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.
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