I love my niece. Despite her oddities and idiosyncrasies so far different from my own, I do adore Chatty Carmen.
And if ever there were any doubts of that all-encompassing love, it was painstakingly laid to rest in the scorching baked earth of the residential park a few weeks back. Under the burning rays of our unseasonal El Nino 'summer'. Rather than the thankfully cool weather most of us expect during this season, climate change - and the ever-unwelcome El Nino - has brought about the hottest days recorded here.
Aptly enough coinciding with the birthday of my niece.
Something my sister-in-law intended to mark with a special celebration. It's not everyday that someone turns twelve after all.
Sue : Let's organize a birthday party! Paul : Of course! Sue : Any ideas? Paul : Something elegant and classy; tea time at a posh place? Ribbons, lace and parasols? Sue : Umm... I was thinking more of a picnic in a park. Paul : In Malaysia. Sue : Yes. Paul : In our tropical heat. Sue : Yes. Paul : In our sweltering jungle. Sue : Yes. But more residential park. Paul : Oh.
Oh dear God was my actual response.
Sure, having a late morning picnic in the park sounds absolutely lovely when you're in the cooler temperate countries. Sandwiches and scones; champagne and lemonade - who could possibly say no to all that especially when it comes in the most delightful picnic baskets?
But in Malaysia?
Calvin : I don't think I can go any further. Save yourself. Paul : Have to agree it's very hot though. Calvin : You're still in a coat. Paul : Gotta maintain a reputation!
We aren't lazing around in the rolling hills of Kent. Blazing heat aside, we also have to contend with the ubiquitous pests, both large and small from the crouching monkeys to the hidden mosquitoes. Not to mention the ever present danger of tropical diseases. See why having picnics have never actually caught on in the tropics?
But for Chatty Carmen, I braved the hellfire. Ditched the jacket though. Even our sense of style has to give way to our terribly unforgiving weather.
Paul : So did you enjoy your birthday party? Was it all you wanted? Carmen : Why did we have it in the park? Paul : @$#%@
Think most - if not all - of us have heard of the Bible. Perhaps had someone mention the Book or even quote several passages from it. Maybe you might even have read the first chapter in the Book of Genesis.
Even with several elementary years of poring through the Bible from cover to cover, I doubt I could tell you what the cryptic letters inscribed above are. Right there before you is what I gather to be the Hebrew version of the first lines in the Book of Genesis! Can't read it at all obviously though I might have some vague inkling on what it means from the translated English version of the Bible!
Which is surprisingly fortunate since it gave me an understanding - albeit a repeatedly translated one - of the Bible itself. Even then I would question each and every line presented to me since there's always a tad of unholy bias in every transcription of the verse. Lost in translation as it were.
Imagine then if I handed the book in Hebrew around to the other staunch believers? Would they just read it verbatim word for word without comprehending its hidden meaning? Or would they demand an explanation - if not an immediate translation?
So you can imagine my ... utter dumbfoundment in finding out that many of my friends have spent the past ten years in mandatory religious classes reciting verses from their own Holy Book without understanding a single word. Not a single word. Whatever little glimmer of understanding they glean from their classes is dutifully delivered by their overzealous cleric only.
With no room for discussion or deliberation.
Which I can hardly blame them since they wouldn't understand the very text that's written at all. Basically it's as if a Hebrew Bible had been handed over to me and all I could do was recite verbatim from it, faithfully memorizing line after line without understanding the exact meaning of the words behind them while my supposedly far more learned priests proclaim the religious significance to me.
Father : It's alright my son. This is all in the book. Believer : Really, father? Father : Hush, my child. Go down and genuflect as I taught you.
Didn't we leave all this behind during the Reformation?
I would certainly cry blasphemy. Merely chanting the verses without comprehending the true meaning would be far from what any of the prophets intended I'm sure! What's to stop any of the purportedly well-meaning clerics from misrepresenting what's being written in the books?
Ever since my primary schooldays, my grades have been mortifyingly average at best - approaching acceptable sometimes but certainly nothing to write home about. In fact my report cards barely earned a cursory glance from my teacher parents - no doubt just roughly scanning for those terrifyingly scarlet alarms of warning - before they attached their obligatory stamp to it. Fortunately since I did alright, there wasn't much reason for any signs of distress.
There is however one grade that I've always been inordinately proud of - and that came around only in my late secondary. The GCE O Level English Language 1119 paper marked by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. Back then, it wasn't a general paper done by everyone - since the exams came at a much earlier date and was held separate from the comprehensive final examinations done by the rest of the students.
And I guess there was a certain snotty exclusivity tagged to the paper as well since only a select few would even bother shelling out cash for it.
So in my school, getting the much coveted A1 for the paper granted a certain cachet to one's name since only a handful managed the impressive feat each year. Think we had less than ten in my state the year we took the exams.
Not to mention the English Language 1119 came with its very own awfully pretty certificate.
The things we obsess about way back in our callow schooldays. Always been a point of pride for me that I did wonderfully during the exam.
Wait, what did you say about English 1119?
Much to my dismay though, I learned that standards have slipped.
Nay, stumbled. You know what - let's just say it has plummeted down a deep, deep ravine. Ever since the learned authorities decided to remove the separate paper for English Language 1119 only to make a vaguely educated guess on the grades from the far, far less challenging General English paper, there hasn't been much of a standard to speak of. Just listen to the plaintive wails of the Malaysians going 'Oh My English' on a daily basis.
You see, a few days back I found out Diffident David managed to deal quite successfully with the radically changed circumstances. Now that would be a severe understatement since he basically performed a freaking miracle.
David : Don't think it's all that difficult. I got an A1 for English 1119 as well. Paul : OMG. David : Really. Paul : You. David : Really. Paul : You. David : Yes. Me. Paul : Standards have truly fallen.
I think I choked a little on hearing him say that.
Sure I think David has excellent prowess in the English Language - certainly enough to score on the General English paper but in the English 1119? Hell, even my brother who speaks only the Queen's English only got an A2 way back when. So yes, the bar has taken a major dip.
Yeah, way to make him believe that the English-speaking students are far more arrogant. When it comes to English 1119, I certainly am! Next thing, David might tell me that he scored an A1 for English Literature as well whereupon I shall have to set the blasted certificate on fire.
Think it's hardly news anymore that our country has taken a major beating financially with the market price of oil stumbling and sliding down that slippery slope to near oblivion. Hard to open the papers these days without some miserable little imp bringing up the issue of our once honourable ringgit teetering dangerously close to the likes of banana money.
All that however doesn't represent how badly the current near untenable situation has affected the people. Unhappily that's far more apparent in a city that lives and breathes oil - like the one I'm living in right now.
Unlike those heady days several years back when the spirits were buoyed by the unimaginably high oil prices, these days there's a general sense of sad desperation as the once mighty oil and gas conglomerates retreat into financial hibernation leaving the poor, tired, huddled masses in the proverbial cold. Leaves the rest of us all with breath bated wondering what audacious lengths they would go just to make ends meet in these troubling times.
Certainly a sobering thought.
Paul : Time for dinner, no? Kat : Actually, no. We're heading to the airport. Madison : And leaving. Kat : For good. Paul : What?! Kat : I figured you didn't handle change well.
Made considerably worse by the fact that quite a few of my friends are involved in the entire restructuring exercise instituted by the companies here - compelling several to uproot and shift to different bases of operations.
Hence the depressing spate of fare-thee-wells lately.
Though they fortunately didn't just disappear like how I said above. It was certainly a protracted goodbye for weeks - almost months - but it certainly made it even more painful if possible.
So there goes Sober Sam and Kitty Kat sailing off on their next adventure.
Just when we had a regular Scooby gang going on. Sigh.
With my job - and all of theirs - regularly necessitating movement, this has become quite an appalling routine. Don't think I'll ever find it any easier though. After all I'm an old curmudgeon who enjoys being in a deep-old rut for ages. Dull doldrums and regular routines are lovely in my eyes; never did see the joy in having constant change.
All night long as well come to think of it. With the curtains shut tight to block out any ray of sunshine. Snuggled deep inside the recesses of her She-Shed so to speak, the door to her room is securely locked; hardly opening except for the few microseconds she takes to rush to the loo. Even her meals are taken in the murky, musty confines of her bastille - at least I suspect that to be the case since she doesn't even sneak out for a bite.
Either she's secretly coming up with a nefarious plan to take over the world - or she clandestinely delivered her own love child. Then again she could just be counting the sparkly dots on the ceiling boards. Don't know which one I'm more worried about.
Since her door remains perpetually locked for reasons unbeknownst, I guess no one will ever know.
Paul : Ah, you're out of prison. Paisley : Yes, I am. I see you got a haircut. Paul : Actually I've already had three haircuts since you were incarcerated. Even had a permed afro once. Paisley : Really! Paul : Well you wouldn't know for sure, would you?
Though I'll admit that I can never understand folks who set themselves up for self imprisonment. Do they really enjoy solitary confinement? Know it's quite hypocritical for me to say so but don't they ever see the need for some fresh air? Some blessed sunshine?
Paul : Are you still alive in there? Paisley : *grunt* Paul : What? Are you crushed by a cabinet? Paisley : I'm alive. Paul : Just give fair warning if you're about to expire yeah. Don't wanna clean up the decaying corpse after.
Cabined. Cribbed. Confined.
Indeed. The proverbial girl locked up in the tower. That's one of the tenants here in Netherfield, Pretty Paisley.
And then Pretty Paisley creeps out of her dark, dank cell and whines 'OMG I am so bored. There's nothing to do here.' Then starts to wonder why there's nowhere to go, nothing to see, nothing to do.
Hell yeah, when you've been hiding in the cave all day doing a Gollum! Now how do I answer such a question without a firm backhand?
An overworked plebeian from Malaysia who imbibes caffeine ( though slowing down some ), drives dangerously ( same as prev. ) and writes bedtime stories about guys into other guys to indulge in wicked unfulfilled