Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Kumbayas

I guess it's time to talk about the Kumbayas.

Though Kitty Kat's time at her workplace has come to a close, it has certainly influenced many of our late night discussions over coffee and cake. For she actually chose to enter the hitherto unexplored realm of kumbaya hipster start-up that miraculously achieves decisions based on a conciliatory group consensus with mandatory shared hugs, frequent backpats and regular group singing over an office campfire.

With the ubiquitous ukulele in hand of course.

No doubt you've seen many of her impassioned colleagues - these affluent millennials huddled around artisanal coffeehouses sipping their hastily deconstructed caffeine concoctions in pseudoscientific glass beakers. For someone relatively seasoned in the intensely aggressive working culture of medicine, these modern day urban hipsters seem almost implacably alien to me.


Obviously such a hip upstart of a company comes with only a mere handful on their board above the impossibly decrepit age of thirty; with the majority only having a couple of years under their belt before being voluntarily propelled into lofty positions they are utterly unprepared for. Curious executive decisions that nonetheless give rise to some unusual work conundrums.

Imagine a human resource manager barely out of university finding himself incapable of writing up a feasible exit strategy for the underperforming employees. In fact the little milksop balked at the very idea of firing an incompetent point blank; resorting to such sadly wishy-washy methods as offering cordial suggestions instead. Apparently tough love would cause these fragile hothouse blooms to shrivel, wither and die.

Seemingly not content with filling the ranks of the company with incapables impossible to dismiss, the ineffectual manager then next decided to come up with intriguing proposals at work.

Kat : Now we have to deal with key performance indicators like Integrity and -
Paul : Stop. How the hell do you score Integrity? Does it rise year by year? Could it remain the same? 
Kat : We have no idea. There's also a Sense of Possibility.
Paul : I can't even possibly see sense of that. 
Kat : Yes.
Paul : Honestly the more sense of possibility you have the less sense of reality you have. Half the asylum patients would score really high on sense of possibility - in fact they would flap their wings to fly out of a towering skyscraper. Is that what they prefer? 
Kat : Obviously.

Really. Bringing up such tedious bureaucratic paperwork for a fledgling startup with members fewer than the principal characters of War and Peace. Offering other constructive feedback to subtly alter his proposals is only seen as a monstrous act of aggression, apparently creating an unhealthy work environment.

Manager : I sense some hostility in the room. Perhaps we need to talk about this before we proceed.
Paul : It's already past working hours and we haven't made a single decision even after a three hour meeting.
Manager : Could I offer you some feedback on what you just said-
Paul : There's going to be a knife feedback in your chest if you keep telling me that. 

Thankfully I have little of such nonsense at work to bother me since I would have gladly disemboweled him! Clearly Dilbert drew inspiration from just such passive aggressive millennial managers. Or perhaps I could be impugning the reputations of the millennials and it's just this particular group of hipsters.

You can see why we spend several evenings laughing over such ludicrous work shenanigans. Although it has me starting to wonder if the human resource manager has nefarious plans to sink the entire kumbaya hipster startup.

Monday, November 21, 2016

First Dates

“I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.” 
Indeed the redoubtable Miss Emma Woodhouse would balk at the unseemly vagaries of modern dating where young men seem to think that feminism has somehow excused them from chivalrous behaviour.

Even back then there were few workshops on how to be a gentleman. No brilliantly erudite Professor Higgins to guide us along the way. Certain acceptable habits and manners you tend to pick up as you stumble along through keen observation of the current societal mores and the occasional pointers from the elders. Not to mention the rare wallop across the back of the head when you undoubtedly slip up.

During the rare lapses between rigorous studies in school, we were fortunate enough to receive the infrequent words of advice from our teachers. Since I came from an all boys' school, the ratio of male teachers tended to be a little higher than usual which explains the intermittent class on Mr Manners. Frequently several decades older than us, these venerable preceptors hailed from an era far more genteel than ours and were equally eager to share on manly topics from crickets to condoms. There were no tedious hour-long lectures on proper dining etiquette or stylish collar arrangements but we certainly learned when irretrievable social faux pas were being committed. 

Just amazing certain things remain doubtful till now. For instance, who pays on the first date?

Well I might make an exception for Chris Evans.
Honestly it has never occurred to me not to foot the bill on the very first date especially if I'm doing the asking. Never knew there was even such a controversy till recently when the Dogmatic Duennas made their debut in the marriage market. So far the dating pool seems to be full of the cheap, crude and the crass with few true gentlemen to be seen. 

Mabel : He offered to split the bill at the end. 
Paul : What? On a first date? 
Mabel : Yes. 
Paul : If a gentleman were to ask a lady out and then insist on splitting the bill, she should head home immediately. And never receive his invitation again. 
Mabel : But it's common these days. 
Paul : You mean the men are common these days. I certainly never lowered myself to such standards. 

Even with raging female empowerment these days, the offer to wine and dine a lady should still be made. Whether to concede would be up to the lady in question. However immediately insisting on going Dutch is just so crass. Exactly what have they been teaching in schools to boys these days?


Make no mistake, I meant the first date. After that, the lack of gesture to contribute to the subsequent dates would be questionable indeed. Ladies, take note.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Wings of the Dove

Tourist : Well I swear I ain't cheap!
Paul : I totally believe you. 
Tourist : But over here, it's like everything's helluva overpriced. Swear it must be the most expensive city in Europe. 
Paul : And you've got the almighty dollar on your side. 

Even the Americans are waving their flags in surrender. Now imagine if you've only got the heartbreakingly miserable ringgit on your side.

Frequently you hear rabid raves and rhapsodies written about the unequaled splendours of La Serenissima yet you rarely get wind of the very, very few who cry a simpering rebuttal. That's because like with any reigning debutante of the season, most of the swooning devotees caught under the mesmerizing spell of Venice are frequently in possession of a handsome fortune themselves.

The poor don't last long in Venice. 
For the poor and hungry would find themselves quite sadly dispossessed on these shores. Not for nothing is Venice dubbed the rich man's playground. With the ever-increasing rents on the pitifully small acreage of sandbanks and shoals, is it any wonder that everything here costs a pretty penny?

Or at least several pennies more in comparison with dry land.

Not very friendly for the budget travelers for sure.

Even when it comes to a place to rest. Setting aside the obviously sky-high prices for the minuscule bedsits, there are also the canteens and the cafes that not only charge exorbitantly for their food and drinks but also impose a heavy levy on dining in. Perhaps one of the few places in the world that extorts an excessive price for service and a seat, again several pennies more than the usual.

Which explains why most locals would be found standing around the streets with takeaway snacks in hand.

Something that evidently frustrates our somnolent Charming Calvin who immediately loathed the entire archipelago at length. Fortunately for his rapidly depleting humour, we came to realize the Chinese restaurants charge the same flat rates regardless of table service - bless the ever-ubiquitous Chinese! Mollified by the familiar fried rice on offer, he started thinking the place quite tolerable in fact.

Until several hours later when we found something that made him cast up his hands in horror - as needless to say the public toilets cost a bomb as well.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Life in Venice

It's evident the moment you step out of the rather spartan Santa Lucia train station that there's nowhere else in the world quite like Venice. Water, water everywhere indeed. Immediately there's a sudden awareness regarding the startling lack of paved streets around; even more so the improbably paucity of any vehicles with wheels.

Well apart from the wheeled luggage bags attached to the the thousands of dumbfounded tourists streaming out from the main terminus to the breathtaking wonders of La Serenissima.

Another thing that struck me were the multiple signages around the train station. Rather than the usual automobile signs for taxis and buses, over here in Venice the large signboards had little ship logos to signify the traghetti and the vaporetti. Certainly a different world from what we're all used to as we lugged our cumbersome suitcases onto the bobbing landing platforms to catch the public transport on the waterways - the ubiquitous vaporetto which is basically a waterbus.

Of course there's always the world-famous gondolas available for a ride but that costs almost its weight in gold. 

Unlike our usual Italian medieval towns with narrow alleys that nevertheless have to be sufficiently wide enough to make room for the odd horse and wagon, Venice obviously needs have no qualms to accommodate such common roadway frivolities. Hence the disquietingly cramped quarters at every turn - some corridors just wide enough to fit our shoulders with barely enough for our baggage - as we made our way through the bewildering labyrinth of passageways with the limited directions available to our secluded hotel.

Which also had me wondering why there just aren't more deaths in Venice; what with the terrifyingly treacherous corners and dark crossings - talk about perfectly set for a murderous assassin to lie in wait for his or her victim.

Dizzily twisting left and right amongst nondescript buildings had taken its toll and it was with more than a sigh of relief that we dropped our bags on the doorstep of our little palazzo that overlooked a tiny patch of grass hosting one plucky little tree. Hard to find all that much real estate in a city made up from shifty islands of mud and muck.



Monday, October 31, 2016

Under the Tuscan Sun

As awful a traveller as I am in the air, I can't really claim to be all that much better on land since severe carsickness assails my battered senses the moment I'm dragged away from the driver's seat. So it's only fair to say that despite the beautiful, sweeping landscapes provided by the famed hills and vales of Tuscany, I found myself resolutely shutting my eyes as much as possible.

Moreover the famed hills and vales didn't prove at all conducive to the civil engineering of straight, perfectly smooth highways which is how I found myself desperately groggy as we found ourselves jolted on a bus all the way through the winding, undulating roads of rural Tuscany.

Maybe I was meant to ride on horseback!

Nevertheless - which speaks very much for the phenomenal vistas provided - I would still recommend getting on that rattling bus.

Though perhaps with a little less consumption of the Chianti.

Which was unfortunately inevitable with a tour around the region since the world famous vineyards abound in this very area. So despite booking a day trip to Siena and San Gimignano, somehow a brief detour to the vineyards had to be slotted in for the shameless lushes. Being less than a noted connoisseur of wine, obviously it was a horrifying experience to have endless glasses of wine pressed into my shaky hands for a review.

Happily by the time we made it to San Gimignano, the groggy effects of my incipient alcoholism had started wearing off; otherwise I would undoubtedly have clumsily tumbled down the steep steps heading up to the hilly fortress town. The added prize of the best gelato ever at the main piazza turned out to be the ideal panacea for my subsiding headache. Built on a precarious ridge of a hill, the soaring towers of San Gimignano served as the perfect introduction to the walled hill towns of Tuscany - and certainly explained the amazing glutes much prized by the Italian artists.

All that endless hiking up and down certainly helped!


Far larger than most of the smaller hill towns and on thankfully far more manageable terrain, Siena certainly caught my eye with its medieval splendour spread around the peculiarly shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. Quaint stores peddling souvenirs from pottery to sweetmeats proliferate in the town centre; one of the reasons I found Siena absolutely charming and worthy of a second visit! Unfortunately there was barely any time to haggle a decent bargain since the tour bus kept hankering to leave before dark.

Fortunately I managed to snag some panforte and a couple of terracotta plates to add to my stash before hopping into the bus.