Friday, July 28, 2006

The End of the Affair

There are so many things I am going to miss about this job. I only have time to list a few of them. But for the record, I will always think back on this experience fondly.

The moments when Marcus forgets he is a supervisor and talks and jokes with me like a regular dude. Comparing clothes with Hilmy everyday to see how un-colour-coordinated we are. Running madly around the office to look for a box that I can cut a slit in for the “top-secret survey container”.

Talking about sex for half an hour with Raz and Aileen while everybody sitting around us chips in with risque comments. Laughing with Geraldine so hard that we can’t breathe and I’m starting to cry. Turning around and kneeling on my chair to chat with Yu-Jin. Giggling over lunch with Reggie, Reb, Ding and Dass. Nancy shouting my name across the room and making me jump. Frantically pounding out papers at Jun Lin’s elbow.

Running out at eleven-thirty to talk to M in the watery gold of the late morning.

At the end of the day, it’s been great. And I don’t know how to thank you except to say that this has been a chance that I am deeply thankful for.

I’ve learnt so much.

But somehow, right now, the only memories I have are of the people who taught me.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Grey Gardens

I fucking love this man so much, I want to have his babies. (Just a figure of speech, you know.)

How hot is he?!

Happy Birthday, Rufus!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Becca's Orders

Ms Reb misses me (or so I flatter myself) and so tagged me with this little task:

Rule 1: List 5 weird or random things about myself.

Considering I already have weird things about me listed down in great detail, I guess I’ll just go with random things about me (although I have a feeling they’re going to turn out to be pretty weird anyway!).

1) I am an earring freak. I LOVE earrings and I have tons of earrings bought and made from all over the world. In fact, I’m so earring crazy that I pierced my third earhole for the express purpose of wearing more earrings and I had to start keeping an earring inventory to keep track of the 50 pairs or so that I currently own. Amongst them are a silver pair that read “Baby”, a brown pair made of feathers and beads, 3 pairs made by my mother and a gorgeous pair of small hoops with real diamonds in them from M. Considering that I only pierced me ears about 2 years ago, that’s not a collection to sniff at!

2) I have been to a Paul McCartney concert and seen him “live” at such close range that I could have thrown a stone at his head and sent him to join John and George. I don’t suppose this is a very impressive fact for many people. All I can say is, the Beatles wrote a ga-gerbillion amazing songs and are my favourite band in the world for all-time. Now that’s some serious allegation right there. So you’ll understand how this experience was practically a holy one for me. I had an unbelievable time and despite him not being my favourite Beatle, I will never, ever go to a better concert, short of the four of them getting back together and re-enacting Rooftop Sessions.

3) I am neither a tea nor coffee person but like both in equal measure provided they are relatively milky, not too sweet and aren’t made with the noxious instant stuff that tastes like it’s going to put hair on your chest.

4) When I was younger I created an impromptu rain dance that caused huge storms to happen when I did it. Coincidence or not, it actually brought rain pouring down on three occasions in nothing less than torrential quantities. Needless to say, I don’t dance it anymore for greater good of all mankind.

5) I am initially shyest in front of the people I like the most.

Rule 2: 5 people I want to do this:
(If they even read this!)

1) Fongster!
2) Miea
3) My brother
4) Sera
5) Beck
6) Priya
7) Wen Yi
8) M

I know it says 5, but I’m a rule breaker, baby!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Live and Learn

When I was in Secondary School, I was taught English by an Englishwoman who was strong-minded, sharp and sure of herself. As students, we often quailed under her critical eye. Some time in the middle of the year, she commanded that the whole class write her a book review, an order that was met with great complaint.

I hated writing book reviews simply because I didn’t see the point of them and so tried to put this review off until the very last minute, when I grew frenzied over recess and cobbled together a hasty piece of work. It was a review on a book that I had read and re-read and so knew from cover to cover. With this knowledge and strings of grammatically correct English, I managed to pull off something that I thought looked decently passable, nevermind that the handwriting was scrawling and slanted untidily across the page.

I handed it in and promptly forgot about it in favour of the latest Backstreet Boys single. When the review came back, the mark on the top right hand corner was a big, red one inscribed in a large circle that had been dented into the paper with force.

She had failed me.

I didn’t understand what had happened until I read the comments at the end of the assignment. “This is too good to be your own work,” she had written. “Do not hand anything else in to me until you are capable of something more original than copying the blurb off the back of the book.”

I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry in my life. I actually couldn’t see straight for a few minutes and only managed to sit, shaking in my seat as the other papers were handed back. Other students had been corrected and criticised, but no one else had been flatly failed on the grounds of unorginality.

Frankly, I was insulted. Not only had she blatantly accused me of plagiarism, the one crime which as a “writer” I would never knowingly commit, she had also insinuated that I was personally incapable of writing something that was mildly competent. I couldn’t understand how she could pass such simplistic judgement based on good spelling and grammar. Worse, I had spoken whole-heartedly about a book that I loved and had, instead, been written off as something a publisher had slapped on the back cover. The one thing, however, that made my blood boil, was the fact that I had been underestimated.

In my world, my delicate fourteen year-old sense of honour and pride had been deeply wounded and ridiculed.


Now, I catch myself doing very the same thing to other fourteen year olds.

Where I work, the one thing that is reiterated over and over again is simplicity.

“Make your language simple. They cannot understand the way we normally talk.”

“Try not to make the message too complicated.”

It is a well-known fact that the probationers we work with are not necessarily academically-inclined and so, are not as easily drawn into pretty words, layered arguments and philosophical trains of thought. But I couldn’t understand why some people kept telling me to dumb myself down in order to speak to them. Surely they were capable of understanding the gist of what I was trying to say. Surely even if they didn’t completely comprehend, they would be pleased that I was talking to them like adults, like people as opposed to offenders. (If it was me for instance, I would rather be given the opportunity to try and fathom something than to have it made easy for me.)

Geraldine and I have long grappled with this question. Just how much could one simplify without compromising the main idea? How much could the probationers really understand? And for me, wasn’t it offensive to talk down to them? The memory of the book review is still fresh and I know what it is to feel patronised and looked down upon. I would never want to make another young person feel that way.

But until today, I didn’t know where to make the distinctions.

Then I saw Adlinah in action. It was the best group work session I had ever attended. From the start, she spoke to the boys with something I had only heard of until now. Respect. She laughed with them, talked with them and most of all, discussed issues with them in their language, without making it seem like she was being condescending.

Instead of using didactics, she explained to them that if they wanted to smoke, they should be smart about it and not break the law as long as they were not hurting anybody else. She told them that having tattoos didn’t make a person bad, rather it was the image and the connotations that the tattoos conveyed that made them seem taboo. She told them that it was really in their power to make the choices that would govern their lives and the way the law treated them. And she praised them for their maturity and intelligent suggestions without being falsely positive.

They liked her and she took to them and made them pay attention. And they really opened up and talked about the things that they wanted to ask like, “How can you be good and still keep your reputation?”, a question which was personally an eye-opener for me.


I have one week left and I’ve finally learnt that cutting down on the bells and whistles doesn’t mean avoiding the difficult issues and tough love, that underestimating somebody is not the same as using their “lingo” and talking on their terms.

I’ve also learnt that there are wonderful, accomodating people who can be nice all the time and smile all the time to everyone despite being tired, overworked and challenged at every turn.

I have discovered that no matter how tired I am at the end of the day I can always make time for M because she always makes time for me and is one of the most supportive people I know.

And I now know that wanting to do the job and being well-read are no substitutes for really caring, although the former attributes will come in handy as complements.

So I have one week left. It’s been a helluva ride.

And now the only thing I really want to know is how I can be a better person.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


“here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”

-- E.E. Cummings

I love you more than words can ever say. But I’ll try my best anyhow.
Happy Birthday, M.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Exodus Song

Today, Yu-Jin drove us to the Prisons in his neat little powder-blue Getz.

As he rolled the windows down and turned the radio up, I looked outside, and the afternoon poured in. We zig-zagged through other cars and crowded streets before turning off onto the highway.

Gradually, the buildings thinned into neat bungalows punctuated by the occasional school and the scent of clean grass. Children ran about on the fields kicking soccer balls, shouting at each other in voices louder than the flourescent yellow of their bibs. Trees spread out on either side of us like huge green umbrellas, their shade dappling my face and lap. The macadam hummed beneath the tires, backlighting the soft rhythm of the jazz drums.

Still, we drove on, slipping into the suburbs where the huge glass behemoth of an ITE blurred by us. Housing blocks loomed in the distance, their sides peppered with flags and washing drying in the sultry afternoon sun. Now and then, an open field would burst into vision, taking me by surprise.

Along a little slip road terrace houses sat cheek-by-jowl. Red Chinese gates framed by stone lions sitting on the posts bled together with little western porticos woven with hanging plants. An old lady stood on her tiled driveway with her white Spitz. Like art, the trees continued to fly above us, sprinkling arpeggios of the sun across the windows.

The air glowed golden and I felt my body gently suffuse with an unspeakable warmth and ease.

It wasn’t the manicured aesthetic of the Australian farmland or the vast greatness of the American plain. Yet, there was an indescribable beauty in the light, music and the water-shadows of the leaves.

Here was a secret magic that only I could understand.

And against my better judgement, I felt my heart fill with love for this country.

Overheard at Work

Two colleagues discussing a Carnal Connection Focus Group Discussion:

Aileen: So just put the file up on the database.

Raz: Okay. What should I call it?

Aileen: (deadpan) Sex.

Raz: Erm… okay… how about I just put “Focus Group Dis –”

Aileen: (not missing a beat) Oral Sex.

Oh my god, she’s so hilarious, I just had to burst out laughing.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Somewhere Downunder

I hate Australia. Actually (before you yobs get your knickers in a twist) I don’t hate Australia. As a matter of fact, I really like koalas and kangaroos, the ridiculously sentimental Quantas theme song and my own dog is an Aboriginie. It’s just that of late, Australia has been stealing an awful lot of my friends. Some for a short while, and some for a long time, but they’ve all succumbed to this land of closing shops and vineyards.

Granted, I don’t know much about Australia. But I can understand why so many people would want to go there. It’s beautiful and big and nearby and is a great place to live or retire or bring up children. And where I’ve been, there’s something about the space, the air and the colour of the sky that moves me.

It’s just that I miss the friends that are there sometimes, miss their presence and wish, just a little, that they were nearer.

I miss Priya even though she’ll only be gone for a month because now it means we can’t just meet randomly for coffee and gab about everything under the sun. I’m glad at least she’ll be entertained by the Iron Chef and that she remembers me through Scientology although that’s rather a dubious honour in my eyes!

I miss Becky and her straightforwardness, how we could always just ramble on about almost anything ranging from music to sci-fi to which character we were going to kill off next in our books. I miss the way we can laugh about the most offbeat things. Deadpan humour is sorely underrated.

I miss Sera because I miss the special connection I have with her. I miss being able to talk to her in person and actually see her expressions and hear her laugh. This is my favourite photo of her because it reminds me of just how much fun we’ve had together and all the madness that we’ve been through.

I suppose what I’m saying is that distance is sometimes felt, no matter how often you stay in contact virtually. For now though, I’m glad they all have this wonderful chance to live in an amazing country and that their paths so far have been safe, blessed ones, for the most part. I only hope that I will see them again soon and that Australia will treat them with the love they deserve.

To Priya, Sera and Beck, wherever you may be, I hope you will always find your heart in a home.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Hymn of Hers

Some words that had been banging around in my skull for awhile finally banged themselves out onto paper.

So cry me foul for wanting this,
For wanting danger in a kiss,
When all that’s wanting is the truth,
My head and heart are full of you.

The heartbeat bears this bleak charade,
Where stolen glances barricade
The dark adultery seeping through,
My head and heart are full of you.

Do you draw back, are you aloof
From fear of my mind’s expose?
Or does my countenance bear proof
Of what my lips dare not betray?
My secret love, my secret lie,
I wish to but cannot deny,
This guilt allows me no excuse,
My head and heart are full of you.

Yeah, so it needs work and it’s no Whitman. At least it’s something.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Can You Keep A Secret?

I confess…

… that I try my best to put in longer hours at work because I don’t want to, can’t bear to go home.

… that I am still dweeby and awkward and flustered around people.

… that I feel guilty if I give one stuffed toy more hugs than the other.

... that sometimes I just want to lie in the dark in a foetal position and never have to get out and face the world again.

… that now and then, I wish I was anorexic because then my parents would be concerned about things that actually mattered, like health.

… that you thrill me and scare me all at once because I cannot imagine my life without you anymore but that if I told you in all truth how I felt, you might laugh at me and so I hide it in casual, lively emails and hope that somehow, you know how to read between the lines.

… that sometimes I go out of my way to avoid you because I care what you think.

… that sometimes the nightmares I have frighten me so much that I turn on the
table lamp and lie on the floor with my dog.

… that I talk so much to cover up the things I cannot say.

… that I’m scared.

… that I’m broken.
… that I’m yours.

Monday, July 03, 2006



I am CRAZY about chocolate. Well, I suppose that’s not weird in itself. I love pralines and truffles, I’m quite fond of Nestle, a sucker for Kinder Bueno and I’ll never say no to M&Ms. The strange thing is that I love all chocolate, except Cadbury’s. Yep, that’s right, Cadbury’s.

I know that there’s going to be a ton of eye-rolling and disagreement about this because after all, Cadbury’s is the mecca of chocolate (not the Macca, mind you, that’s probably Godiva). It’s the first one most of us put into our mouths and the one that gets us all hooked on the sweet, brown, creamy manna that the Aztecs called the drink of the Gods. And it’s probably the one with the greatest range of flavours and different recipes.

Even I started off eating Cadbury’s mini eggs and hazelnut bars.

Which is why over the years, I’ve come to decide that Cadbury’s isn’t actually chocolate after all. I know it sounds crazy, but take it from someone who eats the aforesaid treat a lot and I mean, A LOT. If you eat a cube of Cadbury’s plain diary milk chocolate slowly and really taste it, it doesn’t taste much like cocoa at all!

After giving it a lot of serious thought (I don’t joke about my chocolate, now!) I hypothesise that this is because the makers of this particular brand have slapped together a lot of sugar and milk and a brown substance that I like to call Mockolate©.

Mockolate©, I believe, is a blend of chemicals and cheap ingredients that when put together manages to pass for cocoa powder at a quick taste. What it really is though, is a conspiracy by what is potentially the biggest chocolate company in the world to cut costs by chucking in extra vegetable oil and sugar. What Mockolate© comprises specifically, I cannot tell. Actually, for all I know, it isn’t Mockolate after all, but that isn’t the point! It just isn’t all that great and leaves a strange after taste behind.

I know at this point I’m going to have to confess that I do like certain Cadbury flavours which are pretty darn good such as Crunchie and Cherry Ripe, but again this is because the chocolate, sorry, Mockolate© component is relatively small in them and therefore doesn’t quite offend the tastebuds as much! If you think about it, Cadbury’s costs around the same as a lot of other chocolates and yet, thanks to the advent of Mockolate©, must be minting a ton of money and we all know how much influence powerful, omnipotent MNCs have!

Am I saying eat less Cadbury’s? Why certainly not! It’s just a quirk of mine, and after all, they have that adorable ad-compaign going with the purple and white cows, chocolate houses and people and the Beach Boys song. All’s I’m saying is, now you know what REALLY happens behind the closed doors of the C factory, though remember, you didn’t hear it from yours truly.

Besides, that leaves more of the other brands for me.

M bought me the most adorable glow-in-the-dark sheep mobile ever (she truly caters to my every whim). I’ve hung it on my light so I can see it whenever flick the switch for bed because, y’know, counting sheep in the dark is the thing to do. From where I am, I can just see the little sheep with their curly fur jumping in a circle over an imaginary fence, bleating happily all the while.

It’s so cute, I feel like stabbing myself in the eye.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Trial By Fire

It’s been a really trying week, actually, one of the most trying I’ve had yet and I’ve spent the whole week questioning others and doubting myself.

This is disturbing because about 95% of the time, I am a paragon of Socratic virtue. I almost always understand myself completely. I am fully aware of why I do what I do and where I stand on my beliefs.

But every now and then, I go through a cleansing, a mid-life crisis if you will, where all things unshakeable are torn from their foundations and tossed up into the air. Suddenly, all the things I once believed are made into caricatures like the psychadelic flamingos that line the backdrop of Alice’s Wonderland.

Then, I am forced to take them into my hands like shards of glass, crushing them between metacarpals and cleaving my palms just so the bright lines of blood can verify my reality.

So my life came crashing down on me this week.

People I trusted undermined that trust, my family swarmed me with the duty and responsibility of the eldest born child twice-affirmed and work still poured in. And I struggled for days, trying to understand the funk that I was descending into, trying to figure out why I seemed weighted down. My mind tore itself between wondering if I would ever be able to trust anyone again and whether I would be able to live up to the expectations that everyone seemed to have of me.

Worst of all, I couldn’t fathom my own actions and the fact that I seemed to have lost control of all my faculties.

I couldn’t explain myself away.

Being me is like being two people trapped in one skin. I am the person I hate and I care for the most, the person I know and who mystifies me the most, the person who I most like and most loathe being alone with. I am my own greatest enemy, my own coach and mentor.

Most of the time, I ride this acid-trip like a pro; after all, I’ve been on it for twenty one years. Sometimes though, it takes twists and turns that frighten even the most foolhardy adventurer.
On the worst day of all, I had to leave my desk and sit in the dark just so I could breathe and remind myself that I had to pull myself together and function. I tried to hold it all in as best I could.

Now and then, there were chinks in my armour and I’m not proud of it. But I learnt something. Each time I neared breaking point, there was someone there for me, someone to belay me. Like a heaven-sent miracle, there were friends to pull me through.

Rebecca came to sit next to me at work and talked to me, asking me if I was okay and holding my hand with her words. She made it okay for me to admit my weakness and for me to say things that I hadn’t managed to choke out for a long time. And who listened. Just listened.

Then there was Do, who bought me tickets to a play so that I could get my mind off everything else.

And then there was M on the phone every night, her voice like a beacon lighting the rocks of a safe harbour, towing me home. She reminded of what I was living for and why I was working so hard. She held a steady course while I cried over the silliest things; the inconsequential death of my pet fish, my old hamster’s eyes going blind. And all the time, she never flinched from being there no matter how quiet or subdued I seemed to be.

It’s the strangest dichotomy. I know that I have to rely on myself to get through the toughest moments. But there are people in my corner. And all these wonderful friends in my life hold fort when I’m too weak to, when I need some time to gather the ends that unravel.

So really, all I want to say is thank you. Thank you for being my safety net and for thinking of me. Thank you for understanding that I can’t be everybody all the time. Thank you for understanding why I need to do this and why I want to work. Thank you for letting me enter chaos to renew my definitions and refresh my ideas.

Most of all, thank you for making it okay for me to lose my mind every now and then.

I suppose it is true that you have to lose yourself before you can be found.