Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Statue Everyday

You ever get the feeling that nobody in the whole world is sane but you?

And you would give everything just to right the world on its axis again?

Drift down, and sleep your soul with me.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Well Done, Us!

It was a fantastic feeling today, when the 5 large-screen televisions that are permanently on mute boomed into life at 7pm exactly.

Groups of colleagues clustered around the newsroom expectantly, drinking coffee with only one eye on their computer monitors, nervously making little jokes about after-parties and Russian fury. Everyone from the most high ranking editor to the most junior journalist (probably me), slowly wandered across the floor to join the little cliques forming in the centre.

Somewhere across the island, a huge crowd gathered in a field, keeping an impatient, buzzing vigil with restrained energy.

Even from where I was sitting, I felt a frisson of nervous adrenaline as minutes ticked slowly by, a humming undercurrent of excitement. And then, when the results were announced, waves of relief and delight surged and broke, reporters who could not have cared less hours before cheering and clapping, whoops of surprised pleasure.

In that field, random people were now hugging each other, jumping crazily on the spot with lightheaded joy. In midst of it all, the Prime Minister was getting crushed and hugged, a silly grin quivering on his face.

It felt great that moment, to be part of this underdog country that has, at long last, been seen, heard, taken seriously and done something wonderful to make its mark. It was something I'd hardly fought for, but I still felt proud, proud that we'd managed not to fuck it up, and with great flair.

I can only wonder at what the atmosphere would have been like if we had lost.

I hope the Muscovites will fall asleep peacefully in their beds this night, they should be proud too.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Atlas Shrugged

Usually, on this day of the year, when we’re meant to spend our time visiting relatives, I’m tucked safely away in North Malaysia with my grandparents and closest cousins.

We set up bonfires in the yard and burn things, cook melted chocolate and marshmallows and have sparkler Olympics while my grandmother bustles around insisting that we refrain from setting her grass on fire. We wake up late and laze around the huge island in the kitchen eating rice and beef curry out of large battered pots from the neighbourhood stall.

Unfortunately, this year, work commitments and a dearth of bus tickets means I’m stuck in Singapore with all the men in my family while my mother lives it up in her ancestral home. Though I am sad that I’ll be missing the yearly cookout and lion dance, I figured now is as good a time as any to be grateful about the many wonderful things in my life, stressful though it may be.

Here are eight of my favourites, eight being the lucky number of Chinese choice (in no particular order):

1) Being on course

I love my job but it can be really really heavy going at times and fate was smiling on me the day my bosses nominated me for a course to train me up in the basic knowledge required for my line of work.

Not only does this mean that I get to leave for home at five every day, it also means that while my poor colleagues will have to go back to slogging on the second day of Chinese New Year (which really really sucks), I am able to spend it resting at home, in the presence of season two of The Office and other assorted movies and chick lit.

2) M

Everyday I realise anew how lucky I am to have someone who is both my best friend and my other half, my refuge, my listening ear, my sparring partner and the hot date I get to usher around town on my arm every day.

Yesterday, she did the most ridiculous thing ever – we were walking around Tampines Mall and I was considering buying a pair of sneakers, but we’d just looked at the Converse ones and they were at least $40 a pair, a little over my budget. As I was kicking around outside the store, she came rushing out and said, “Hey there’s a really cute denim pair on sale at $19.90!”, which sounds unbelievable for a pair of Converse sneakers.

I went back into the shop and checked the tag on the shoes which said $59, and asked if she was sure, to which she replied, “the discounted price isn’t written down and anyway, I just spoke to the cashier who is (insert name of friend)’s brother and he said he’ll give me a special price. The cashier did indeed look like (insert name of friend), so I tried on the shoes and was about to pay for them when M whipped her card out and did the whole thing.

As I was exclaiming in surprise, I came round to her side by the counter and saw that the shoes were actually $59, and she had told me they were discounted so I would let her buy them for me and just pay her back $19.90! The goddamn cashier wasn’t even remotely related!

When I was done yelling and laughing in disbelief, I managed to thank M for the very nice (advance Valentine’s Day) present and if you see me strolling around tomorrow in a very cute pair of new shoes, you’ll know it’s just one of the amazing things she’s always doing for me, all the time.

3) My friends

If I had to write about the wonderful friends that I had here, I would probably never finish… needless to say I have this great group of pals whose always there for me, no matter how annoying I get (which can be very), and who will never hesitate to be sympathetic, but also honest, which I treasure deeply.

It took me many years to realise that the best friends are the ones who will support you but be straight with you no matter what happens, and who don’t ever take offence at the many nonsensical things I have to say, but instead accept me as being loud, mildly potty-mouthed and not a little strange!

4) Chip

This being the Year of the Rat, he has come up with a new way to test my limits – breaking through the fence of chicken wire I painstakingly set up on the upstairs balcony to run on the awning that acts as the roof of the floor below. Naturally, everytime he does this, I just about die thinking: today is the day he is going to fall off the awning and break his neck.

Every time he is NOT trying this new trick out on me, I am extremely grateful and happy for his presence in my life and I don’t know what I would do without my best buddy keeping me warm under the blankets at night.

5) My brothers

When I was younger and used to have issues with my brothers, I used to wish fervently that I had a) a sister or b) was an only child. Now that I am the queen of the children (in the most metaphorical sense, hah!), I’m glad that there is no annoying little girl whom I have to content with to be prettier or skinnier or smarter, and I get along with my brothers just fine.

And now that we’re all grown up and much more rational, I realise just how nice it is to have people I can kick back and watch The Office and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer with (never let it be said that boys don’t get Buffy) and who totally get my sense of humour, even when it’s not all that funny.

6) Drumming lessons

Initially when M suggested that we take drumming lessons, I was mildly skeptical about the whole enterprise. My hand-eye coordination is non-existent, as is my sense of rhythm, so I wasn’t sure of how the lessons were going to pan out.

Thankfully, however, we have a patient teacher who is willing to teach any random song that we plead to learn, and I really enjoy the process of sitting in front of a kit and just shutting out everything around me.

I’ve found that I have this ability to block out everything and just pound away at the instrument, which means that although I am abysmally bad and sometimes even block out the song that I’m playing, I enjoy it very much. And for about an hour each week, I get a sense of freedom to play as loudly as I want and really get stuck in it, which is very refreshing.

7) My black iPod classic!

I love having music everywhere I go, and my iPod is just the thing I turn to when I feel I need a soundtrack to back my movements on a daily basis. It’s a little silly but very gratifying, I can be my own DJ and listen to the most embarrassing, bimbotic music I want and no passer-by has any idea what’s going on between my head and my ears.

More than that, I resisted asking my parents for an iPod for four years because at the time, I didn’t want it much and I figured that I was going to earn it unlike my brothers who got theirs for free. It was the first thing I bought with my first paycheck, I walked into a store and got one after I’d dithered over it forever, and everytime I look at it, I feel proud because of what it symbolises to me.

8) The ridiculously large bag collection in my closet

Okay 1) I’m shallow and 2) I love bags. So even though they don’t really represent anything more intangible and emotionally fulfilling than the joys of consumerism, I get a real kick out of changing bags every few days and it can really make a bad day bearable.

Just knowing that I have (at least) ten bags in different colours, shapes and sizes for every purpose imaginable under the sun makes me excited for some strange reason, and as Becky will attest, I’m always willing to spread the love!

At present, I’m using a large red Mango bag with a slouchy shape made of large faux leather squares stitched together like a parachute.

And that’s my list… random but really helpful in remembering that I have things to be delighted about despite the fact that I won’t be there as my cousin tries to blow my nephews and nieces up with his illegal collection of fireworks this year… what things are you guys happy for in your lives?

Monday, February 04, 2008

Velvet Glove

“I want you,
I want you so bad, I want you,
I want you so bad it’s driving me mad, it’s driving me mad.”

When I have run out of words to say, I plagiarise McCartney.
When there are so many words I don’t know how to contain them all, I steal from Lennon.
Somebody's jumped the gun, and it ain’t Mother Superior.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dreamful, Sleepless

American McGee's Alice In Wonderland

We often ask of ourselves: Do humans dream in colour?

I dream in cinemascope, a rich, multi-layered phastasmagoria filled with imagery that provokes every sense, every sight and smell reverberating as if I were on LSD.
Sometimes this is pleasant enough, as if I were spending a normal day in the life of a normal girl. But often, and often enough that it has become a menace, what starts out as a seemingly innocuous dream quickly morphs into a sinister nightmare that is as real as my hand before my face. Every dark, strangled detail twists itself before my eyes like American McGee’s Alice In Wonderland, and worse still, when I wake up, I can remember every single thing.
Those who don’t dream as vividly can never understand what it is to shoot upright in the dark, wet with a cold, clammy fear of unspeakable horrors. They can’t know what it is to wake up more tired than when you went to sleep, feeling more pain from the R.E.M world than the real one.
My dreams are not realistic tales of being chased downstairs by robbers or attacked and killed by lecherous men; they are darker and more seperentine, a neverwaking, neverending fantasy.
And because they are terrors which only I can concoct and which only the labyrinth of my mind can justify, they chill me to the bone.

Recently, they have become more frequent in occurrence and I notice that they have started to affect my waking life as well.
I walk around, dull as a spectre, exhausted from struggles with my personal minotaurs.
Worse, I have always had dreams that seem to speak to me of a deeper issue in myself, something which needs to be resolved and which has always been masked by the blank, smiling veneer of everyday life.
Once, it was a scientist who endeavoured to degenerate all the people in my town into single celled organisms by preaching salvation to them. Another time, it was an aged wizard, cunning as a vulture, who kidnapped me as a twelve-year-old and hid me in his castle with every intention of practising paedophilia on me.
Last night, my demons took the form of toys.
I was standing in a giant toy box, large as a garden, chequered in shades of pink and plum like a disney chessboard.
A line drawn jaggedly along the middle of the box indicated a vague no-man’s land in which danger lay and no toy dared to step. On the “safe” side, two-dimensional trees gnarled upwards from the garish ground, phony as pop-up cardboard.
The toys sat there, scattered all round the flat trunks, floppy and still in a silent picnic.
I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. I was merely plagued by a nagging sense of unease and an immediate distrust of my surroundings. Pressing close to my side was the only other living thing in the whole box, an enormous rottweiler who growled in a low, steady throb under his breath.
His hot flank steadied me and I assumed he was my dog, there to protect me. The toys were macabre in their tableux, almost completely innocent-looking, except for little quirks that rendered them hideously frightening, though I could not conceive why.
A pink terry-cloth rabbit peeked inquisitively out of one cute button eye. The other eye, however, was missing and had been replaced by thick patchwork, a black slash crossed with shorter perpendicular stitches, ragged as if some clumsy, evil hand had ripped its way through the stuffing. The eye slanted downward towards the nose, impossibly devious and sinister when juxtaposed with the innocent rose-coloured skin.
They were all malformed, I thought, shuddering.
And then they moved. Not quickly but as one, in slow, tiny jerks as if a puppet master above was awakening. And in those ragged, mummy-like movements, they flopped towards me.
Immediately the dog beside me began to growl more loudly, his fear and rage evident in the little muscles that jumped beneath his flesh. I started to step backward in horror when they spoke, without their sewn on mouths moving, but in a chorus of sing-song, high caterwauling that made my hair stand on end.
Play with me. Play with me,” they wailed and screeched, twitching closer and closer to us.

“Oh god… oh my god…” I was trembling so hard I couldn’t think. I turned to run but an army was encircling us from behind too. A doll with vacant, blood red eyes stumbled at us while a jack-in-the-box with glittering, serrated teeth sprang out of his home with every fumbling step.
Play with me. PLAY WITH ME.” The childish screeches were almost deafening, now more threats than anything. They lolled and jerked towards us with a slowness that was infinitely more menacing than a run; we had nowhere to go.

“Do something, please,” I begged the massive dog, almost in tears.
He responded by stiffening his hulking mass and growling so loudly that every muscle in his body vibrated. A rag doll with a cold, toothless smile was almost at my feet, and the pink rabbit was flopping violently up and down, as if in its eagerness to climb over the doll and get at me.
My legs were completely cold and numb now, and as a toy monkey with clashing cymbals that could almost certainly slice off a human finger between them emitted a shrieking laugh and leapt through the air at me, I cried out in abject horror and threw my hands up to cover my face.
Then, the rottweiler leapt.
He crashed through them, skittering them like hollow bowling pins, his big black-brown bulk swinging in an ungainly arc. They howled as they were flung, ululating with a witchlike intensity that I could hardly bear.
Those who were thrown a short distance righted themselves, only to jerk themselves towards us again, like marionettes with no purpose other than obeying an invisible master. The dog fought valiantly, making a circle around me and savagely mauling any toy that came within one foot of me, but there were too many to fight off and the monkey with the cymbals leapt at my shin, gashing them badly.
“No!” I cried and in desperation, flung myself across the demarcation, throwing my body from the “safe” side into no-man’s land.
As suddenly as they had started, the toys were completely silent. The air was cold here, and deathly still. And on this side of the line, I was starting to feel a palpable fear, but one that was no longer hallucenogenic and childish but a dark, cold chill that stroked its finger along my spine.
I was afraid to look up, back across the line to the safe side, but I did.
And when I saw it, I scrambled backwards across the floor on my hands and heels in horror.
They were not toys anymore.
They were people. Standing there, with dangling arms and heads drooping from their necks like zombies, like hollow shells of people with a fiery hate burning in their eyes. The trees were no longer trees but crooked, crumbling towers of black brick.
And my rottweiler, my beautiful brave giant, was lying dead at the feet of a woman in a stark labcoat, his throat slit by a knife in her hand.
As I stared, she brushed a hand over her spotless lapel, straightened up and walked slowly towards me, her heels clicking on the ground, now chequered black and white. She was the only straight, proud, animate thing in that field of still, slightly swaying zombies and her eyes were intelligent, cold and more evil than anything I’d ever seen in my life.
As the corners of her mouth quirked upwards in a malevolent sneer, realisation dawned. In crossing the line, I had moved from the world of appearance into a world where I could see everything for what it was, and the woman, this lady evil, was on top of it all, she was the one pulling the strings.
She strode, every step deliberate and purposeful and crossed the line without pause. Then, she reached down and in one swift gesture, committed without any feeling, yanked me upwards by my hair.
“That was easier than I thought,” she whispered in my ear. Her voice was smooth and crisp with metallic undertones.
“Please.” I said in hushed monotone, tears starting to drip noiselessly from my eyes. I could not find any gesture big enough to display my racing fear and sorrow.
“All my people needed to do was keep you on that side of the line for long enough. And they did, of course.” Her breath was blistering cold on my ear.
“Keep me long enough for what?” A whimper was creeping into my voice and my eyes were blur with falling tears.
“To prick you with these.” She dropped me on the ground and held up a hand in front of my nose for me to see what she held delicately pinched between thumb and forefinger: an impossibly thin sliver of a needle, only one inch long.
“What?” I breathed, reaching up to touch the back of my head. And with mounting horror I felt the heads of two dozen tiny pins, impaled along my softening scalp. Now that I knew they were there, my skin registered the sharp, smarting prick of each one. “But – but, what are they?” My head was beginning to swim.
“Poison,” she stated with the throwaway gesture of a shrug. “Each needle containing just enough to make you a little more helpless. And here, the last one. All I need now to make you one of them.”

I looked through hazy eyes at her, feeling a tired weight nudge its way through my body now. “Please,” the tears were running messily with snot now. “You don’t have to.” But the words were slurred.
“Sorry,” she said, without a trace of remorse. Then, she snatched up my hand in her cool one, and with a darting precision, slid the last needle into the epidermis of my fingertip. Pain raced from the tip of my finger into my limp hand and I felt my heart begin to seize up.
Fighting dizziness and nausea, I started breathing through my teeth, the breath hissing loudly in and out as I took long, deep breaths in an effort to stay conscious. As the breaths I drew grew louder and louder in my attempt to keep on even keel, my vision blurred until all I could see was a sea of grey, and my breathing sounded like the rasp of a saw, thunder to my ears.

And then, most frightening of all: I woke up.
I opened my eyes and realised the rasping I was hearing was not only in my head, but coming from my chest in raw, dry sobs so loud that Chip was staring at me in wonder in the darkness, awakened by my heaves.
As the dizziness from my dream slowly cleared and my breathing regulated itself, I became aware of a throbbing pain in my middle finger on my right hand. In disbelief, I flicked my bedside lamp on, and in the ghastly greenish glow, I found that I was digging the corner of my thumbnail into the fingertip, so hard that a red puncture wound had formed and the skin was almost broken. It was the spot the needle had pierced in my dream.
I lay on the floor with Chip for long moments after that, too tired to move, to scared to go back to sleep.
It feels increasingly like world in my head is oozing, creeping into the one outside it. I don’t understand it. What am I chasing?
My feverish imagination never used to bring such fear.
Now, it seems I’m Alice and the looking glass holds no more wonder for me.