Thursday, September 30, 2010


Oh yes, I am a Taylor Swift fan.

Yeah, no need to fall off the chair. Kinda weird, I know. Surprising for a cynical fellow like me. But I guess the music does creep up on you. Nothing like easy listening melodies and intimate lyrics - coupled with constant replay on the airwaves - to make you fall.

Though I love her sappy sentimental lyrics, I confess I still haven't fallen for the whole come-rescue-me-sweet-prince fairytale she still has going on. Love story with the handsome knight riding in with the white horse? Sounds terribly sweet but don't tough country chicks like Taylor blast their honourable heads off with a six-shooter?

I know. Frilly lace and pretty bows, I can get but I've never exactly been the pretty princess twiddling my thumbs waiting for someone to come rescue me. Rather till my own farms, build my own castle and hold princely auditions.

Of course that's far better than her other persona of the scared, doe-eyed wallflower being dumped upon!

Boy : Oh my girlfriend's upset. She's going off on something I said cause she doesn't get my humour like you do!
Taylor : Your pretty girlfriend who's cheer captain in short skirts while I wear t-shirts on the bleachers?
Boy : Yeah.
Taylor : Can't you see that I'm the one who understands you? Been here all along so why can't you see? You belong with me!
Boy : Oh shit. I think I have static over here. Think we're breaking up here. Did you say something?

I'd have thrown the phone at the blind fool of course.

Seriously, dude. Can't you see she's a babe from ten feet away?

But sweet Taylor never does so. Sitting in her room with teardrops on her guitar, poor lil Taylor wails over her broken heart. Gotta admit though that I find it hard to believe that the burly jocks in school wouldn't go for her. Seriously? Are the country boys collectively blind? Gorgeous leggy blonde like her? Even her worst detractors - bad-mouthing Kanye West included - would agree that Miss Swift's reasonably attractive by any standards. Surely she would have more than her fair share of suitors knocking down her door.

Didn't think that my brother would be amongst her fans. Yes folks, my brother has a Taylor Swift CD in the car. He listens to songs about girls crushing on their boyfriends. My brother.

Now that's just plain weird.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Chicken Rice Follies

Although a prosperous, God-fearing bourgeoisie predominates in this little town, there is little attempt to whitewash the less palatable segments of the population. In fact - and this is novel to me - the red light district's quite surprisingly conspicuous in town. So you'll have a brightly-lit toy store situated right next to a booming bordellos - with the prerequisite dim blue neon bulb - blatantly soliciting randy oil drillers.

And I certainly don't mean toys of an adult nature in this case.

As I've always been in favour of decriminalizing prostitution, I applaud these unintended attempts to legitimize the time-honoured profession.

Having an infamous red-light district displaced across the entire length and breadth of the town inadvertently led to my first encounter with a prostitute here. Bumping into such streetwalkers in the seedy back-alleys of Patpong would be annoyingly common but here in genteel suburbia, I've only had minimal contact with them, apart from an occasional curious glance to see the painted ladies in their cages giving come-hither looks to potential customers as they pass.

But why curious?

Well, I've always wondered exactly how much they charge. Unfortunately as a gay man, I've never really been in a position to inquire. What the hell would I do with a willing woman? Always figured that asking the selling price and then walking away snickering would probably lead to a furious bitchslap from one of the working ladies. Or even worse, their burly, tattooed pimps.

Turning tricks by the stairwell?

But as it turns out you can actually have chicken rice here as you're trolling for other white meats. Surprisingly ironic. By the chicken rice stall, you have a succulent succession of steamed chicken dangling on hooks - and on the other side, you have birds of quite another feather on display as well, all painted and rouged in revealing minis no bigger than my napkin.

Which is how I received a lewd proposition along with my oily rice.

Girl : Come try us, sir.
Paul : What?
Girl : Come over here and find out.
Paul : Quite unlikely for me to try anything.
Girl : You no like me? See my friend also so pretty.
Paul : I'm sure she is. As are you. But I'd prefer just finishing my dinner instead.
Girl : Come on, sir. It's been a long evening waiting. We'll show you a good time, we will.

Followed by a cacophony of smooching noises and bawdy whistles. Far from enticing but I could see how a horny offshore worker would find them alluring. Sultry rainy night that it was, I'm pretty sure business has been lagging of late. The poor gals must be really bored to be hitting on the sole gay man in the shop.

So I asked them what I wanted to know.

Turns out it's not as profitable as I imagined. Either they were kindly offering a first-time discount - or I've been mistakenly led to think that the working girls were making money hand over fist! Guess maybe it's only the more fortunate ones in Toyota Alphards then.

Still no rent-boys in sight though. No virile, hard-bodied natives in tanktops trolling the streets for tricks yet. Wonder if I should check out the duck rice stores instead.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Netherfield Estate

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a paltry fortune, must be in want of a country estate.

All it took were half a dozen house tours, five apartment viewings and several hours of deliberation. Finally to the real estate agent's unbridled delight ( and relief no doubt ), I've finally chosen a place of my own. Though I only undertook a one-year lease to see how the rented estate fits.

Hence the given name Netherfield.

Ramshackle old place. Far from being the perfect country seat, Netherfield estate certainly earns the unenviable designation of a fixer-upper! Horrid cherry-stained wood panellings. Tired-looking pink-tinged floor tiles. All matched with shockingly garish fuchsia flowers on the sadly faded floor-length curtains - a cherished item which the happy owner - a Mrs Elton - proudly proclaimed to be specially purchased from highly esteemed city merchants.

If she desires me to appraise her ceiling plaster again, I just might have to stab her with my inkpen.

Obviously part of the nouveau riche, our Mrs Elton couldn't quite finish reciting the manifold virtues of her far newer - and larger estate. Not that Netherfield wasn't a perfectly lovely place but she couldn't quite live in such a quiant country manor any longer. Simply intolerable! My, what would her neighbours at the club say!

Paul : My word! Quite unusual fabric for the curtains!
Mrs Elton : Pretty pretty yes? I specially choose this cloth! Not cheap I tell you.
Paul : It certainly speaks highly of your taste.
Mrs Elton : Red curtains to match the house leh. Very french looking la!
Paul : Perhaps I should paraphrase by saying that it shrieks loudly?
Mrs Elton : Also put those nice pictures of red peonies to match the floor. I've been told I have got quite the taste leh.

Certainly succeeded in going for the terrifyingly mismatched look. No doubt the splashy scarlet spectacle compelled the previous tenants to vacate in a tremendous hurry with various kitchen utensils discarded by wayside. Even found a burnished copper kettle tossed into the drain close by.

And I've only started with the living room! Can't adequately describe the acid-green cabinets in the kitchen without reaching feebly for my snuffbox.

But I persevere. Though cruelly mistreated by the previous shabby-genteel residents, Netherfield isn't entirely irredeemable with neither style nor taste. The bare bones of the structure's still pretty well enough. Definitely salvageable material. Several large airy salons that would benefit tremendously from a little tszuj. Nothing a heap of elbow grease, a little paint and a pinch of style won't cure!

Certainly a challenge for me!

First thing to do is burn those offensive curtains.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Miri as the Main Event

In time I've been here, I've actually grown to like this sleepy hollow.

A sly combination of persistent pressure, threats and bribes have coerced friends and family to come visit me in my exile. Unfortunately once they are duped into coming, there's honestly nothing much to do here tourist-wise. Even the guidebook's woefully thin with barely enough items of interest to fill a handful of pages. With all the natural attractions sights out-of-reach hundreds of kilometres away, the city environs itself might as well be a deserted ghost town.

At the moment, cash spillover from the numerous oil and gas multinationals here still gushes out constantly - along with money printed from the timber felled in the lush tropical jungles. But natural resources like these don't last forever - in the blink of a couple of decades, they would be exhausted and this litle city would naturally fade into obscurity as many of our forgotten tin mining towns have. Even now the city's young professionals are leaving in droves.

Foreseeing such a calamitous event, the city's forefathers have been touting Miri as a resort city and the gateway to the wild hoping to lure the almighty tourism dollar. Oddly enough, the attractions offered - the world-renowned Mulu Caves, the spectacular Niah Caves, beautiful beaches, exciting game fishing, colorful coral reefs, exotic tropical rainforests - all lie miles away from the city itself. For a resort city, there's really nothing much to do here. No wonder most tourists think of the city as an overnight stopover before jetting off some place more interesting. Even the locals from hereabouts go somewhere else for recreation and you're selling the town as a tourist mecca?

O brave new world that has such people in it.

Which is a pity since Miri should be the main event rather than the sideshow.

1) Be nice to the Travellers

Seriously. Don't fail at this as the peninsula has. Nothing quite as important as having perfect sign posts and ready information. Tourist maps should be readily available with pertinent information included ( e.g. bus routes ). Unless you're clandestinely peddling marijuana, hiding the obscure tourist information booth in the backyard of a seedy inner-city bus station isn't the way to go.

And can I request that some of the surly, incompetent waitstaff / salespersons be sent to a gulag for formal retraining? I simply can't spend my days giving them public dressing-downs for lousy customer service!

2) Arts & Crafts

Don't even mention the apathetic handicraft centre left to languish in the sweltering summer haze!

Concerted efforts should be made to revitalize the centre. Monthly fairs on the weekends? Offering free booths to the locals ( and even the expats ) to showcase their own works of art? Have classes to teach those willing to learn? The arts & crafts of the indigenous people here are simply unique - and worthy of acknowledgement. Beautiful batik handicraft abound in the city yet there are hardly any art galleries around to showcase their hard work. Even the little tamu market selling local produce needs a serious makeover.

And let's face it, cultural villages with indigenous tribes grouped into separate houses might be kitschy but it works to keep the shutterbug tourists happy.

3) Places of Interest

Unfortunately Miri isn't all that old a town. Perhaps a century or so? Apart from the first oil-well here named the Grand Old Lady, there are hardly any other places of historical significance - even the older shophouses by the river have been refurbished to look almost brand-new. There is a tiny clocktower but it has been whitewashed over so that's passe. And unless it's Tsukiji Fish Market, there's nothing much to boast about the market here.

So, sorry guys but you gotta start building some sights. You already have a crocodile farm and marina built which is great. But you do need more than that. Really. Theme parks. Entertainment venues. Hell, even a leaning tower would do.

4) Enough with the Parks & Seaside

Really... parks? Perfectly good recreational activity for the sedentary locals but unless you have an extraodinarily unique concept for a park, don't even bother putting it in the guidebook. No sane tourists will flying in here to gaze at potted plants. And the water's here are coloured an awful murky brown. Touting the dubious beaches here for a swim would be seriously counter-productive.

For the adventuresome few, introducing hiking trails through the hills surrounding the city would be good.

5) All that Jazz

Evidently having the jazz festival here every month of May does draw the crowds.

But rather than growing complacent with the plaudits, the festival should expand and improve by involving the city itself. Emulate the eminently successful Edinburgh Festival. Rather than confine itself to the country club exclusivity of one venue, they should paint the town! Have the artistes showcase their talents in the clubs and pubs around town. Get the nearby city schools to participate with choirs and glee clubs. Promote special offers for jazz artistes that month - books / CDs / DVDs. Instead of relying heavily on outside talent, invest in our local jazz acts as well. Sheila Majid. Sean Ghazi. Shanon Shah. Atilia.

Even the petite Zee Avi who originated from here!


Seriously, Mirians, why settle for the opening act to the wild outdoors when you can be the diva of the north instead?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That Spiral of Depression

I'm not a particularly emo fella.

Overly emotional boys who break that seemingly inconsequential nail, then start spiralling into a whirlpool of despondency where dozens of other unresolved issues start getting sucked into the woefully potent mix? Honestly I find these boo-hoo boys baffling - though I'll admit there's always this near irresistible urge to give them all a hard shake.

Tough love, that's me. Which is what I do when I find Charming Calvin ( who is shockingly prone to such fits of despair ) occasionally dipping a toe into such a morass of dejection. Rusty nail leads to a broken door which leads to a fragmented flat which leads to a damaged apartment building which leads to a towering crash which leads to ... You see where I'm going with this. Probably ends with the calamitous destruction of civil society as we know it.

I'm not saying I'm entirely immune to such alarmist thoughts. We all have what seems to be insurmountable quandaries sometimes. But whenever I find myself tottering near the edge, I usually give myself two backhanded slaps to get myself out of that blue funk. Mentally speaking. The ones that can be solved I lay them out on the table. The ones that seem nigh impossible I shelve for later.

Feeling low?

Curling up into a ball in a dark corner sobbing quietly to the strains of weepy emo refrains isn't a reasonable solution.

Perhaps it's the nature of my job. Looking at a sole patient as a whole would leave us all adrift wildly scrabbling for answers - so we start compartmentalizing. What took years, and occasionally decades, to form isn't going to disappear miraculously overnight. There is simply no way we can possibly solve all the medical problems when they are presented. Not to mention the new ones that crop up as ensuing complications of the above!

Compounding the problems certainly doesn't help.

So we split them up into manageable problems. You have an elderly nonagenarian with multiple organ failure - basically falling apart - so we split him up into kidney failure, heart failure etc. Then tackle them accordingly with reasonable targets to be met in a certain length of time. Some problems take longer to solve after all. Some you probably never will.

Turn impenetrable mountains to simple molehills. Easier to handle, that's all. Do what you can. And for the few you can't do anything about, find help. Out there, there's someone who has survived a similar calamity. Talk.

There's no need for a breakdown.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Golden Nail

Medical trends these days seem to favour having the expectant fathers present during the delivery. Their presence in birthing classes and the delivery room is a natural given - and many fathers wouldn’t dream of missing out. Rather than patiently wear out the squeaky hallways twiddling their thumbs while passing out cigars, modern dads-to-be are expected to share in the wondrous miracle of childbirth - with their horrified faces no doubt several feet away from the bloodied vaginal gateway as the baby comes roaring through.

Same goes for the caesarean section.

Although most of the fathers look as if they'd rather have a painful vasectomy than endure the childbirth, they still manfully march into the operating theatre with their multi-functional cameras faithfully slung around their shoulders.

Though I find the fellas mostly redundant since the anxious mothers are far too involved in the coming event to bother much about them. Far from offering succor and support to the mother during the labour pains, some turn out to be quite a hindrance instead. Quite a number of men are squeamish around blood, turning quite fearfully green when blood spatters around them.

That's why it was so novel to have a father like Burly Beng around.

Not the usual kinda dad!

Big bearish hulk in a coloured hawaiian shirt and faded jeans with curious tattoos running down each arm. Engraved gold doubloons encircling his thick neck to match the shiny gold bands encased on each finger. Not forgetting the prerequisite long fingernail on the little finger! Just the ugly sort you'd want to break down doors - and legs - when collecting rent.

Fearing that the thug was there to raise havoc, I was this close to calling security only to be creditably informed that he was the prospective father-to-be!

Rather than sit quietly in the background clutching his wive's feeble fingers, Burly Beng decided to take an active role in the surgery. Didn't point out any mistakes of course but he certainly asked a dozen probing ( and curious! ) questions about slicing red meat. Instead of carefully avoiding the bleeding gaping wound made by the scalpel for the caesarean section, Burly Beng leaned in for a closer view, seemingly enraptured by all that gushing red blood.

Playing with his nail every few minutes.

Which prompted this whispered conversation with the surgeon once Beng had stepped out of earshot.

Paul : He was standing awfully near the surgical site.
Surgeon : And didn't look in the least bit afraid of the blood at all.
Paul : Inured from all that bloodshed. That's what happens when you've butchered a few recalcitrants.
Surgeon : Very true. Not to mention the red paint on the walls.
Paul : You better didn't leave an unsightly scar on his wife.
Surgeon : Hoping I didn't as well.
Paul : He might just shoot us both where we stand.
Surgeon : Or cut us up with a butcher's knife!
Paul : You didn't have to encourage him by answering all his weird questions!
Surgeon : I had to. My back was to him. He could have kept a machete in his shirt!

Murderous ah bengs and gold bling aside, I still have a question. Why the protruding nail?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Your Lease is Up

It's not my first house.

But back then, I just walked straight up to the office, picked a semi-auspicious number and signed some legal papers to buy the house. Easy-peasy.

This time however, I've been to half a dozen barely furnished warzones, walked through a couple of beautifully appointed condos - and even trekked quarter of a mile through a swampy construction site to a concrete shell with bits of torn scaffolding. Deciding on the choice of houses gets a bit complicated since I have to choose between renting and buying as well.

Wonder if I could get a houseboy who looks like that!

Though the complicated land tenure system here has me leaning towards renting. Yes, I do think about land titles and such these days!

Agent : Buy this house then.
Paul : Is it freehold then?
Agent : No leh. It's on leasehold. Sixty years.
Paul : Sixty years?
Agent : Ya! Very good leh. Most of the houses are built on land under lease.
Paul : Not if I were to live till a hundred! Imagine if they built a six-lane highway right across my house!
Agent : You really funny guy!

Seriously. Imagine being a crotchety ninety hobbling on a cane and you have stern government officers at the door forcing you to vacate as the lease is up. There goes your lovely bungalow as they plant a nondescript strip mall right on top.

Wonder if he'd find it funny then!

Perhaps back during the glorious colonial reign of Brooke & Co, it was fine to grant such a short lease to the budding real estate magnates. With tropical diseases, vicious headhunters and man-eating crocodiles around, it wasn't likely that many would live past the ripe age of sixty! Brooke obviously didn't intend to have wealthy landowners gainsaying his authoritarian rule.

So what excuse does the government have on keeping such a peculiar land tenure system? I know a freehold land title doesn't exactly guarantee anything - for a minimal fee the government can still bulldoze over that pretty cottage of yours - but hey it's marginally better than a sixty year lease.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Chinese Towkay Style

Remember the brief mention I made about the vast McMansions over in the wild, wild east?

I've actually been thinking of moving into one of the monstrous behemoths out there. Easy enough to just ring one of the dozens of real estate agents around - though not so easy to get through the entire morass of confusion, miscommunication and language blunders.

Agent : This one very good house. Cheap cheap.
Paul : Great to know.
Agent : Right next to main road. Good good.
Paul : How convenient.
Agent : And it has all the furniture.
Paul : Fully furnished. Trust me, I cannot miss it. Try as I might.

And you just can't miss it. Gleaming fuchsia panelling all over the living room with pink ornaments. The flashier, the shinier, the better. Seriously. Interior designers around the world, please seek your employ here. Nouveau riche Chinese towkays with land, bricks and cash aplenty to spare. Though very much lacking in style.

Come stay with us!

In fact I'm thinking of setting up shop myself. Can't be worse than the designers they have here already.

Agent : You like the house?
Paul : Everything's great. Except the window treatments.
Agent : Window treatments?
Paul : There are windows on all sides of the house. And they all have discoloured, broken plastic blinds.

Agent : You like the house?
Paul : Everything's great. Except the house is blue.
Agent : Nice colour ma?
Paul : Neon blue. It's like the Smurfs got butchered by Gargamel here!

Agent : You like the house?
Paul : Everything's great. Except the house is full of metal.
Agent : Very safe lo!
Paul : Aluminium everywhere! From the doorframes to the furniture. I'd have to wear shades just to come in. And the aluminium grill is in the shape of a Chinese word!
Agent : Lucky house wor!

Too big. Too small. Too blue. This is all starting to make me feel awfully like Goldilocks. With every house I was shown, something turned out horribly glaring in the interior design. From scary multicoloured horses tacked on pillars to peculiar diamond-shaped windows.

And no, my agent didn't look in the least bit like Ethan Ruan.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Blowing Smoke

Though I'm not a smoker myself, I've always respected the right of someone to smoke.

Little steps, people. Since the government's already let the smoking demon loose, it's easier to just regulate the usage rather than to outright ban it. Just don't blow smoke my way. In fact, I'd probably order each building to have a special self-contained room for adult smokers to be incarcerated during break time for a ciggie. So go ahead and light up.

And I meant adult smokers. Not impressionable minors who don't want to know any better. Forget about the shockingly visceral, gory warning signs on every cigarette packet. Trust me, the threatening message is sent and received. Unfortunately the target audience - the kewl kids just don't wanna hear it. Hell, what they'll do is get a pretty nifty cigarette case to stuff the cancer sticks in and continue puffing away.

Gods, I need a smoke!

Witness a young patient of mine - who surprised even a jaded soul like me.

Paul : Do you smoke?
Patient : Yes, I do. A pack a day.
Paul : How many years have you been smoking?
Patient : Been smoking for the past ten years.
Paul : Ten years?! Wait, you're only twenty.
Patient : Umm. Yeah.
Paul : Oh.
Patient : Yes.
Paul : Ten years. Really?
Patient : Yes. Really. Ten years.
Paul : Enterprising lil kid you were.

Seriously. Though it's just too little too late already, I wouldn't know whether to whip the kid - or his irresponsible parents. While laying blame around, don't even think about leaving the parents out of it. Short of harbouring the demonic Damien Thorn in your household, any other child of ten should still be pretty malleable. If you don't know that your resourceful ten-year-old has taken up smoking as a chic hobby, you should reconsider parenting.

No wonder something like this has happened.

The smoking toddler in Indonesia, yes. And the lackadaisical parents waive the nasty habit away as something the spoilt babe wants. What he wants he gets. Would they give in as easily if the kid wanted to shoot up heroin instead?

And they dare say gay men would make worse parents?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

News Fresh from the Bowels

Patients these days leave me thoroughly puzzled. Not only for their eagerness to attempt risky, highly experimental procedures but also the obsession to record the smallest minutiae of their complicated medical disorders. Video cameras in the labour room, framed photos of sonographs and youtube videos of trapped earwax.

And then you have the beautifully rendered views of your colonoscopy on a DVD. Handed out in nicely numbered and addressed white envelopes as you leave the hospital.

Exactly what do you do with all these documentation?

Paul : That was one helluva colonoscopy. It deserves a hand. Hell, give it an encore!
Ginny : Wonder what they'd do for a sequel!

For the laypersons, a colonoscopy constitutes the endoscopic examination of the colon and the distal part of the small bowel with a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube. Think a scenic train ride up your anus with a few pit stops during the large bowel route and ending two stations after Appendix Central - barring the occasional obstruction in the form of fecal landslides of course.

Not exactly the kinda video show you play for the curious neighbours during a formal dinner party. How exactly do you introduce a video showcasing your freshly laundered bowels?

Joe : Oh Fred and Alicia, come watch my colon!
Alicia : OMG.
Joe : Yeah, a bit of shit here and there. Probably shouldn't have taken a large dinner the night before. Oops, there's a big one.
Alicia : I think I might hurl.
Joe : Hold on, you haven't even seen the large polyp yet!

Seriously. No one - not even the greatest perv - needs to see your colon all the way up to the appendix.

Same goes for the sonograph and the earwax bit. Short of being your personal attending physician, I don't think anyone really wants to know what's going on! That precious sonograph of your fetus is just black-and-white patches to anyone else like a Roscharch ink blot. The precise high-definition shots of your bleeding vagina as the newborn baby is ripped out is just the next horror-suspense movie waiting to happen.

What's next? Gallstones as earrings?

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Pity for Filial Piety

Yes, I do mean pity :)

Perhaps I'm an old-fashioned guy but I do think familial obligations should always come first. Believe the common adage says that blood is thicker than water - which would mean that family ( and certain bosom buddies ) trumps colleagues and acquaintances. Weddings and family christenings come before office dinner parties.

Certainly ailing father in hospital trumps exotic holidays.

Or at least I used to think so.

Kid : Gotta go, doc. Get home and pack for my holiday.
Paul : Wait, isn't your dad in the intensive care unit?
Kid : But the ticket's all paid for!
Paul : Perhaps I didn't impress upon you the severity of your father's condition.
Kid : But I've planned this trip for ages!
Paul : I'm sure he's very sorry that he inconvenienced you with a massive heart attack.
Kid : Oh, I asked and he told me to go ahead on my trip.
Paul : Mumbling past the feeding tubes and intravenous drips around him - through a mind-numbing haze of sedatives and painkillers?
Kid : Yes.
Paul : What filial piety!

I was appalled. And would have gladly backhanded the irresponsible kid ( followed by a two-hour long slideshow presentation on filial piety ) if I were even vaguely related. Fortunately for the sake of public relations, I wasn't.

Sorry, man. I know you're dying but your kid went for a holiday in Spain.

It does make you wonder how kids these days actually think.

Seriously kid, get your priorities straight. How dare you even ask your father on his deathbed that shockingly impertinent question? No one's expecting you to emulate the drastic measures given by the Twenty-four Filial Paragons δΊŒεε››ε­ - by offering to be bitten by mosquitoes or lying on ice to catch carps! All you need to do is forgo the trip and stay a couple of days! Pity the poor father lying there on his hospital bed while his spoilt college kid's begging for a jaunt to the Hebrides.

Even if he was the most dysfunctional parent in the world, he still tried his very best. And you would do well to bloody remember that.

Kids who abandon dying fathers. Kids who insist on an expensive education. Reminds me of my horridly unfilial cousins who sneaked away rather than offering to discharge their late father's medical bills! Oh, the heavens weep for such ungrateful children.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Brooke & Badrudin

Tragically, the little I know of the history of Sarawak comes from the brief mention made in the pages of our secondary history textbooks. Where the name James Brooke figures quite prominently. Who can forget the iconic figure of the dashing young British explorer who bravely sailed up the treacherous crocodile-infested rivers of Sarawak in his ship, the Royalist to lend aid to the ruling Sultan of Brunei.

And later being granted the entire kingdom of Sarawak in an expression of gratitude from the Sultan, thus beginning the reign of the White Rajahs. Not bad for an intrepid adventurer of little means with a nifty gunboat! No doubt the relieved Sultan of Brunei was only too glad to be rid of a wild pirate-headhunter-infested, trouble-making region in Borneo.

Exploring the virgin jungles!

That's the little I remember from my history lessons so I figured it was a time for a refresher. To my surprise in my ten-year hiatus from the textbooks, James Brooke has actually turned gay.


Yup, that virile, handsome daredevil seems to have had a thing for men, the comely dark-eyed local boys - particularly a certain Pangiran Badrudin, a native prince of whom he wrote 'my love for him was deeper than anyone I knew'. A harrowing romance worthy of a Brokeback Mountain - by way of Santubong - blockbuster.

Much later James Brooke even embarked on what seems to be a courtship with a younger male associate, Charles T.C. Grant. Coupled with a patent disinterest in women, it seems historians have painted James Brooke as a homosexual. Makes me wonder if they had any male Sleeping Dictionaries back then.

Kinda explains the relative tolerance for alternative sexualities in these parts. What with the much-publicized wedding of Jessie Chung and Joshua Beh being held here.

After all, what's good for the Rajah...

Really, the things you learn on the internet these days.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

That Gap Year

Back in medical school, we all have these little elective postings cleverly disguised as leisurely holidays - but in reality serve as mandatory indentured labour at the nearest hospitals. The Mother Teresas of the group usually pick menial drudgery in the busy inner-city hospitals, slaving away in internal medicine and surgery.

Me, I picked relatively laid-back radiology and a pink daiquiri on a sunny beach in OZ. Where I serendipitously bumped into an entire group of fellas in their gap year.

Gap Year. Ostensibly the year you take off from college to register yourself in the grand university of life. Seemed like a beautiful dream come true to me - just to have a short break as a breather from classrooms, tests, and homework assignments!

You mean I have to get up, wash up and get a life in one day?

But from what I saw amongst the disheveled coterie of surfers / bartenders / waiters, it's obviously the year you take to bum around, smoke weed and zone out on 80s television reruns. I could see how seductively easy it would be to join them. The majority would return to the academic grind after that lost year - but for a sad handful, that brief break had blurred in a seedy marijuana haze into a gap decade.

And I had one of them crash at my place last weekend.

Bum : Nah, the menial drudgery of the 9-to-5 grind is not for me. Station wagon and a twenty-year mortgage, never!
Paul : And you have been a gadabout for the past ten years?
Bum : Oh yeah, dude. The greedy corporate types will never have me!
Paul : Not in those board shorts and flip-flops, they won't.
Bum : Definitely not!
Paul : So you're planning to do this for how long?
Bum : Hopefully forever! I have this bartending gig in Papua New Guinea in a month. Maybe check it out for a few months before moving.

As much as I appreciate the need to find yourself, I don't see how backpacking around the Spice Islands with a broken harmonica would help.

I was blithely hoping that perhaps he cherished dreams of being a world-renowned travel writer or even a half-competent harmonica player - but when that only earned a blank stare from him, I knew that was a wash. Perhaps as an overburdened college student, I might have commiserated with him but at this time in my life, I just wanna smack some sense into him.

Or at least some ambition.

No doubt his beleaguered parents would thank me. Where is this complacent slacker heading in life? Can accept not wanting to rule the world but does he truly intend to float around aimlessly for the next decade?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ambulance Chasers & Loyar Buruks

Honestly I've always been in awe of lawyers. Even from the few that I know, they have always impressed me with their sheer eloquence, their analytical prowess - and the very serious thought given before uttering a single word. No doubt in fear of making a false statement!

Scary folks. From the heady days of LA Law till the recent courtroom drama the Good Wife, I've always been hopelessly enthralled by our officers of justice. Even a little infatuated with a few ( delicious Will Gardner anyone? ). Sure it's television, you say but even with all the wild embellishment for the sake of entertainment, there's always a grain of truth hidden amongst all that Hollywood chaff.

Damn. I'd fetch coffee for him.

Certainly nothing more noble than battling it out for truth and justice in the marble halls of the courthouse. But my legal eagle pals keep warning me that the brainless incompetence shown by some of the public prosecutors would have me going batty. Which I find hard to believe. Surely that many years of internment in law school would produce a graduate of some substance.

Till I saw this. Turns out I was wrong. In our very own courts, an honourable prosecutor who hoped to badger a leading witness into submission - only to have the tables turned against him when his stilted speech and illogical reasoning only brought muffled laughs from the audience. Thinking that the witness would cower as the rest of our submissive countrymen would, he tried his best to frighten her by casting doubt on her testimony only to find that the lady's made of sterner stuff.

A lawyer - who by the nature of his job should be eloquent - brought down low at a verbal joust by a forensic pathologist who converses only with the dead. Tragic.

For a post-colonial nation that once prided itself on the spoken language, we have been brought low with such an unlettered citizen. Muttering pidgin English in such an egregious way.

For shame! Henry Higgins would probably have had him whipped for the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue. I think even my precocious five-year-old niece has a finer grasp of the language than he does. What a shocking disgrace to a noble profession. And he even dared call into question the doctor's credentials when his own are very much in doubt. How can this man possibly even hold up his head amongst his learned peers after being made the laughingstock of the nation!

Just witness the memorable scene where the prosecutor insists on a demonstration of self-strangulation with his bare hands. And then later proclaiming to all that a man weighs more unconscious than conscious.

Where, oh, where is the logic. And this is the man being given the task of handling the prosecution for our national anti-corruption agency! After such a mockery at court, it shouldn't come as a surprise if the agency's a little intimidated. Imagine if they actually manage to uncover a corruption scandal that involves our political bigwigs! Even if the evidence proves unassailable, no doubt the incompetent prosecutors would be hounded out of court after being ridiculed by the fearsome legal sharks.

Amazingly enough, this enterprising gentleman has been awarded a Datukship. See why I'm so disdainful of the dime-a-dozen titles freely handed out here?

Fortunately the judge - and the defense lawyers - looked suitably distinguished or else I'd lose all faith in our legal system.

Rather than wail despondently at how low our beleaguered judiciary has sunk, this tragic farce has only bolstered my secret ambition to read law. Surely I can't be less articulate than this so-called public prosecutor ( who has been serving for more than two decades ). If this laughable shyster can be called to the bar, I can certainly hope to do so! Perhaps it's time I filled up an application for law school.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Hundred for a Hello

Surprised by my unwelcome insertion into her weekly dinner party, Madame Borgia nonetheless persevered with polite conversation. Despite the fact that she gripped her eating utensils tightly whenever she glanced my way, our cultured Madame - no doubt a supplicant at the well-mannered altar of Emily Post - still managed a few civil observations.

Though I'm sure her murderous little hand itched to take the fork to her worthless ( prospective ) son-in-law's head. Namely me.

Of course Madame couldn't resist a little poke at me with a clever segue into how much doctors actually make.

Madame : Can you imagine how much a tummy tuck costs these days?
Paul : A few thousands in total, I should think.
Madame : Shameless! That's how much my eye bags cost! Shocking how much the doctors are charging these days!
Paul : Unconscionable! I should probably charge you for this consultation!
Madame : Oh you're hilarious!
Paul : That's a hundred for the laugh, madame!

I was this close to telling her that I'm charging pretty much the same. A hundred for a hello would be a reasonable approximation.

Medicine's getting increasingly expensive these days. Even I've balked over the medical fees charged by private practices. Just a few years back I recall my uncle heading for a sabbatical at a posh, gleaming 5-star Bangkok hospital only to emerge later much sadder, much poorer and appreciably short of a family sedan. That's how much it costs.

Of course the vast majority of the bill actually goes to the daily running of the hospital which isn't chump change. Room, board, IV drips, medications, the occasional multimedia system, the hand-and-foot massage - it can all come up to quite a substantial number. And after all that, an infinitesimal percentage still manages to trickle down into the pockets of the physicians. But exactly just how much does a doctor charge?

Paul : Damn. This is really boring. Should have gotten drunk and skipped class instead!
Ginny : Shhh! I wanna save lives.

Let me count the ways. Calculate the payback for the years of watching our more fortunate peers drive away in shiny BMWs - even after a considerable amount of goofing off in college - while we're still slogging over medical journals for our neverending exams. Five years of painful self-sponsored incarceration in the oppressed gulag called medical school. A decade of skipping parties, missed holidays and any semblance of a social life for excruciating dates with the books. Several weeks of sitting in an uncomfortable plastic chair being tortured by cruel, heartless examiners during viva sessions.

And have you seen the costs of medical indemnity insurance recently?

Add all that up - and the exorbitant medical bill in front of you still comes short of the actual total.

Of course I never told my mother-in-law all that. No doubt the poor matron would be flummoxed by such a detailed explanation. An avid admirer of Emily Post myself, I just smiled and agreed.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Say Hello

You gotta love the man but I'll admit Charming Calvin isn't exactly known for his social graces. Just toss out the Miss Manners Rulebook! The prerequisite introductions are usually dispensed with, RSVPs are misplaced - and I've actually been hoodwinked into inadvertently crashing a dinner party.

Or two.

Especially the legendary soirees organized by his redoubtable mama, Madame Borgia. Somehow or other, I was duped by her heedless son into thinking that I'd been invited to dinner.

Paul : You sure your mother invited me?
Calvin : Well, not in so many words.
Paul : Exactly what kinda words were they?
Calvin : She did say she had a table booked here.
Paul : And?
Calvin : So they are obviously having dinner here at this establishment.
Paul : Which doesn't include me, does it?
Calvin : I'm sure she'd want you here.
Paul : Did she specifically say invite Paul?
Calvin : It's implied.
Paul : Nothing's implicit when it comes to Madame Borgia. This doesn't augur well for me. So I'm effectively crashing her party?
Calvin : Of course she'll want you to be here.
Paul : Yes, she'll be so pleased to see the feckless, free-loading bastard her son's dating.

Refreshingly our sweet, kind Calvin naively assumes that any dinner involving his household would naturally include me.

Mama's expecting us for dinner!

Any remaining doubts I had about whether Madame Borgia had the slightest notion about my presence at one of her dinners disappeared the moment she stalked in. Not the smallest inkling did she have that I still existed, much less that I'd be joining them! No doubt the very thought of delicious pork buns turned to unsavoury ashes in his mama's mouth as she saw me already waiting at the table.

Madame : Why, Paul, what a pleasant surprise.
Paul : It certainly is. You look lovely tonight.
Madame : Fancy seeing you here. Having some friends join you at your table?
Paul : No, this is our dinner table.
Madame : You're joining us? Why that's simply delightful. Calvin never tells me anything.
Paul : At least we have that in common!
Madame : Oh you're always such a jokesmith.

No doubt that's why she kept handing me bones during dinner to choke on. :P

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Finding Faults

The first few months into a new relationship is like moving into a new apartment. During those halcyon honeymoon days, everything's still new and wonderful. View from the rose-tinted window's simply awe-inspiring, the timber flooring's just impeccable and the window treatment's almost perfect. Even the squeaky sound made by the door when it creaks shut is a sweet idiosyncrasy.

A year into the relationship, the squeak's getting just a tad irritating but you try to ignore it as best you can. Hell, is there a splinter on the flooring?

Couple years down the road and what was initially adorable has turned grating. There are little cracks in the foundation and that little squeak has grown into a monumental screech that makes your teeth hurt. The view's still pretty good though. So do you call for an immediate reno or sell the entire place?

Candy : He had this irritating laugh. Kinda like a braying donkey.
Paul : You once said it was infectious.
Candy : Like the plague.
Paul : And you're breaking up for that? What about the seven years you guys put into the relationship? The vows you made?
Candy : And what would you expect me to do about it?

For Cheating Candy, that turned out to be the deal-breaker that she couldn't ignore.

Dealing with real estate's so much simpler than dealing with the flaws in a man of course. Industrial sealants can cover the cracks, oil and elbow grease can deal with the squeaking door but what do you do when your man has an irritating trait that drives you insane?

Checking out the foundation!

No one's perfect after all - and with two individuals in a relationship, you have double the faults to deal with. I have my own crazy eccentricities and even Charming Calvin has a couple of quirks that puts a crease between my brows.

Whether to actually tell your partner what drives you insane depends on the dynamics of your relationship. Some salvageable problems you actually can fix with open communication - and for those, we have actually discussed them at due length. I vow to fall asleep before he starts snoring. He vows to tag along wherever I go due to a fear that I might just leave him waiting at a foreign bistro for hours. It's a compromise of sorts - with a few kinks - that we've worked out.

Of course inevitably there are a few hazardous areas that you just don't walk into. Some internal flaws you grit your teeth and accept that it can't be changed since a thorough refurbishment just might bring down the entire relationship. But that's me. I can be zen at times. And I'm helluva good at focusing on the great view and filing away the rest.

What we all have to decide is whether to put up the entire relationship for sale - just because of a crack in the floor. Fortunately for that, we all have friends to talk to. Everyone's living in an imperfect house after all. :)