection upon seeing annoyed look that I would dare to correct her supposedly good English] OK, mediums.”

The high price of diplomacy

It was on the tip of my tongue to say, “Huh? You’re going to hire all those poor out-of-work temple clairvoyants as sandwich men now that they’re in between festivals? So kind!”

I think I’d have paid at least a ringgit to be able to say that right then.

But my ensuing silence, though difficult to keep, was probably worth a few ringgit more.

Friday, November 04, 2005

What a waste of time!

When I was little, I used to worry my parents with how quickly I could read.

From the age of about 7, I could finish one of those Enid Blyton short story collections in a day or two. (Two was if I had a lot of homework and ballet class). At my nanny's house, I would drag out maybe half a dozen issues of Readers' Digest from the 60s and 70s and read them all in one afternoon after school. OK, I didn't read the whole thing, I generally skipped the parts about practical advice for parents and 7 warning signs your car is trying to give you.

Now, at this beautiful age of 25, I am still able to read quite fast.

So with a very long weekend brought on by two consecutive public holidays, I thought I might as well spend a whole day reading (with some guilt-driven cleaning in between). And I managed to finish a book I'd begun on Wednesday evening. Yay!

Except that it was a very, very lousy book. It left me with such a bad taste in my mouth that I almost feel I must read at least one Anne of Green Gables book as an antidote. Why was it such a bad book? Oh dear, let me count the ways.

The Plot
This writer must have stumbled upon the literary equivalent of MSG. Evidently, he doesn't know the secret of making a story tantalising and delicious in its own right, so he needed to throw in plenty of violence, quite a lot of foul language, disturbing references to deviant sex, and annoying negative racial stereotypes. Just as in real life, the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate leaves me nauseated, thirsty and otherwise ill for hours, so did this book leave me. Another book by the same author that I was considering reading now sits next to my bookshelf looking less appealing by the minute. For more reasons why, read on.

The Characters
This guy really has no respect for the human race. Out of all the ethnicities, occupations, abilities and disabilities, appearances and personalities possible, he managed to make up:

  • a male protagonist who's, naturally, white, college-educated, attractive and healthy, with claustrophobia as his only disability (claustrophobia is quite a common malaise among protagonists, although it's more common in the movies among women who get caught in elevators with psychotic dark men.)
  • a female lead character who's white, slim, attractive, healthy and believes "the world is one" and does a lot of yoga
  • an ambiguous, villainish character in a wheelchair who has a hard, unapproachable and downright creepy countenance and personality (what, are all wheelchair users so bitter thanks to infirmity? I don't suppose there's any chance of a cheerful, mentally healthy, intelligent protag in a wheelchair?)
  • a token "coloured" character whose exact ethnicity is not given, but who has a thing for violent killing, hates organised religion, enjoys hurting women and has other creepy traits that are seldom explained in detail, but rather suspiciously mentioned in close proximity to repeated descriptions of his skin colour
  • and numerous others that it's just too tiring to describe

The Language
I've said before that I'd read a book with no plot if the language was beautiful enough. To me, a good book is one that doesn't necessarily end with all the loose ends tied, all the bad boys dead or sent to prison and the protagonists in bed together. (I have noticed that in Contemporary Popular Novel Land, people who are married seem to be doing all they can to get rid of their spouses and see sex with them as the most revolting thing on earth, whereas the attractive person they get to share hair-raising adventures with is seen as pleasure on legs. Until, of course, they get married. For what happens next, see the beginning of this parenthesis.)

Therefore, I felt thoroughly patronised and insulted at this author's use of rambling, pseudo-artistic, look-Ma-I'm-deep sentences, lengthy intellectual speeches delivered ad lib (will someone please tell me how people in deep crisis can be so profound and not even stutter, leak boogers or cough ONCE???) and introspective first-person reflections that read as smoothly as a Standard 1 pupil's holiday composition.

The Credibility
Most of all, I was irritated at the half-truths, misrepresentations and sweeping statements used to describe people and organisations. Actually, I wouldn't be so hissy with all that if the author wouldn't take himself so seriously. I could practically read between the lines and see him writing himself in as an additional character, applauding every self-serving sentence and saying "SOMEBODY NOMINATE ME FOR A BOOKER!"

So that's one day wasted on a book that has not educated, entertained or uplifted me. It raised no critical questions in my head, did not at any point cause me to identify with any of its characters, and most of the time made me wonder how many coats of lacquer it would take before it could be used as a doorstop. But then I wouldn't wish such a dreadful ornament on even the home of my worst enemy. So now that I've finished it, I can return it to its rightful owner and hope he will share at least some of my reaction.

Oh, it's so terrible to suffer in silence after the trauma of a bad book.

I suppose it could have been worse. I could have been a slow reader.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Just imagine!

What if I'd been born a fish
With fins and scales and slimy gills
And chased 'round coral just for thrills?

Or perhaps an Indian princess
With sequins for dust and diamonds for toys
And a pet elephant to impress the boys?

What if I had grown up to be
A dancer who twirled and sprang in tights
Too spent by life to enjoy all its sights?

What if I were anyone else
Not just plain me, but say, an elf
Imagine, I'd never know myself!

But though it's sad, I've heard some say
That many never get to know
Themselves and not the ones on show.

So since I'm me and not a fish
Or any of those other things
I'm that happy, I could just sing!

And get to know the me I am
And be the best me I possibly can, for
Just imagine the horror if... I were a man! :o)

The author has no prejudices whatsoever against men. She's just very glad she wasn't born one, because if she were, it would be very much harder for her to express her love for satin and lace, ballet, stuffed toys, and all things pretty. There is, after all, room for only one Elton John in this world.

I also take this opportunity to thank my father, mother, grandmother, brother... what? Wrong script?

Thank you, God, for choosing to make me me and not something/somebody else.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Back to school

An appointment for work brought me back to the campus that holds two educational institutions, one of which is where I spent 3 years studying for a degree I was never sure I wanted. I knew I wanted a degree; I loved studying; just that in those three years in that school, I never had one of those mushy, warm-all-over moments when I thought, "I love this beautiful place and I can't bear to think of graduating and leaving it for the big, bad world."

Because, actually, it's not a beautiful place. I used to describe my university as "a pimple on _____ College's butt". With age has come greater tact, and now I would only go so far as to say it's an extension to the original building that was built with more consideration for economics than aesthetics. The original college had the frontage. We had the... never mind. And still, our parents had to pay more than double (a LOT more than double) of what a comparable course would have cost elsewhere. "But there you don't get degree from this Australian uni, some more this is an offshore campus." (That came from the counsellors, and we believed it.)

The "perks" of attending this offshore campus rather than a local college, besides the exorbitant fees, were: 1) our very own set of restrooms; 2) our very own entrance to the library (they knocked out a few feet of wall, put in a door and called it 'our' library); 3) the occasional reminder that students at the onshore campuses had it much, much cushier. During communication lab classes, they got to go to the computer lab. We had an extra tutorial to make up for the computers in our lab not being equipped for whatever it was we were supposed to do.

About twenty of us graduated from my class in this university. I'm pretty sure there isn't a single one of us who was sure the experience and subsequent degree were worth the money. Things haven't improved much since then, yet the uni has no shortage of prospective students. It makes me wonder if it all makes sense: my parents paid a bundle so I would go to uni and learn a little more than what I would have learnt if I hadn't gone to uni; now that I've graduated, that knowledge is supposed to help me earn more so I can save up and one day send my kids to uni...

All that said, though, I admit I miss the structure and constant challenges of academia. Given the chance (and the moolah), I would go back to school any day because I'm not done learning yet and university does force you to learn faster, think harder, understand better.

Yup, I'd love to go back to school. But even though today's visit sparked off some serious nostalgia, ("Ooh, the bookshop! That's where we laughed for five minutes over that coin bank in the shape of a couch with two penguins on it!"), I am quite sure of one thing.

I won't be going back to that school.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

How strong?

My thumb drive came home on August 31 after having been missing for a few weeks.

Its cap has just been found, in an even more surprising place and way.

Some people travel halfway around the world looking for miracles in statues that weep, drumskins that continue to grow fur, and gold dust that appears mysteriously.

I've known for a long time, and just been reminded, that miracles are seldom so elusive, expensive or exclusive. Nor are they always lofty and abstract.

Cheesy Analogy Time
Imagine a father demonstrating his strength to his children by lifting a 2kg watering can and helping them water their potted plants. The children are impressed, and from now on they'll have this equation in their minds: Daddy = Strong! Actually, Daddy can bench-press 350 without blinking, but they won't understand that. It won't matter much to them, either.

But their flowers need watering, and Daddy has done it for them.

As for me, I don't know what the equivalent of the bench press is.

But finding that little blue piece of plastic after four months sure made my day, though it isn't even a strain on that Heavenly bicep (figuratively speaking). More importantly, it inspired me to ask daily for more demonstrations of Fatherly strength.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Secret of Balance

It was a busy day at the office. The in tray was full. The out tray was full. A mysterious person, who could be identified only by the spiky black hair visible above the stack of paper, came every half hour to empty the out tray. Who knew where to. The recycling bin in the back alley, probably.

From in tray to out tray, out tray to alley. (Or at least it seemed that's where my life was going)

I reached for another sheet from the in tray. Paused. The in tray was no longer there.

I looked around. I realised it was I who was no longer there. I mean, at my desk at work. I was now sitting behind a table about the same size, but instead of a partition board with cute animal photos all over it, on the other side sat a jolly little man wearing a hat that looked like it was made out of a paper bag.

"Welcome to Felicitous Fortunes! Good fortune or your money back. What can I predict for you today?"

I stared in shock, wondering what would happen back at work when the spiky-haired person came and found the out tray, for once, empty.

"Cat got your tongue? OK then, how's this? Have you heard the one about the guru who owned a hot dog stand?"

Silence from me.

"Come on, come on, it's a good one! Guess what the customer says to the guru! Guess right and I'll throw in a free 'good luck in the workplace' figurine." He gestured towards a shelf on the other end of the room, stacks of boxes with words like "Love Life Booster", "Prosperous Business Money Plenty" and "Every RM1 coin Received in Change From Coffee Shops Sure Authentic, 100% Guarantee Accepted by Banks" on them.

Silence. Then, at the sight of his fat, complacent, happy little face, something in me snapped.

I don't want your figurines. I don't want your fortunes. I just want to go back to work, to a job I actually enjoy, yes, that's right, enjoy, so I can do my work and after that go home and work on my other projects, and when I'm done with that I can spend about 5 minutes with my family before I go back to work overtime. And don't you, little fat man in paper bag hat, dare ask me why I must do so much.

"Why do you feel you have to do so much?"

That was it. It must have been the stress, because of course I'm not usually a hitting kind of person. The little fat jolly man was too heavy to make it across the room, but his paper bag hat made it.

And then...
Seconds later, I found myself back at my desk. No need to even say 'There's no place like office, there's no place like office...'

In retrospect, I really wish I hadn't hit him. Because the fat man did have a point: I do feel compelled to do more than I need to, and it's making me so edgy that I can't even take a joke from a jolly commercial clairvoyant. From that day on, I resolved to keep my work and outside commitments, relationships with humans and God in the proper balance (in increasing order of importance).

The moral of the story?
If you want to have some balance in your life, it's best to strike a happy medium.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.

No mediums were harmed in the writing of this story.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Comrades for the Overthrow of the Packaging Proletariat

A few weeks back, in a moment of foolish weakness, I succumbed to the pretty packaging of a certain brand of biscuits bearing a copyrighted Japanese cartoon image (and her bunny and strawberry friends).

Thanks to the professional pictures on the box, I also believed that the biscuits would be of equal quality, munchy-wise, to another brand I shall henceforth remain loyal to. The latter's biscuits are offered in more flavours and embellished with proprietary panda images, which I find just as pleasing to the eye. Why not please both eye and palate at the same time, rather than the following scenario which happened when I tried to eat the biscuits pictured above?

Me: (Opens box and tears open foil package within)
Good, Brainy Voice (see earlier post on the purchase of these things): Now we'll see who's right.
Me: (Pops biscuit in mouth)
Tongue: Whoa momma! What is this stuff?
Teeth: Can anyone say "lao hong" (Hokkien for "leaked air", ie gone soft)?
Tongue: Has my job function changed? Because I sure feel like a trash can!
Stomach: Hey, watch your mouth. You think you have a lousy job, you come and talk to me.
Intestines: !
Stomach: You guts don't even think of saying anything!
GBV: Heh, heh (in complacent tone)
Eyes: At least they're good to look at.
Other body parts: Choi! Who's talking to you?
Me: Sigh. What's it take to get a decent cartoon-decorated cream-filled biscuit these days?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


In a string of events that an atheist or sceptic would call "coincidence" and I can only call "Providence", my blue thumb drive has come home. The one I had given up as lost forever about a month ago, because I could find it neither in the office nor anywhere at home. I thought I must have dropped it in the garden and two dogs are now walking around with some silicon in them.

So I thought I'd misplaced my shopping mall parking ticket but during the search, the thumb drive was found instead.

"Serendipity!" the Thesaurus Bug in my head yells. It's a big, complicated word to describe a simple concept: "accidentally discovering something good". Hokkiens have a colourful phrase for it: "Blind chicken stumbles upon a worm."

(It sounds more impressive in Hokkien.)

Speaking of, it's August 31! Happy Birthday, Malaysia! :o)

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Still freaked

The lump has not gone away. So it is time to see the doctor after all. All the bad "doctor" jokes I've ever heard suddenly come to mind.

"Doctor, I keep getting the feeling that I'm invisible." "Who said that?"

"Doctor, I feel so unimportant." "Hang on while I attend to this phone call."

"Doctor, I feel like a zipper." "Pull yourself together and let's talk about it."

"Doctor, there's a lump on my knee." "..."

Friday, August 26, 2005


I was on the phone discussing a much delayed musical project when I gave my knee an absent-minded rub.

And I found it unduly lumpy! A little lump, slightly smaller than a pea, below the skin and not painful at all. But still, there is a lump on my knee. The guy with a fly in his soup has nothing on the "this doesn't belong here" message.

"Hi, Doctor, nice to see you again. How've you been since last week? No, no, I'm not coughing now. Actually I feel quite good. It's just that there's this lump on my knee..."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Sing it, Louis

After the recent haze, it's so good to see beautiful blue and white when you look at the sky. Thank you, God. Now, if only I had a better camera to capture it with... ;o)

Random mind

Went across the road to buy toothpaste and breakfast cereal and, finding neither at good prices, came back with...

"But you don't need strawberry cream-filled crackers printed with Hello Kitty," says the Voice. The good one with the brains.

"But look at the packaging, it's so cuuuute... the stripey solid coloured background is so retro. Like the Hello Kitty things Pop used to buy me from Japan circa 1983."

"You can't eat packaging."

"I know, but... but... it was cheap, even cheaper than the generic unknown cartoon character version, and you know how teatime rolls round and there's nothing to eat...?"

The Voice retreats, resigned. And now I can't tell which will give more of a sugar high, the packaging or the contents. Suckerrrr.

Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming...

Ever wake up knowing what an anemone feels like?

I haven't.

Close enough, though, the sensation of waking up as if you're underwater. Everything seems detached from you. Sounds are muted, colours less intense, outlines less defined. You half expect every exhalation to result in a stream of bubbles going by. You blink and it doesn't go away. You think maybe you're just sleepy and when you meet other real people you'll be just fiiiiiine. But it doesn't happen.

Life is weird.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Finished isn't completed

"Master, I've finished the task."

Surprised beam. "Have you really! Just on time. Let's have a look."

Pats the gravelly rock next to him. Apprentice hops up and sits next to the Master.

"Mm hmm. Hmm. Yes, and I see you've added flourishes of your own. Everything's in order. Good job. Thank you, you may go. Your new instructions will be on your desk when you get back."

Indignant splutter. "But Master, is that all? No star stickers? No colourful 'Well done!' stamps with smileys on them [I like the ones with noses the best]? Aren't you even going to read every word?"

"I know what I have required you to do, and you've done it. That is enough. Now, isn't it time you set off back? You haven't found out your new task yet. Besides, I'm sending another apprentice out to continue working on this."

"On my work? You're letting somebody else continue my task? I sweated blood over that thing! Why can't I be the one to finish it? I completed every line of your instructions!"

tearful apprentice rages on.

The Master replies.

"Every line, yes, but I only gave you one page."

Riffles thick volume bearing Master copy of life instructions, creating dramatic whirlwind that plucks adjective-laden apprentice off the rock and puts her safely back on red-slippered feet in Kansas.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Fly in my aquarium

Triplets taking the prize in a competition for twins is like...

... Aik Cheong Kopi O on a restaurant wine list
... mimosa pudica (one of the peskiest weeds around) winning a flower show
... Guinness at the Pertandingan Nyanyian Merbuk 2005
... tau sar pneah on a hot plate with steak gravy and chips
... basketball on an ice rink
... dancing en pointe in the alley behind SS2 Murni

(see The Star, Monday, August 15)

Those triplets sure are cute, though.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Humans are the best cat toys

I just saw an online promotion of a remote controlled cat toy that's supposedly the most technologically advanced thing around. Apparently it mimics the movements of a mouse (of the type that goes squeak squeak, not click click) and that drives the felines wild. The website has a movie of two sleek domestic types having a whale of a time with this gizmo, which whizzes all over the room while the owner controls it remotely from the comfort of her sofa.

Entertained feline, entertained human
One of my favourite pastimes to date is watching cats play. The way they dash around, change directions midair, hide under long tablecloths leaving a good six inches of rear end sticking out and bat energetically at pencils just delights me.

Unfortunately, sometimes cats just won't play when you want them to. Instead, they sleep. When they wake up, you think this thought is going through their little heads: "Ooh, good nap, that. Now for some play!"

Instead, it's more along the lines of: "Oooooohhhhhh... good nap. Goooood nap. Goooooodd... zzzzzz". Sometimes, there's a little spare energy in there for a cursory lick or two of the belly before Nap, Part MCVXXIX begins.

Feline Entertainment Then
Sometime during my secondary schooldays, my parents once took us on a trip to a small, kampung-style resort in Melaka. There were cats practically everywhere on this island, including this resort. Wherever you looked, whether in the lounge, gardens, recreation area or function rooms, there you would see cats.

Evidently, management and staff liked cats pretty well, too. In the mornings, an elderly security guard would tease whichever members of the feline population were present with a ball of paper tied to one end of a long lidi (coconut leaf stick thingy). By holding it at the other end, he could make the paper wad dangle, quiver, sway, wave, lie dead and then scuttle off... and you could never tell who was more entertained, the cats, the guard or the hotel guests who were equally cat-sympathetic.

Feline Entertainment Now
So along comes this big-ticket toy manufacturer with its new-fangled cat toy that's got fancy words like "chaos theory" and "algorithm" in its story. RRP: US$25. Meanwhile, for all I know, the folks at that island resort still get a piece of used printer paper from the office every now and then, amble out to the garden in search of a suitably springy stick, and make a cat toy. And do those cats feel cheated of the US$25 experience?

Who knows? As I write this, Figaro is curled up, soaking up the last few rays of today's sun and Mudslide is doing ballet leaps and twirls chasing butterflies and fairies only she can see. They both look happy to me. As I'm sure the island cats are.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

What's in a Brand?

Just over a week after my last shoe-hunting ramble, I had to go on another one.

This time, came up with a pair of mid-cut boots, again below budget. But that's not the point of today's story.

As I watched the salesgirl efficiently pack up the boots in their little individual paper bags and put them back in the box, I wondered if the brand "ABC London" really was in any way connected to London. Upon coming home, I did an Internet search and...

No, it does not appear that this brand was founded in London, is designed there, has a flagship store there, or even is occasionally seen on the street there.

I suspect that whoever thought up this brand has become a victim of "brand name migration", a very common malaise among Malaysian retailers and designers. Apparently, sticking "New York", "London" or "Milano" after a brand makes the Malaysian consumer go, "Wah! Imported! Must buy!" whereas "Brand ABC, Proudly Malaysian" results in "Hmm. Locally made? Looks like they'll fall apart in 5 wears. Hey, look. These are from New York. Let's get them!" Worse still are the ones who give their 100% Malaysian brands names that the average Malaysian can hardly pronounce, because they sound like rejects from the pasta maker's dictionary.

I wish that Malaysian manufacturers would take enough pride and ownership in their work for them to be able to stand behind a fully home-grown brand and say, "Pay attention to this. We designed it, we got the materials, and we made it, right here in Malaysia. We know what you want and we know what you need, because we live here too. Buy."

Some might say that it's up to the Malaysian consumer to show more support for local brands first (I'm talking mass production retail, obviously, not haute couture), but the smart Malaysian consumer, like the smart Anywhere Else consumer, buys the product that offers the highest possible quality at a stated price. And though there are Malaysian products that fall into this category, they are still far too few.

I can say for sure that the "London" after the brand name had nothing to do with my buying the boots. I only know that I'd tried other pairs of shoes, some Malaysian-made, some imported, and these fit the best and seemed well made. They were slightly cheaper than the last pair of boots I owned, which gave in to age after 9 years of faithful service. I'm willing to wait and see if this pair lasts as long, and if it does, I will really wonder why the credit for high-quality, locally produced goods continues to go to a place that has nothing to do with them.

An imaginary *what*?

No, I haven't taken to the drink for inspiration. When I walk into my room, if psychedelic geometric shapes greet me and fuzzy animals smile at me, it's because I have psychedelic geometric shapes and fuzzy animals as room decorations.

I live the life of an ordinary, middle-class young adult in PJ. How do I get inspiration to write the weird flights of fancy I sometimes do (the strangest of which have never been published due to uncertainty of whether they'll lead to champagne and contracts or straightjacket and shock therapy for the author)?

It's simple: read the papers.

On Wednesday, August 10, The Star reported that a man was found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in Penang. The article said that an IC was found on the body but "police found a non-existent house when they visited the place stated in the address in Sungai Dua".

Talk about macabre meets nonsensical. It was a story begging to be written.

I would have liked to do a follow-up about a retirement home being set up for imaginary childhood friends made redundant by children growing up; a huge scandal in the publishing industry when news of inflated circulation figures got out; and national productivity falling as a result of years of retroactive detention classes being given to tardy students (now on the loose in the workforce) who pulled the "alarm clock didn't go off/traffic was too heavy" excuse and got found out.

But there have to be limits, haven't there?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Sediments, schmediments

I started work here on March 14. That's exactly 5 months, 1 day ago.

Since then, I've drunk about 1 liter of water per work day, straight from the filter.

And now, I'm wondering how many grammes of strange black substance I've inadvertently drunk because of my gulping habit and use of a dark-coloured container before this.

I started drinking from my white mug instead of red bottle last week. Usually, my habit is pour and gulp, pour and gulp.

Today, I poured and walked off to do something away from my desk. Came back and was about to gulp when I noticed black sediments at the bottom of the cup.

Blasted air-conditioner must be spewing dirt, I thought, and went to give white mug a lather and rinse. Poured again. Water was crystal clear.

Decided to experiment by leaving mug on other side of desk, far from aircond, for another half hour.

And behold, look thou at the bottom of thy cup! Sediments! Icky black sediments that make thy mouth feel gritty even though thou hath not even taken a sip!

Ish. I'll just bring a huge kong of water from home every day from now on.

By the way, has anyone ever questioned why those things are called filters? What is this action called "filting" that they do? What do they filt? Is it water (in the case of water filters) or impure particles in the water? If it's the latter, shouldn't they be called "Icky Particle Filters" rather than "Water Filters"?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Imaginary warehouse found!

PETALING JAYA, August 10--A group of youths was stunned to find an imaginary warehouse while on their way home from school.

They had been walking their usual route when suddenly, in witness See-inn Ting's words, "All of us felt our eyes becoming very sore, as if sand was being blown into them. When we opened our eyes, there was this huge building in front of us where the coffee shop used to be!"

Curious, the group stepped into the building, which appeared to be a large warehouse for "all sorts of junk", as Ting's classmate E Magenary reported. "One corner had a strange assortment of creatures I've never seen before. Most of them were short and kind of cute, and they looked a little agitated. I think I heard one of them yell, "It's not our fault you grew up!"

In a room upstairs, the group stumbled upon literally a junk-heap of alarm clocks, all of which were ostentatiously silent despite their alarm switches being on and hour hands covering the alarm hands.

Glancing through a picture window, Ting was surprised to see that what should have been a quiet neighbourhood road with little traffic was now packed with vehicles and the sounds of angry voices and much honking. Pushing a button that said " REALITY CHECK", she found that the view returned to normal for a few seconds before reverting to the madness and cacophony of rush-hour traffic.

Running up the stairs to join his friends, Ahmad Khayal tripped over a cardboard box which then tumbled down the stairs and spilled its contents onto the floor. On closer inspection, these turned out to be a huge jumble of letters and greeting cards, sealed, stamped and addressed, but not postmarked.

Magenary, known among schoolmates as "Ulat Buku", cautiously pushed open a door to find what she thought at first was "paradise!": wall-to-wall stacks of books and magazines. She wasted no time in browsing them, only to find with disappointment that most of the books were trashy romance novels that said "over 1 million in print" on the cover. The magazines were no more appealing, most of them being dry financial titles and sub-standard free street corner publications.

Before the youths could further explore the place, the same itching, burning sensation hit their eyes, and they found themselves back where they'd been before. The warehouse was nowhere to be seen.

Investigations are underway.

Watch this space for tomorrow's special report on the Imaginary Warehouse!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Never too old a dog

The old man nodded wisely (for he was a wise old man). He did so every few moments, even when he had nothing to say or when nothing had been said to him.

Certain actions are expected of wise old men.

He had been trying to tell a foolish young man (for all young men were foolish to him) the ways of their country. But the foolish young man was proving worthy of his title, and still did not understand. The wise old man nodded again, wisely (for how else could he nod?) and repeated himself:

"Once again, now. Repeat after me. No man is to steal."

"No man is to steal."

"No man is to kill."

Mindless repetition, "No man is to kill."

"No man is to put others' lives at risk for personal gain."

"No man is to... uh... put others wives... Uncle, say again, can?"

Wise old man sighs. "Let's just move on. That part isn't important, anyway."

Foolish young man responds. "Then what is?"

"It is one thing to obey when one knows it is right; it is yet another thing entirely to disobey when one knows it is right."


"Obedience must be matched with wisdom, or it has no value."


"Two large cheeseburgers with fries! No barbecue sauce!"


The old man sighed again, wisely, and also wearily. They didn't make young men like they used to. This one was even worse than the rest. Just for the sake of having someone understand his message, he began to speak to himself.

"Obedience is easy when you know that to obey is to do right. But what about the commands of the crooked master? Does his servant wilfully disobey because he knows it is wrong? Is not disobedience also wrong? A powerful man, now, who gives the command over the fields and plantations that will send three-quarters of the kingdom into poverty while the rest grow even richer... if I were his slave, should I obey and be rewarded, or ignore him and save my people?"

The young man was now snoring.

The old man sighed and nodded again. "Yes, I understand what I should do. I should get a better employment agency. I wonder if those burger stands have vacancies for wise old men?"

Monday, August 08, 2005

Two shoes for the price of one

A few weeks ago, I was at the dining table having mashed cardboard for breakfast.

It may have been oatmeal, but then there's not much difference between the two.

Mudslide was doing the usual sunbathe, frolic, lick, sunbathe routine. But when I next looked at her, she'd added another step: sunbathe, frolic, tear outer layer of microfibre low boot to shreds, lick, sunbathe.

So for the past two weeks I've been wearing the same pair of shoes to work every day, and sometimes to church. Don't even get to variety, we're talking "no chance to air" and "shoes reaching their last legs soon". (Imagine, shoes with legs!) (No need to imagine if you don't want to!)

Tonight, I did something very rare. I devised a mission: to search, to shop, and not to return unless a pair of footsie protectors returned with me.

When the first pair didn't fit, I almost did the typical Ren thing: put own shoes back on and bolt out the door immediately. But I couldn't, because my one and only pair of work shoes really is looking down at heel (hurhur). So had no choice but to do another round of the shop. Found interesting pair of espadrilles with cotton webbing for straps, which I'd glanced at and passed over earlier. Decided to try it.

Wonder of wonders, they fit (if you don't count a little of overhang on each side thanks to some broad-footed ancestor up in the family tree) and looked better than any of the other pairs I tried. They were right on the money, literally; the price tag stated exactly what I'd budgeted. So before my trademark second thoughts had a chance, whipped them over to the cashier and took out my wallet.

And Hallelujah, if they weren't half price because they were the last pair left!!!

I may seem to be blowing things out of proportion, but I've learnt to give thanks in everything, good and bad. Not to say I give thanks for everything, because anyone who gives thanks for a durian on the foot, for instance, is asking for a one-way ticket to the looney bin. But, once you know how it feels not to be able to afford lunch, you become grateful for every cent saved unexpectedly.

And so for the shoes, and all the other blessings literally falling all over me, I say "Thank you, God, and hope you like the picture."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Addition (or Multiplication) of the Mua Chee

I don't know what this incident is supposed to teach me, but I'm sure there's some profound lesson here.

I was having after-dinner dessert at a Taiwanese restaurant behind my house. A few years back, a relative treated my family to lunch there, and I recalled that dessert then had been a huge platter of the best mua chee I'd ever tasted. In about 7 years since of tasting various pasar malam, food court and shopping mall versions, I have not tasted better mua chee. Seven years seems long enough to take before you throw in the towel and conceded that to the best of your tastebuds' knowledge, yes, this is indeed the best mua chee in town.

(Yes, I do take my mua chee seriously. I am less passionate about local food than the rest of my family, but the few things I like, I like with fervour. Incidentally, if you have yet to be initiated to the mua chee fan club because of a sad state of circumstances whereby your country has no such thing, I feel your pain and feel I must describe it so you can see why I love it so. It's a large lump of glutinous rice dough that's light, blotchy grey when cooked. Yum!)

The Instruction
I ordered a single serving, which the menu said cost RM2.50. I did not ask how much was in a single serving. Nowadays, at open air food courts you get a reasonably big box (about the size of those politically incorrect fast food foam boxes from the 1980s) for between RM1.60 and RM2.00. After ordering, my best friend and I continued the sentence we'd started about an hour before at dinner. When we meet up, it's impossible to find a full stop anywhere in the conversation, so it can be said to be one long sentence.

The Production
Anyway. Talk talk talk, and soon an arm appeared before me with a dish of mua chee on it. And the dish contained... six whole pieces.

I gingerly speared one with the pointy bamboo toothpick while telling best friend to dig in. She did. We were both thinking, "What a rip-off!" And I'm quite sure we both said so in an undertone to each other.

The Multiplication
Until now, I'm still squirming at the thought that maybe that undertone was a little over, because after a few minutes, I was completely taken off-guard by another arm appearing with an identical dish containing more than twice as much as the first one had. The first dish now contained two lonely pieces, because over the past 15 minutes the RoMCC (Rate of Mua Chee Consumption) had been rather low in view of the limited supply. Without a word, the waiter took the first dish, tipped the two pieces in to join their new friends, and started to walk off.

An exclamation of surprise from us must have made him turn around, because he did, and explained beautifully why our order had suddenly multiplied. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand a word of his English due to his accent. So we just ate, in the hopes that we hadn't been misunderstood to be ordering two servings each. I did grumble a bit at the possibility of having to pay for more than I ordered, but it was still the best I'd ever had, after all...

The Comprehension
In the end, I found out that the kitchen had spontaneously prepared the second plate "because the first serving was so little". But some mysteries remain. Then why didn't they just prepare a larger serving to start with? Did they wait to see if I kept a straight face or blew a gasket so they could tell how much more to give me? Did my facial contortions really say, "He who charges much but provides little will find himself at risk of boycott from angry mua chee connoiseurs"?

The Application
Anyway. As I said, this must be meant to teach something, but I'm not sure what. It could be any of the following:

  1. It's best to complain audibly to management rather than reflexively make funny faces.
  2. It's wise to ask what the serving size is before you order.
  3. Smile at the manager and service staff a lot so they'll possibly feel bad about serving you too little.
  4. That is a good place to go to for mua chee, after all.

Oh, one last thing. I forgot to add in the description a hundred or so paragraphs back that the chewy, slightly salty boiled dough is then cut into little pieces about 2cm by 3cm by 1cm, and rolled in a mixture of crushed groundnuts and sesame seeds with a touch of sugar, and the final product is delicious beyond description. Think peanut butter with a mixture of textures and a confusion of tastes that leaves you reaching for the next piece before you're really done chewing (only applies with big servings), and you'll have an idea of something 10 times less tasty than this stuff. Think soft and squishy with coarse and crunchy. Think smooth with rough.

When you get to the part about thinking of where in PJ I believe the best mua chee can be found, let me know.

It's already almost a whole day since my last fix...

Friday, August 05, 2005

Isn't it ironic?

August 2. A busy day at Work in the midst of a busy time on Church Play Project. A Meeting is scheduled to discuss the Script and Songs after Work.

Decide to be Nice, a Rare but Fine Quality to have.

Decide to treat often mistreated friend (who, frankly, is quite deliberately nasty to me, too, but we understand each other) to birthday dinner during administrative meeting. Decide not to mention it until actually sit down for dinner. Initiate change of venue because do not like fast food and buying someone over 8 fast food as a birthday treat should be banned, anyway.

Friend arrives. I order food. He orders only drink. I ask, "Don't you want to eat?"

"I'm fasting."

This, along with other Moments, proves that Alanis Morrisette has not cornered the market on Irony.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Do, done

I had another moment of divine inspiration yesterday when, having been briefed by Jayne about what changes to make to this year's musical script, I set to write an additional song. I was absolutely bone-dry and would probably have found it difficult to come up with lyrics on par with Mary Had A Little Lamb.

Finally, having given myself the "Stop snivelling, it's not about you and your little illusions of inadequacy and low self-esteem" pep talk, I found the lyrics tumbling out in a rush, and in about 2 minutes had most of the song down.

Guess it's another lesson for me in letting go of my fears of failure and just digging into the task, knowing that it's the doing that brings results, not the idle waiting. (What did I expect, for two pages of laser-printed A4 to drop out of my expeller fan vent into my waiting hands?)

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Behind & before

Picture by Ren, July 11, 2003

Great big things
Climbing mountains, sailing seas
Leaving behind a little me

Simple small things
Living and loving, laughing and leaping
Leaving behind a little me

Forever things
Walking the narrow, forsaking the shallow
Moving forward to a greater me

In memory of Neil Hanley, lecturer and friend (died July 24, 2005)

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction; and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Matthew 7:13, 14

Cat's Miaow

"Eat, Figgy," I tell him sternly, index finger pointing at a suitably intimidating angle towards him. "You can't ask for more food when there's already plenty in your bowl." He nods, tilts his head pensively, then looks at me and miaows again. My built-in Cat Translator kicks in.

"I really don't understand why you humans think you're the smartest people around. Take yourself, for instance. I've been following you from hall to kitchen, back and forth, for the better part of half an hour. Just in case you don't get the message, I sit squarely in front of my food bowl, which is filled with some strange inedible substance, and ask you to throw it away and feed me so I can have some decent food to keep body and soul together. And what do you do? Stand there and make your weird human noises! Gesturing towards my plate and refusing to tell me what's going on, when you speak cat, fluently! The amount of stress it takes to get a decent meal around here... it's enough to make a cat go to sleep for six hours."

And after another failed attempt at getting me to give him his food of choice (top-quality ebikko from the cold waters off Northern Japan, no doubt), he gives me a blink-glare through half-closed eyes and goes to work finishing off the plate of kibble.

Figgy is one of the sweetest-natured cats to have come to this family (Whiskey being the absolute all-round winner), but doesn't seem able to accept that yes, that substance in his food dish is food.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Giant Whiskey Bottle's Job-Seeking Guide

These days, even treating your best friend to a slice of birthday cake (or three) has its fair share of hazards. What you think will be a simple matter of sidling up to a nice, friendly neighbourhood cafe (with, oh, only 3 kazillion or so franchises worldwide) and ordering drinks and cake becomes far more sinister.

I knew I should have fled the moment the man with the giant whisky bottle appeared. But no, we had ordered, and we weren't about to back out. It turns out the staff were just doing a neat little birthday number for the benefit of some young patrons (with the help of the GWB). After singing a birthday medley (in the same way as an inexperienced teppanyaki chef could be said to be delicately converting $120-apiece fresh scallops into simplified carbon), they presented both (traumatised) birthday boy and girl with a complimentary slice of cake each.

As bemused Best Friend returned to her chair after a mysterious visit downstairs, I told her, "Don't worry, you won't have to go through that. I told them we'll be paying for the cake."

P/S: I'm not as horrid as this post implies. Really, if any of the waiters at this establishment read this, you're all doing great at work, and the cake (the one we paid for) was lovely. I know you were hired for your ability to wait on grumpy customers while smiling up a storm, and not for your singing talents, and probably you only found out about the singing bit after you took the job and they gave you a magnifying glass to read the small print with. And finally, in case you're wondering, that's not a picture of one of you. My camera made this one up after I told it this story. What could I say? Dim atmosphere, giant whiskey bottle; it had to try.
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