Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Muscle Memory

Though approaching senility has compromised my mental abilities lately, I have always been somewhat proud of my excellent memory for dates and events. Hence my love for History.

And yes, it's also pretty great for mugging desperately two days before the Biology finals.

Unfortunately while I'm amazing at recalling exactly which dance steps to take next - can almost say it verbatim - that doesn't mean I know how to do it. At all. Seriously, I can barely recall how to move my feet. Yes, my muscle memory is utter crap. It's a wonder I can still remember how to place one foot in front of the other to walk.

Fuyooh! A move I definitely won't be attempting anytime soon.

So you can imagine how frustrated my dance instructors would be! Turns out as we all expected, dancers have a highly developed ability to see and replicate dance moves. Based on innate muscle memory, most dancers, over a period of time time, learn to master extended dance pieces after just one or a couple of viewings. Just one look and a complicated dance routine an they can replicate it almost perfectly.

Hear a familiar beat and they start swaying their hips. To the tango. To the cha-cha. To the waltz.

And they obviously expect me to do the same.

Teacher : Just follow this dance routine. Follow me.
Paul : Uh.
Teacher : Just quarter turn, progressive chasse, forward lock and then turn naturally.
Paul : Uh.
Teacher : You just did it successfully ten minutes ago!
Paul : That was ten minutes ago. I have no idea what you just did just now.
Teacher : Not even the basic?
Paul : Do I move my foot forward or backward?

Surely they would just love to fling me out the dance studio window! Oh yes, I'm obviously the nightmare created to haunt frustrated dance instructors. Poor fellows.

They meticulously sketch out an entire dance routine, have me follow their instruction perfectly for half an hour.... only to later have me forget the entire thing the very minute I walk out of the studio. Which is why I have to start from scratch almost every time.

Obviously I won't be joining a boy band anytime soon. And we're not even talking about my arthritic hips yet.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Chinese Taipan Wannabe

Never work for a Chinese boss.

Well, not if you want any semblance of a normal life. Unfortunately Chinese bosses expect to work you to the bone from morning til night, demand unflinching loyalty in the face of adversity - and yet pay a tiny pittance of the profits they earn. Don't expect vacations or rest days either since their companies seem to run all-year round ( except maybe a few days for the annual Spring Festival ). Unlike the more enlightened bosses these days, they expect nothing short of indentured slavery.

Boss : Why are you not at work?
Worker : Boss, I broke my leg this morning at the factory.
Boss : How careless! But that is not a valid excuse!
Worker : But I can't walk!
Boss : Bah! I will give you lighter duties. Come, grab a cane and follow me! Hobble as fast as you can, we have no time to waste!

Come to think about it, make that any boss you'd find in the Far East - so you can count the Japanese and the Koreans in that unholy brethren of evil bosses.

Because they themselves put in the extra time at work, they expect everyone else to share their unwavering dedication! As Big Bicep Barry ( who works for the family firm as well ) once said, even their own chidren aren't exempt from this draconian rule.

Nurse : There's a blackout in the operating theatre.
Paul : Yahoo! No cases today.
Nurse : But the bosses are forcing us to remain here!
Paul : In the dark?
Nurse : Yes! At the front counter!
Paul : What the hell for?
Nurse : And the bosses tell us we can't go online or talk either! Damn the bosses!
Paul : So you're sitting quietly in the dark?
Nurse : What else can we do?
Paul : Sit together and sing songs of solidarity?

The poor nurses! Not hard to envision those dark unenlightened Victorian days where thousands slaved away in the dark, dank factories to service the Empire! So now every time I think of a Chinese boss, I imagine my nurses huddling in the dark waiting :)

Small wonder they find it hard to retain any staff.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

What Rapture

If you're reading this, obviously you're one of the millions left behind after the Rapture. Been more than a month since the previous calculated date so by now, most of the true believers would already be dressed in white playing harps with the holy choir of St Peter's.

That is if anyone actually got called up for Rapture.

For the uninitiated, Rapture simply means a time at the end of the world when presumably all the Christians of the world would be gathered together in the air to meet Jesus Christ.

Poor Jesus Christ spread the good word in the Middle East more than a millenia ago but with the frequent politically-motivated editing of his bestseller, these days I doubt many of his devout followers are actually adhering to the tenets he originally prescribed. Inevitably - like a game of Chinese Whispers - his words have been twisted and changed over the centuries.

Surely you don't believe everything Jesus said has been repeated perfectly verbatim over two thousand years?

Come join me in heaven!

Won't bore you with a sermon of course. Come the rapture, it did make me think about heaven and what that entails. Would it be as we all imagined? Pious patrons in white robes solemnly drifting through the misty clouds while the heavenly choir sings Hallelujah?

Perhaps that would be the usually prescribed heaven for most but I think even one day in those hallowed halls would probably drive me insane. Honestly, I need a dose of sin every once in a while. Perhaps the Muslims have gotten it right when they suggest that their holy martyrs enjoy rich sensual rewards in the form of seventy-two virgins on reaching paradise.

Hell, I wouldn't need that many. Having that many - and trying to fulfill all their demands - would be endlessly exhausting. Perhaps a nice number like ten would do. Ten hunks the likes of Chris Evans and Choi Siwon to serve me in my eternal palace - now that's heaven.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Horror stories obviously abound in the hospital. What with souls leaving for the hereafter every once in a while it comes as no surprise that a few reluctant dissenters would hang around a bit just to haunt the ones left behind. Mortuary maidens dripping with blood, elevator ethereals flipping the floors...

You get all sorts here.

With quite a few of the urban legends tweaked and exaggerated to scare the newer employees to the hospital during the late hours of the night shift :)

Then every once in a while, some of the stories actually do come true.

Heard the one where a grandmother dies right before her grandchild is born?

Maybe if they hate the baby, I can have it!

Well it actually happened just yesterday. Turns out the mother is being wheeled into the delivery room just as the grandmother falls into a deathly swoon in the waiting room. To cut the story short, CPR is commenced - *huff huff puff puff* - only to be followed by the inevitable, terrifyingly conclusive beep of death.

Only to have the newborn babe draw breath several rooms down the hall.

Paul : OMG We are in the set of a freaking movie.
Nurse : What do you mean?
Paul : This old lady just died. A baby - her grandchild - is just born!
Nurse : Poor baby would be cursed by the unforgiving relatives!
Paul : But think about it! It could be reincarnation at work. The granny has come back as the grandbaby.
Nurse : Eek. That's creepy!
Paul : Yes. A movie called Operation Rebirth!
Nurse : Hope the relatives think like you!
Paul : If they wanna hate the newborn baby, they can bloody well leave the baby with me.

Really hope no one blames the innocent babe. Not that I believe in reincarnation entirely but surely there is something to be said about returning to try again. Always believed that one lifetime surely isn't enough for all of us to correct our past mistakes after all.

And it saves so much on botox and knee replacements.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Oldest DVD Pirate Ever

A conversation you certainly wouldn't find out of place in any of the local night markets in town.

Pirate : You should watch this! Very good.
Paul : Is it clear already?
Pirate : Yes very clear. Good subtitles as well.
Paul : Historical drama! Looks a bit heavy for me though. Prefer something lighter.
Pirate : Oh wait, I have! Don't go away!
Paul : Like where would I go?
Pirate : Try this situational comedy. Very funny! Romantic as well.
Paul : Cute actors?
Pirate : Very! Take take the dvd.
Paul : One is more than enough.
Pirate : Try this as well. You take one, I give you another as well!

Despite the draconian local authorities desperately trying to clamp down on such illegal activities, it's an exchange you wouldn't find uncommon here between our local dvd pirates and the customers here. Rather than a makeshift stall by the sidelanes, some of the more enterprising dvd peddlers - mostly mainland Chinese traders - have taken to the streets with their goods stored in giant canvas bags.

Having such portable stalls also makes it handy to make a quick escape when the authorities come checking.

Grandma : You brought a friend! And he speaks Mandarin!
Paul : Yes, but you still can't sell him dvds.

Except the conversation above was between me and my grandmother. Armed with a reusable canvas bag full of dvds and a slick sales spiel, my grandmother hobbled to my table eager to sell her wares. Turns out extreme boredom from a lack of work ( my cousins have banned the octogenarian from household chores ) and recently regained vision ( from her harrowing cataract surgeries ) has given her a new lease of life when it comes to the entire television experience.

Grandma has found cheap dvds again - specializing in historical Chinese dramas in Mandarin - and isn't likely to be parted from it anytime soon. Unfortunately the speech is quick and the subtitles are few, so I definitely won't be watching with her anytime soon.

Though I do think we need to find her a new hobby before the authorities haul her in for illegal dvd peddling.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Friend The Spy

Loyalty to the company?

An old-fashioned quality in the trusted salarymen in decades past if you judge by the current situation in the cut-throat world of business and finance. With everyone looking out for their own, to jump or not to jump doesn't seem to be the painful dilemma it used to be. The young, well-heeled executives of today are quite willing to trade offices for the right terms in their agreement.

The Man with the Golden Gun

About a month ago, even Lanky Lex - who generally takes about a year or so to make an important life-changing decision - made the terrifying leap. Signed away the next couple of years of his life in a split-second - a far shorter time than he took to decide on what shirt to wear that very morning!

Lex : I'm finally quitting!
Paul : Finally!
Lex : And I will be working for an information and consultancy company.
Paul : Industrial espionage?
Lex : Not a spy. I'll be gathering information and sending them to the right sources.
Paul : You're a spy. How thrilling!
Lex : Not a spy!
Paul : What do spies do? Gather intelligence and disseminate.
Lex : Yes.
Paul : You're a spy!
Lex : Information and consultancy!
Paul : Aww. You can pretty it up all you want but you're still a spy!
Lex : Information and consultancy!
Paul : Can I call you Comrade Lex, my spy friend?

Seriously. Isn't information and consultancy a fancy name for a spy network?

Wonder if he even knows what he's getting into! Next we'll probably see Lex in a black leather catsuit shimmying up the glass walls of a neighbouring skyscraper to gather intel from his rival company! Wonder if they need a maniacal boss to stroke the company cat. I've already got the evil laugh down pat!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Chasing Cabi

With a blazing summer clearly striding in around the corner, it's just about time some of us started hitting the gym hard! Speedos and trunks coming out for the lazy days by the beach, all the better to show off the much-vaunted six-pack abs that has everyone drooling in envy.

With my fatal love affair with scrumptiously fried delicacies ( what bloody transfats! ), I've long accepted that as an impossible dream for myself a long time ago. Just to avoid a jiggling potbelly is enough of a desired goal for me.

Obviously not the case for a friend I've dubbed Bibimbap Ben - called him that due to the uncanny likeness our pretty fair-skinned fellow shares with several Korean popstars. For the past few months, he has had one really important personal ambition. Goals and objectives all marked in a folder he has dubbed Cabi for entirely obvious reasons seen in the video clip below.

Don't think Ben has any ambitions of running slow-mo on the beach in red swimtrunks but he certainly wouldn't mind looking like a hot lifeguard.

Paul : You already look pretty good la.
Ben : I wanna look better! Cabi cabi!
Paul : So that's your daily mantra to starve and workout?
Ben : Have it playing non-stop on my mp3 player.
Paul : You do know the korean stars are probably locked up in a gym with only a cube of cheese to sustain themselves everyday?
Ben : Lock me up!
Paul : Don't tempt me.
Ben : I need to do 600 sit-ups a day to get six-pack abs!
Paul : That would come up to about 10 every half hour! When would you find the time to sleep?

All the luck in the world to him :)

Take a look at my abs!

No denying the Korean boys look really good in skinny slacks - and even skinnier jeans! But to maintain such an slim, willowy figure just to show off those well-defined abs, I wouldn't be surprised if they are half-starved with malnutrition all the time! Add that to the crazy workouts and I wonder if the boys faint half the time. Maybe they really are locked up by their talent managers and allowed out only for concerts, fan signings and spa treatments!

Obviously not easy being a Korean popstar! Endless trips to the gym? Skinless chicken breasts and salads for meals all the time? Seriously admire their unwavering dedication! Wonder if waving a dripping slab of bulgogi in front of a boyband would raise a stampede.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Domestic Drama of Dumplings

Like all Chinese festivals, Duanwu Festival 端午节 has a dish specially made just for the occasion. Sticky rice dumplings are traditionally eaten this time of year to commemorate the death of a famous poet ( patriotic? ) who was said to have drowned himself from grief. Supposedly the dumplings are meant to distract the hungry fishes from taking a bite from his corpse.

At least that's what they say.

Whether that's true or not, the tradition certainly lives on. For some reason though, every one of my relatives seems to have gotten on the dumpling bandwagon this year. Perhaps I missed an issue of the family newsletter talking about a competition but there's certainly no short supply of dumplings! Heck, even my newly married cousin made a small batch for all to try. Enough dumplings on the table to make up for the fact that the original master chef - my grandmother - has recently retired from the rank and file, obviously tired from wrapping all those endless pandan leaves around the glutinous rice.

Sitting idle isn't her style though. My grandmother always needs to have her greedy little hands in some sort of pie after all.

And there's nothing like a bit of familial gossip. For the past few months, the entire family has been keeping a secret from her. Their own version of 'She Can't Handle The Truth!' Apparently the startling news of my slacker uncle's rumoured infidelity would cause the tottering octogenarian to slip into a deathly swoon that could prove fatal. At least that's what I gather from the nervous whispers when my uncles and aunts get together.

Spinning a web of lies?

But let's be serious here. Revolution, famine and cancer failed to deter this woman - and they expect a teensy lil rumour to stagger her?

Foolishness. But I digress.

The wily old lady knows something's afoot - and she obviously knows who to ask for such clandestine information. Which is why I found her joining me for breakfast at my table while I finished my dumpling.

Grandma : Are you married yet?
Paul : Did you attend my wedding?
Grandma : I gather that's a no.
Paul : Mail order brides are hard to find these days.
Grandma : Hmmph. So have your seen you uncle lately?
Paul : I'm way across the Big Puddle. You've probably seen him more than me.
Grandma : Does he seem sad to you?
Paul : Does he seem sad to you?
Grandma : Does he?
Paul : What do you think?
Grandma : I think he does. Do you know why?
Paul : You know digging for information doesn't work on me.
Grandma : Hmmph.

It didn't take me all that long to turn the tables on her. Obviously I've learned some tricks of my own. Seems my grandmother has already known all along about my uncle's extramarital relations. Not shocked. Not saddened. Certainly no keeling over with clenched fist clutched painfully to the chest.

Nothing that dramatic. Just a matter-of-fact nod with a sigh. Which she punctuated with a bite of my dumpling.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Date with Tea; A Tea with Dates

Over here the height of summer usually signifies the time for the Duanwu Festival 端午节, more popularly known as the Dragon Boat Festival. Arguably the longest day for those of us in the northern hemisphere - like its celebratory winter counterpart on the far side of December.

Generally I don't return for this particular festival since it's usually right smack dab in the middle of the year - usually a time for job transfers in my line of work. Can't very well go jauntering about when half the department's been emptied for some reason or other.

My cousin however picked just that time of the year for her wedding dinner. It's hard ( impossible? ) to say no to Lispy Lori, especially when she announced the date an entire year back just to pre-book all of us to attend.

And hey, I love weddings :)

Now exactly where am I supposed to stand?

Trouble is attending a wedding these days is just fraught with unexpected difficulties. For unmarried fellows past the age of thirty, we have to endure endless cross-examinations by curious relatives on the state of our bachelorhood, along with the unforeseen social solecisms that seem to creep up everywhere when someone much younger than us ties the knot.

For instance the tea ceremony prior to the wedding - one of the most significant events in a Chinese wedding, ostensibly a wonderful way to introduce a new member to the extended family. Now do I receive the tea along with the proferred greetings as an elder in the family eventhough I am technically still unmarried, or do I brave the horrified stares of the children to stand in wait for the prerequisite red packets from the bride and groom? Should it go by precedence of age or marriage eligibility?

Unfortunately with the emphasis on marriage and children as one of the tenets of a Chinese Confucian society, a man past the age of thirty and unmarried is considered quite the novel oddity. Where do we stand in the larger scheme of things?

Surely an existential dilemma to be solved on another day - especially since Lori solved the smaller problem for me.

Lori : There's simply no question about it. You're sitting and I'm serving you tea.
Paul : Is that how it's always been done?
Lori : Do I look like I care about how it's always been done? It's my wedding and I'll serve you tea if I want to.
Paul : Wow. Bridezilla.
Lori : It had better be a big red packet though.

Guess I worried for no reason at all. So yes, I drank the sweet tea Lori handed to me on a porcelain platter. And yes - need you ask? - she got a big red packet in return.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Good Life

Let's face it for generations ethnic Chinese - even those who have immigrated - have always been stereotyped as slick cutthroat businessmen who would sooner sell their aging mother to make a fast buck. With the Chinese diaspora frequently dubbed the Jews of Asia, there is a notion that the Chinese tend to gravitate towards trading and finance. Though I'm sure there are exceptions, it is hard to blame the rest of the world for holding to such a skewed, prejudiced opinion of the much maligned race.

Even I have inadvertently added to this erroneous perception by betraying my mercantile roots with a careless comment.

Nurse : The female attendant upstairs sells the boiled eggs for only fifty cents.
Paul : We should sell ours for forty-five cents each to undercut her and steal her regular customers.
Nurse : Good grief!
Paul : And offer little complimentary packets of soy sauce and pepper!
Nurse : OMG You're so Chinese!

So perhaps it's a bit hard to deny that Chinese brains are uniquely wired for business.

How about a noodle shop?

Although there are a few exceptions like I said. My cousin in Bangkok to name one. The slick snake-oil salesman I once mentioned. Desperate to taste the good life yet not desperate enough to work hard at it. Hence the many, many... many failed business enterprises.

Always in search of the next get-rich-quick scheme, this time around Snake has decided to invest in a noodle shack.

Snake : Yes, a noodle shack.
Paul : But you can't cook!
Snake : I just learnt to cook six months back.
Paul : And you're now a master chef?
Snake : This is my dream! To open a chain of noodle shacks!
Paul : Didn't you dream of trading cellphones a year back?
Snake : Ah, but that was last year!
Paul : The airport taxi scheme before that?
Snake : All terribly unworthy of my new dream!

All in search of the good life. Fortunately he hasn't dared hit me up to provide seed money for one of his hare-brained experiments.

Short of peddling from a wildly arrayed tuk tuk to attract tourists ( nothing like cute gimmicks! ), I doubt this dubious venture is going to succeed. I foresee some minor stumbling block that would force the vacillating Snake to throw his hands up in frustration and surrender.

Obviously not all Chinese are meant for the trade.

Monday, June 06, 2011


After last night, I have unwittingly developed a crush on a bald paraplegic in a wheelchair.

Albeit when he was years younger with a full head of hair.

Obviously talking about the iconic Charles Xavier from the X-Men movie franchise who headlines the recent addition this summer. Rather than the aging scholarly professor in chequered tweed we're used to, the Xavier here in the movie is a sweet young charmer who downs a yard of ale before chatting up girls down the pub with a tired pick-up line about genetics.

*swoon* He doesn't even need to use his psychic mind tricks on me.

Though I doubt Xavier would return my amorous feelings since
a) with all the desperate flirtation going on with random university co-eds, he's most likely heterosexual - despite the peculiar spark of bromance with his magnetic best friend Erik Lensherr
b) my alter ego in a comics universe would probably be an evil, heartless villain hell-bent on ruling the world. Not exactly the sort to appeal to a zen do-gooder like Xavier.

Still, a man can dream.

Whoa. You think I can get into that position? Even I'm not that bendy!

And when Charles Xavier looks like James McAvoy, those dreams can easily border on the lecherous. Despite the fact that the more obvious eye-candy in the movie would be the intensely brooding, unbelievably suave bad-ass antihero Eric Lehnsherr, I've always had a thing for brainy men.

And a soft spot for sweater vests.

Xavier can talk to me all he wants about Darwinian theories.

For those wondering... X-men First Class charts the epic beginning of the X-Men saga with a focus on the relationship between the founders Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto”, and reveals a secret revisionist history of famous global events. Seriously! The Cuban Missile Crisis? Yet somehow they make the improbable - even the retro surroundings - all work almost seamlessly.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


Before I begin, let me proffer my sincerest apologies to Charming Calvin.

Each time we pay a visit to Bangkok, I usually have an entire itinerary that revolves around one thing, and one thing only. And that's ... shopping. That's all. Unlike what the more prurient-minded would think, it's definitely not sexy mocha-skinned Thai boys gyrating in skimpy G-strings on my lap. Fear of sexually transmitted disease ( herpes? ) keeps me away from the scrumptious lot - as well as the fact that Charming Calvin probably wouldn't approve of me slipping dollar bills into spandex-clad bottoms.

Though maybe a threesome one day?

Sorry. Can't help the lecherous thoughts! With the seriously fit Thai college boys all dressed in supertight shirts and trousers two sizes too small, it's hard to think of anything else.

So in lieu of delicious toyboys from sunrise till sunset, I substitute that with lots and lots of shopping. Much more fun a pasttime ever since I got a bump in my salary. Since Calvin pretty much doesn't have much of a say in the daily schedule, he mostly gets dragged along as I finish my frenetic supermarket sweep of the city. For all he knows, Bangkok is a city full of air-conditioned department stores, jam-packed night markets and Chatuchak.

An invitation to see Bangkok?

As a kid, I pretty much thought the same! Which is why this time I gave him a choice.

Paul : You get one morning.
Calvin : To do what?
Paul : To do some terribly touristy thing. Temples, museums and klongs.
Calvin : We can cover all that in one morning?
Paul : Half a day! You'd better appreciate the hell out of the museums!

A boon begrudgingly given obviously.

So the better part of Saturday morning was spent touring the historic enclave of Rattanakosin stops at the Grand Palace and the various temples. Even an hour's boatride to the nearest floating market. All in the sweltering heat of a Bangkok summer. With the reflective gleam of the gilded roofs - and the mirror-still waters of the klongs, it felt like we were both being roasted alive on a steaming brazier in the middle of a desert.

Enough to make us both cry for mercy by noon!

We couldn't hurry back fast enough to the creature comforts of the modern mall galleria. Shopper like me, I still managed to purchase a paper umbrella to combat the heat!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Say All I Need

It took almost five years but I finally made it back - this time with Charming Calvin in tow as I promised.

It was starting to look like mission impossible. A year back when I bravely made the attempt, an entire squad of stern-faced riot police blocked our way. And behind them a furious red sea of anarchists raged in what seemed like an imsurmountable obstacle. Short of ricocheting off a slingshot from the nearest skyscraper, I don't think I would have made it past those barriers to the intended target.

Even had I made the foolhardy attempt, I probably would have been shot by the boys in blue or the rioters in red anyway.

Hope that we make it to the shrine this time!

Which is why I took the safer route around and avoided the proposed destination.

Doesn't mean I gave up on going to the Erawan Shrine. After all I don't make promises lightly. Five years ago I actually made a wish at the very same shrine - that actually did come true not very long after.

In return I said I would bring Charming Calvin to the shrine and so I have.