Saturday, November 22, 2008

Because This Week Warrants Something Completely Self-Centered

So sometime back, while conducting interviews in the heartlands where people buy flats, I ran into an acquaintance from primary school. The acquaintance and I (let's call her Apu) were not particularly well-acquainted, just classmates across a crowded classroom. So when she saw me and did a double-take, I had no idea what was going on.

"Remember me?" Apu said, approaching me with her boyfriend in tow, hanging on to her arm. "We were in Primary school together. I'm Apu!"

"Oh right! Apu! Hi!" My eyes saw the housing form she was clutching in the other hand. "Did you guys just get a flat?"

"Yeah!" she yipped.

"Congratulations! Are you getting married then?"

"Yeah." Her hand closed more tightly around his. "I'm a kindergarten teacher now." Then, as if she was determined to make a comparison, Apu's eyes wandered over my conspicuous lack of an engagement ring. "What about you? Got anyone in your life? Getting married soon?"

"Umm. No." I waved my notebook at her for emphasis. "I'm just working now."

"Oh," she sniffed, and immediately I knew that I had fallen dramatically in her esteem. Apu was what Helen Fielding would call a "smug married", or a "smug almost married" anyway. And then the kicker: "You haven't changed at all!"

I nearly choked. I knew this girl all through my formative years, when I was a thick, plastic-framed spectacle wearing, braces baring nerd. I was skinny in all the wrong places with straggly limbs and something of a space cadet. I spat and climbed trees and ate mud (don't ask) and wore clothes that didn't match, including my brother's jeans and huge, clunky black boots that wouldn't have looks out of place on a construction site. A cross between poverty and rebellion towards anything too trendy meant I carried a huge cloth bag from the National Library that screamed "I Love Reading" on the front and combined with the boy-hair I sported, no one would give me a second look. Beck and Sera can also testify to the fact that I was clueless about fashion, pop culture and pretty much anything teen-related apart from angst.

So considering that I now hold a steady job, no longer wear braces and tote bags that are a couple of steps up from free gifts, I imagine I look a little different. At least.

Over lunch with my colleagues I told Mav and Jay about the little run-in I had with Apu and they nearly snorted laughing their heads off. "Hey!" I protested, "Do you know how frustrating it is to have someone say you look exactly the same when you've been trying to get cooler all these years?"

"Actually, maybe if you did something to your hair - " Mav giggled with good-intentions. "Or the glasses -," Jay chimed in, unable to keep from tittering behind her hand.

"Oh, wow, thanks. Just stop right there dude," I blustered.

"No seriously, all you need is your "I Love Reading" bag - " Mav teased, always handy with a few bon mots for me.

My glare only made them giggle further. Unconvinced, I sought M out. She pressed her lips together in the way she does when she's trying to keep from laughing, even though her nostrils quivered suspiciously. "Um. Well, I have told you about the glasses -" she began and I threw my hands up.

GAH. I give up. It's not that I haven't tried. When I left secondary school and started meeting boys in Junior College, I tried to be cooler even though my mother stopped me from hemming my skirt by a couple of inches. I lost the braces, joined a band, carried a backpack like the rest of the kids and was introduced to the joys of the safety razor. In university, M's horror at my brother's jeans, which she referred to as my "fat pants", led to a massive overhaul of my closet into things like stonewashed bootcuts, fitted slogan t-shirts and the occasional skirt. I started attending concerts, swearing and even went through a period of time where I wore contact lenses day in and day out (the fact that I've even used "attending" in this sentence is testament to my inability to be "with it").

And now, at almost 24, looking back on the 10 to 16 phase during which I was a positively heinous little brat, I feel like I have made some progress. I'm a lot less pious than I used to be and while I used to balk at the idea of things like abortion and questioning my sexuality, I now never say never. I'd like to think I'm a lot less judgemental (though I assure you, I'm still a lot more judgemental than I strive to be) and not quite the snot who once rolled my eyes at people who watched Chinese drama serials.

I can walk down most streets without tripping, never (okay, seldom) pick food up off the floor and holy jumping catfish, Batman, most of my clothes match!

I actually listen to all kinds of music without condeming it as demonic (as Beck once said: "I never thought I'd see the day that you stood front row at a heavy metal concert and enjoyed it.") and I drink alcholic fluids without flinching. M's approval of my wardrobe has increased tenfold and on a good day, I can feel relatively cute.

One big step for me, however, goes mostly unnoticed by the rest of mankind. Dodo still laughs at me for being a nerd and when I meet up with my friends, I watch them in their svelte, belted dresses, pin-thin stiletto heels and upswept hair and still feel like a farmer's daughter in my ragged pants and converse. Everything came to a head when I cornered my brother in the kitchen one day and demanded to know if I was cool.

"Jie..." he hesitated, clearly trying his hand at oft-unused tact, "You' very cool, in a kinda Gilmore Girls way." MEH. BEH. FEH.

FINE. I suppose the truth is that while I'm a lot more graceful and feminine than I used to be, I'll never actually be as groomed or elegant as the other girls. I'm always going to like writing things down all the time and prefer wearing glasses to lenses. Talking to myself is something that's become a deep-seated habit and I never will learn to stop bursting out in random song or smile on the train or bus. I'm always going to be noisy and as D will know, I will snort when I laugh with the best of them.

And as much as I want to be one of those gauzy, graceful butterflies in River Island and french manicures, I'm only ever going to feel like I'm playing dress up, even if I've become better at faking it over time.

But really, what's so bad about that? My family and friends will always love me for who I am - my antics would have weeded out the would-be poseurs by now - and they're always going to tell me I'm cool "in my own way". They're honest enough to tell me what they think of me, and still stand by me for it.

I've been lucky enough to be surrounded by sincere people who have maintained long-lived relationships with me, even from back when I was awkward and uncouth and frankly, since they were awkward and uncouth too.

If people I've known over the years happened look me up and tell me I haven't changed or progressed (and that means you Apu, you self-righteous, house-buying bigot), well, I'm just going to have to take that as a sign of my youthful visage.

So. I'm 24 years young. I'm still a bit of a nerd. And in my heart, I'm always going to be a kid.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

West of Eden

The sky was still dark when I rolled out of bed this morning at almost seven, feeling very cross at having an 8am job all the way in the West.

I was sorry - sorry to leave the cocoon of my bed and blankets and even more deeply sorry to leave Chip's warm, fuzzy, sleeping form. I pulled myself together under a hot shower and threw on some clothes before straggling out to hail a taxi down to the Chinese Gardens, on the opposite end of the island from where I live.

The ride amounted to over twenty dollars, a slight headache was setting in and even the driver glumly commiserated with me for having to prance into a ministerial event firing on all four cylinders at that ungodly hour. I passed by the beginnings of a wedding on the way in and wondered at how anyone could think to drag themselves to get hitched in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday morning.

Standing on the tarmac in the Japanese Gardens, waiting for ministers to arrive, I didn't realise that vicious little red ants had started crawling their way up my calves and only snapped to when one of them cavorted under my skirt, up my inner thigh and sank its mandibles into my flesh, just below the cojones.

It felt like someone had jabbed me with a red-hot needle and I involuntarily yelped and grabbed at my groin in front of the unfortunate Public Relations woman who simply shook her head and informed me that the exact same thing had happened to her not five minutes ago. I was about as persnickety as could be.

Then, rain threatened.

The sky swelled and pressed down on the earth, turning a deep purple striated with the merest hints of dove grey. Cool with tiny breaths of wind, the atmosphere seemed to heave and sigh with electricity and tiny pinpricks of water dappled the earth from the amethyst air. The bridal party laughed and squealed at the touch of rain, tripping gaily down the path to a sheltered pavilion in their wispy white dresses and rustling flowers. Undeterred, the bride continued to smile and pose on a rock, resplendent in her frothy gown.

Against the low, plum-coloured sky, the mint green weeping willows and misty casurinas looked like something out of a myth. A tiny red bridge arched over a glittering expanse of rippling silver-purple lake. In the distance, a single nine-storey pagoda was the only alabaster thing rising from the grassy ground.

In that fresh, cold, slightly biting wind, the world looked like an ancient Chinese watercolour painting, all shades of wine, emerald and forest that made my heart squeeze and choke. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

And suddenly, I wasn't sorry anymore.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Still Life: An Empty Vessel

Dear Girl,

I remember the first night it happened, you got pretty mad. You had your earphones jammed in, listening to Twist and Shout so loud that it hurt - anything to block out the noise of being taken forgranted. Like a man obsessed, you did everything you could to ignore the people around you, creating twisted, macabre little pieces of art that made you seem more dark and demented than you really are.

The next night it happened, and the next, you pretended nothing was wrong though you were so incensed that it was watching the world pass through a haze of red heat. You may even have cried though mainly, you were just feeling angry and more than a little murderous. The rage was like a huge stone pressing down over your heart and mouth, blocking the words and forcing them out as tears.

Well, the last night it happened, you got really fucking pissed off. And still, you followed the sun to ground like a wandering cowboy watching the shadows grow longer and finally pall in the face of night. We had a long talk past midnight you and I, and I thought maybe we'd reached a consensus though looking back now, I'm not surprised I was wrong. Morning broke, and you went back on your word. I can't say I was mad - I'm not really responsible for what you do half the time and frankly, it's not like I'm in charge of the clean up either. You can jump through all the hoops you want and I'll always be here, waiting patiently for you to regain your senses, or not. It's no skin off my back - metaphorically speaking, you understand.

As long as you're sentient though, I want to point out one thing.

You may be quirky, but we both know you're also really quite sane. People may laugh, but it's not like you don't know how to make them take you seriously either. You're far less emotional than you've been behaving. You've survived on this earth almost twenty four years without getting yourself killed, arrested, knocked-up or screwing up otherwise. And you're almost always far from suicidal.

So do me a favour and get your shit together some point this millenium. We both know you're more than capable of it and if (and when) you get there, we're going see eye to eye on a lot more things. You know where I stand and I know where you want to. Besides, I'm a little tired. For the best years of your life I've been fighting for you, and I don't know how long I can keep it up.

Butch up, bitch. It's about time.

Lots of love,

Your Mind

Friday, November 07, 2008



Super's a tasty piece of carpet. Snowman, I've met my roof - nickel household.

Most sincerely,

Brighton Fire.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Of Tension

Missed me missed me, now you've got to kiss me
If you kiss me, mister, I might tell my sister,
If I tell her, mister, she might tell my mother and my
Mother, mister, just might tell my father and my father
Mister, he won't be too happy and he'll have his lawyer
Come up from the city and arrest you, mister,
So I wouldn't miss me if you get me, mister, see?

Missed me missed me now you've got to kiss me
If you kiss me, mister, you must think I'm pretty
If you think so, mister, you must want to fuck me
If you fuck me, mister, it must mean you love me
If you love me, mister, you would never leave me
It's as simple as can be

Missed me missed me, now you've got to kiss me
If you miss me, mister, why do you keep leaving
If you trick me, mister, I will make you suffer
And they'll get you, mister, put you in the slammer and forget
You, mister, then I think you'll miss me won't you miss me
Won't you miss me

Missed me missed me now you've got to kiss me
If you kiss me, mister, take responsibility
I'm fragile, mister, just like any girl would be
And so misunderstood, so treat me delicately..

Missed me missed me, now you've gone and done it,
Hope you're happy in the county penitentiary
It serves you right for kissing little girls but I will visit if you miss me
Do you miss me? Miss me?
How's the food they feed you?
Do you miss me,
Will you kiss me through the window?
Do you miss me? Miss me?
Will they ever let you go?
I miss my mister so.

- Missed Me, The Dresden Dolls