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.

Signed,

Quek, F & Quek, D
HSCDASA
(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!

Boo
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.
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