Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Homecoming

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.)

Home?
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

Freakin'!

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!"

Red-faced
sweaty
flustered
excited
energised
restless
sulky
frustrated
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."

"Huh?"

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

"Huh?"

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

"Huh?"

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.
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