Monday, January 30, 2012

The Idyll of Spring

Despite the sweltering heat creeping in with February, it has been a bit of a spring idyll these days for us.

And by us, I mean Charming Calvin and me. He came back to his hometown a while back several days before Chinese New Year and I took an early flight back here to join him.

Which means lazy golden afternoons with me on the couch idly rifling through the pages of my latest book Getting Genki in Japan while Calvin fiddles around with my new sets of Lego building his very own empire. Whiling away our time in each other's company while the radio plays a peculiar mixture of sentimental Mandarin weepies and swinging jazz. Every once in a while, I swipe him with my hardback and steal a kiss from him, messing up his shockingly methodical approach to Lego brickbuilding. He mutters a complaint but gives in anyway, putting aside his carefully arranged bricks - by colour, size and uniqueness - for the moment.

All horrifically domestic.

And yes, awfully nauseating. Enough to make me hurl in disgust if I were the unfortunate one looking in from the outside.

Flowers are romantic, aren't they?

Which I am sure Calvin's mother, Madame Borgia, wished she had. Of course if she had been within such close quarters playing reluctant chaperone, she would probably have had me bludgeoned instead. Having Calvin come over as often as he has the past few days certainly irked her to no end - especially since our conservative Madame must have dreamt up all sorts of horrifically perverse scenarios starring her vulnerable son and his scheming gay ravisher.

Not knowing that we were both relatively involved in surprisingly benign PG-13 tasks. Certainly can't get more family friendly than board games, Korean dramas and a set of Lego!

Probably not the kind of indoor games Madame must have imagined us playing. As it was, our wily Madame Borgia still managed to keep tabs on our daily activities.

Madame : Son, where are you?
Calvin : I told you I was going out with Paul.
Madame : Will you be having dinner back home?
Calvin : This is the second time you've asked me this but no.
Madame : Just checking. Showing concern you know.
Calvin : That's alright.
Paul : Tell her I'm busy licking that tiny indent in your belly button.
Calvin : I'll tell her no such thing.
Madame : What is that? Did Paul say something?

Her excuses were starting to run thin so she quickly dispensed with valid reasons to call after a couple of attempts. No doubt in a failed bid to stop wicked me from ruining her innocent progeny.

Paul : You think she might have hired a spy?
Calvin : Don't think she has reached your level of insanity yet.
Paul : True.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Approaching Zen

I've always wondered about maturity.

Dictionary defines it as the state or quality of being fully grown or developed. Makes sense since surely maturity shouldn't just emobody the sags and wrinkles that accompany increasing age. Of course quantifying someone's mental maturity is a little bit harder to estimate.

I think I've found mine though.

Over the new year festivities, the usual whirlwind rounds of house visits had me caught up as friends and family revolved around red packets, pineapple tarts and green tea. Inevitably there's the occasional encounter with strangers that I immediately develop a distaste for. Yes, I am guilty of the rare hate-at-first-sight.

This is really spoiling my zen.

Especially when it comes to unctuous paragons like Peachy McPreachy who hide their acerbic comments under a veil of sweet piousness. Every gossipy chatty comment made by my cousins immediately had her slipping in as the uncalled-for moderator to police our conversation.

Peachy : Ooh that's so not politically correct tee hee.
Cousin : No, it isn't. Your saying so isn't exactly PC either.
Peachy : Hope your cousin doesn't mind but she really shouldn't be saying such things.
Paul : My cousin is much too kind to tell you so but yes, she minds. So butt out.

Have I ever said that I dislike holier-than-thou sanctimonious prigs? I much prefer blunt straightforward bitches.

But I didn't reply in such an unmannerly fashion. I very much wanted to but I didn't. Rather than snap with a suitably scathing reply as is my usual modus operandi, I shrugged, turned away and paid her snippy comments little heed. Sticks and stones and all that. Perhaps years back I would have instinctively leapt on Peachy with a bloody bludgeon and battered her till she surrendered - verbally of course - but this time I found it far less annoying than I would have.

Why bother flying into a rage when that would only have me developing wrinkles!

So yes, maybe I am growing up. Finally.

Or maybe Fabulous Felix, and his patented shield of obliviousness, is clearly rubbing off on me.

I had to hold my far less zen cousin back from strangling Peachy though.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Black Sheep Returns

Chinese New Year is a time when the family gathers at the ceremonial altar to pay their respects to their distant ancestors, hoping to be showered with future blessings especially when it comes to the next generation.

Guess we must have missed that particular benediction this year since it seems the black sheep in the family has started to live up to his name. After several generations of dull, nondescript law-abiding citizens, maybe he figures it's time we had some notoriety to shake things up!

A while back I made an ominous prediction that we'd probably have to raise funds to bail out my prodigal cousin one day - and it looks like my cousin Richie Runt is doing all he can to turn that into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unsatisfied with merely extorting protection fees from even smaller runts, it seems that Richie has set his sights a bit higher by resorting to a bit of petty thievery instead.

Seriously don't know which is worse.

Dammit, how else to distinguish myself from the rest of my upstanding cousins! Maybe with a suitably colourful rap sheet? Maybe if I rob a bank?

Didn't take long after the reunion dinner before Lispy Lori pulled me aside to fill me in with the sordid details.

Lori : We think Richie Runt has been stealing from the coffeeshop till.
Paul : WTF. Are you sure?
Lori : Yes, we have proof. We didn't believe it ourselves until we saw the evidence. Video-cams and all that.
Paul : I hold him down, you break his arms and legs.
Lori : Wait, there's more.
Paul : So you brought it to the attention of his parents?
Lori : That actually made it worse. Well, you know his mother.

To compound to the nearly insurmountable problems faced by Richie Runt, his mother - the erstwhile Bo Peep - has not only lost any semblance of control over her black sheep, it seems she has lost her head as well. Rather than proffer any solid evidence to counter the supposedly erroneous accusations, our increasingly agitated Bo Peep instead forced her son to kowtow before said ancestral altar to proclaim his unsullied innocence.

While she provided increasingly shrill whines and wails to accompany the hysterical dramatics. Weepy Korean drama heroines couldn't possibly hold a candle to her imagined pathos.

Lori : Made her son Richie swear on the graves of his ancestors that he had never done any such thing on pain of having his limbs summarily broken.
Paul : Wow. Drama. Make cuts on their wrists to prove their innocence too?
Lori : Wish they had. I only thought it happened on television.
Paul : Evidently it's based on our family. Wish I was there though.
Lori : With your temper, you'd probably have strangled them both.
Paul : Quite likely. But I'd have taken a video of the ensuing hysterics for youtube first.
Lori : Sell the video instead so we can save the money to bail him out one day.

At the rate Richie Runt is regressing, I think that might be a strong possibility. Since he's turning eighteen soon, even juvenile court isn't going to save him anymore.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Prosperity Colours

Hopefully by the time you're reading this, I'd have found my bright canary yellow shirt.

Ever since my cousins and I started earning our very own paychecks, we have started this tradition of dressing up for Chinese New Year. Buying snazzy new gear from head to toe isn't just for the kids anymore! And each year, we tend to stick to a particular theme to match.

Much to my everlasting dismay, someone picked yellow this year as an homage to our family name!

Bet none of you would be terribly surprised but this town isn't exactly a renowned mecca of fashion - actually quite the opposite - so finding a reasonably dapper man's shirt in a shade of yellow is almost impossible. Turns out men's shirts here are only available in the usual conservative blacks, blues and greens.

And unfortunately everything else less conventional turned out to be unashamedly tacky... with metal hooks / zippers / rubber implements.

Or it's a yellow golf tee.

Unless I want to dress up as a Taiwanese pop icon ready for the stage or a golf course caddy, I figure I'd better head back home to find a better fit.

Dammit, maybe if it's dark they won't notice it's not exactly yellow.

So to all who are heading home for the reunion, have a Happy Chinese New Year!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One Book Stand

Rather like the infamous one-night-stand which it draws its name from, a one book stand would be a guilty pleasure read - one you hastily flip through in the cover of night and embarassingly hide away in the light of day when everyone's looking!

Or rather the books you savour once and never pick up again forthwith.

Now that I can empathize with. Quite a few literary classics I had to struggle through just to complete - since everyone else insists that it's a must-read. Honestly books are after all a matter of taste; not everyone's going to love James Joyce or Thomas Hardy the exact same way.

For me the trouble usually lies with the protagonist. Spectacularly biased, that's me. Give me a meek, ineffectual wallflower of a heroine who finds herself jostled about by the wicked ambitions of others and I'll immediately lose interest ten pages in. Unless she gets her groove back, or has serious hopes of finding it, in a hurry. Scarlett O'Hara, Anne Shirley, Emma - those are the oddly compelling characters that I revisit again - and again. Knock them down to the ground and they'll rise again to give as good as they get.

Sam Dong *giggle* One of the dreamboats in Dream High

Fortunately Korean drama, which is well known for its fair share of pathetic, hand-wringing, woe-is-me victims, has finally conceived of a heroine that I can root for. The wildly obnoxious, insanely ambitious Go Hye-Mi of Dream High. Think of the drama as a Korean version of Fame / Glee with Hye-Mi as the aspiring underdog.

Though she never actually thinks of herself as one. Hell, she's a bitch even from the start. Sure, Hye-Mi's horribly arrogant with a crappy surly attitude but seriously nothing seems to faze this tenacious diva.

Abandoned by her ne'er-do-well bankrupt father in a house that's been foreclosed with a kid sister? Not a problem, she'll just make a deal with the notorious money lender. Hazed by her classmates and accused of being a thief? No problem, she'll just grab a loudspeaker and challenge them. Set adrift in a foreign country without funds and resources? Not a problem, she'll just sing for her supper. Country boy buddy of hers finds himself going almost deaf? Not a problem, she'll make sure he stands on stage to sing no matter what.

Ain't no challenge big enough for this girl - which is why she frequently butts in to solve problems for everyone else. Admirable in a way since I abhor wimpy whiners who give up before ever trying.

Though shockingly blunt - and almost brusque in her dealings with everyone else, Hye-Mi finds herself a bit deficient when it comes to the more tender affairs of the heart. Keeps her feelings so close to her chest that she comes off as a heartless robot in the beginning. Sentimental sweet nothings from her ertswhile boyfriends ( since there's a love triangle ) only give rise to nervous goosebumps since she finds them far too mushy.

My ISO : Sounds like you're really into this Dream High.
Paul : Loving the main character, Go Hye-Mi.
My ISO : Well that makes sense.
Paul : What makes sense?
My ISO : Fierce, bitchy, loud but emotionally stunted? From what you've told me, it sounds like you.
Paul : WTF.

OMG he's right. Damn my ISO for pointing it out.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dragon Mane

Since everything is turning brilliant red for the coming festivities, I don't see why I shouldn't join in the fun! It has become quite the yearly tradition for me to colour my hair a couple of weeks before the big day. A celebratory observation that has become far more significant - and timely - with my approaching dotage.

Cue the advent of silver strands.

Horrors. Shrieks. No worries, I don't scream hysterically over every trivial silver strand I find. Probably would turn hoarse if I did so! At the moment I stand by the adage that striking one down would only bring five more to the funeral.

So I turn to hair dyes.

Maybe if I run really fast, she won't catch me!

Of course age, experience and maturity dictates that I stick to the more sedate colours of dishwater brown and blah black. No more electric blues and fiery reds in the near future. Wouldn't want anyone to mistake me for a crazed bleached blond gentleman dealing with a potential mid-life crisis!

At least that's what I presume the head hairstylist means since she practically snatched the bolder colour schemes away from my greedy little hands. Despite having shocking multi-coloured highlights on her own sleek mane, she tends to be a bit more conservative when it comes to me.

Paul : Maybe something red?
Hairstylist : Really ah? So scary wor that colour.
Paul : Think my hair is still black enough that it wouldn't make much of an impact anyhow.
Hairstylist : But doctor wor. Must look a bit professional loh.
Paul : So what would you suggest?
Hairstylist : A bit only la. Maybe dark dark red loh. Like this.
Paul : That's almost black.
Hairstylist : Ya loh!

Oh yes, the hairstylist was a one-time patient of mine. Obviously she doesn't want the shameful ignominy of being under the medical care of someone with improperly dyed hair. There goes my coiffure dreams of finding out if blondes actually have more fun.

After an hour or two of her vigorous efforts, she handed me a mirror with a near flourish. Voilà!

Frankly I was underwhelmed. Silver strands be gone but there's only a trace of red if I tilt my head just so to catch the light. Talk about hiding one's light under a bushel! Damn, I miss my coloured streaks. Maybe I'll nip down to the store for some temporary streaks and tips.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Sins of the Uncle

Although the hilarious scenes that crop up in situational comedies have been overplayed shamelessly for maximum canned laughter effect, most are still basically grounded in reality.

As in they really happened.

For instance the episode of Brothers and Sisters where the earnest, well-meaning niece enlists the help of her doting uncle with the simple school project? The little girl might have wanted to show how lemons could function as a basic battery and ignite a tiny bulb but the domineering uncle takes over, goes a bit insane and uses hundreds of lemons to power a dancing robot.

Hilarity ensues of course.

Embarassed though I am to admit that I actually did that. And probably would again. Perpetually fed on fallacious bedtime stories of her uncle's legendary academic prowess, Chatty Carmen unwittingly engaged my help with her own school project. Not knowing that my so-called brains are actually a unsubstantiated myth.

Paul : I can help.
Carmen : Should I be worried?

But how could I possibly refuse a little girl? Though any knowledge I ever had of science has slowly slipped through the expanding sinkholes of my memory, I could still lend a helping hand. Though in the process of helping my niece with her school project, I realized I'd make one hell of a crazy kiasu parent one day.

Carmen : My project will explain how capillary action actually works.
Paul : Cool. So the plant will absorb the red coloured water you have there?
Carmen : Yes. Pretty.
Paul : Why not let it absorb different colours at different rates? Have a rainbow coloured stem?
Carmen : Oh.
Paul : And serve celery sticks to the students in different colours.
Carmen : Oh.
Paul : And only cardboard standouts? Why not get flash animation and videos as well to explain? Maybe on tablets?
Carmen : Oh.
Paul : And perhaps have an informative booklet you can hand out to the other students?
Carmen : Oh.
Paul : Make the rest of your classmates rue the day they dared to compete! *evil laugh*

Of course I had far wilder ideas but the sheer astonishment on her face after my villainous laugh was enough to put a stop to my growing lunacy. Turns out Carmen had every good intention of educating her classmates about capillary action. Me, I just wanted to crush the other pathetic pitiful students and make them weep. Oh yeah that's like my new motto.


Oh yes, I'd want my kids to outmean every other junior bitch in school :)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Here Be Dragons

In every great storybook fable there has to be an important quest. Not only for the crusading knights since even genteel fairytale princesses have their own formidable feats to perform.

Snow White had to brave perilous forests, murderous huntsmen and terrifying dwarves to win her prince. Cinderella had to overcome bitchy stepsisters, vegetable transport and shockingly fragile footwear to gain entrance into the palace. Sleeping Beauty had to triumph over treacherous sewing machines and an endless coma to make it for her wedding.

We all have our own little dragons to slay.

Similar to me munching on grass and leaves to win my infamous mother-in-law's approval. So isn't it right and fair that Charming Calvin should be subjected to the same onerous trials and tribulations as I have?

Of late, I think that cagey mother of mine has been scrutinizing Calvin's every move, finding him sorely lacking when he falters miserably over the uncomplicated tasks given. Easy enough to stumble when there's someone always watching. Of course while I take each demanding endeavour as a challenge, our hero here sighingly looks at it as a burdensome chore.

Calvin : Now what should I do next?

After the last unfortunate misstep, I have already warned him to take care. The lady keeps a tally. Though my mother would strongly deny any such slander, I have no doubt she has a carefully scripted scorebook by her bedside.

So when opportunity came in the form of an unattended wake on her behalf, I knew Calvin had to leap at the chance. Obviously he had heeded my strongly worded caution since he instantly reacted. When my mother found herself unable to send her condolences, she called him only to have him unhesitatingly offer to help!

Calvin : I expect to be heartily commended. Immediately offered before she could ask, she barely finished the opening statement.
Paul : Good job.
Calvin : Hope this manages to please your mother. Now I'm going to rest.
Paul : Sending a piece of paper with flowers was exhausting.
Calvin : Yes it was. Need to shut down and restore my energies.
Paul : You know this is only the beginning, right?
Calvin : OMG.

Certainly came as a surprise that Calvin acted so pro-actively without much prompting. Kudos to our conquering hero.

So point for Calvin. Now what's coming next?

Monday, January 09, 2012

What Strength!

I'm starting to understand why fitness centers actually charge quite a fair bit. Think a whole lot of that chunk goes into maintenance of the equipment and the environs.

Seriously. These boys really don't know their own strength.

Or perhaps they do know. And the boys just love to break stuff as a proof of their own testosterone-soaked machismo.

Hunk : What? You think I'm the one? I didn't do it, I swear!
Paul : I don't believe you. I guess I'll have to interrogate. With whips and chains.

How else to explain the sudden spate of broken hinges and hooks all over the relatively new gym? Almost every other week, new wall hooks are placed in the locker room and showers only to have them peremptorily snapped off the week after. Judging by the way the hulking gymbots forcefully slam their locker doors, I'm not terribly surprised. Palpable tremors from the physical energy expended would probably register high on the Richter magnitude scale.

Then again just a twitch of their enviable biceps would probably yank the hooks off.

You know when Clark Kent doesn't quite realize his awesome Kryptonian strength and decides to punch a wall out of frustration?

Paul : Wall hook in the shower has snapped off again.
Manager : Good God. Again?
Paul : Guess it's part and parcel of running a gym!
Manager : Tell me about it. One guy even crushed and twisted off the metal handle on the door!
Paul : Call that a Hulk-out moment.

And that's only the locker room. Imagine the gym itself with all the equipment and machines. At the rate these boys keep dropping dumbbells and tossing barbells with deafening thuds, I wouldn't be surprised if the much-abused cement floor were to give way one day!

Certainly would give new meaning to It's Raining Men.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Crouching Iguana, Hidden Dragon

Turns out my blog post yesterday - with the aptly fitting title of the Dragon Comes Knocking - was oddly prophetic.

Didn't take very long for one to actually come knocking at my door. Sorry to disappoint but it's not a celestial dragon flying down from the heavens for tea but a much smaller, more accessible version that dropped by for a visit.

What if it's dangerous!

Think the animated Mushu with dry scales in green.

Utterly oblivious as usual, Fabulous Felix munched through half his lunch before realizing that he had been joined by an unseasonable guest.

Felix : OMG. There's an iguana in the house.
Paul : Lazing on the couch watching the telly with chips in hand?
Felix : Well it isn't munching on the chips.
Paul : There really is an iguana?! Good God, we really are in the jungle!
Felix : It's freaking four feet long! What do I do?
Paul : Shove it out of the house with a broom!
Felix : Eeek! What if it bites me!
Paul : Then run!
Felix : Hmm.
Paul : Then again, it's a little dragon. Maybe it's an auspicious sign.
Felix : Oh wait, it's leaving on its own accord.
Paul : Did it bite my books?

Talk about an unwelcome surprise. On hindsight, we should have caught it and sold it to the local exotic meats restaurant. I'm sure the locals here would find a way to saute / fry / steam the bugger.

As much of an Anglophile as I am, I'm pretty Chinese inside as well. Though I might not wholeheartedly believe in superstitious mumbo-jumbo, there's still a niggling little part that wonders if the coming of the iguana's an auspicious sign! For a Dragon year no less! Not that the iguana actually did much in the house; calmly rustled through some boxes, lazed on the couch and then nonchalantly toddled away into the vast backyard.

Hope it didn't lay any eggs.

First one I called was my unconventional grandmother of course. Pretty sure the Magnum 4D-loving lady has a number to match the uncommon sighting of an iguana.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Dragon Comes Knocking

Since both arrive around the new year, I call them fraternal twins.

One is quieter, gentler, more subdued with just a touch of sparkle and glamour around her. While the other is bold, brazen and brassy with a whole lot of flash. One has silent nights with perfectly decorated trees full of tinsel and gold, with tables full of brandied puddings and roasted turkeys galore. The other has raucous days with far flung relations reunited at the table, with firecrackers popping and cymbals clashing.

Doesn't make one better than the other, just breathtakingly different and I love them both equally.

Do we even have to choose?

However dedicated fans of the classy Noel decry the innate tackiness of Spring, staring aghast at the jarring shades of gold and red that adorn her, shutting their ears to the discordant tunes that she adores.

Paul : Can't wait! The Spring Festival is coming!
Buddy #1 : Ugh, why do you like it?
Paul : Why wouldn't I!
Buddy #1 : If given the choice, I would extend Christmas and hold off the Spring Festival for as long as possible.
Buddy #2 : Everything about Christmas is calm and peaceful, while everything about the Spring Festival is noisy, intruding and tacky.
Buddy #1 : Like our relatives..thankfully. Most of us only see them once a bloody year!
Buddy #2 : Don't forget the horrible tok tok chiang music!
Paul : But all that blinding tackiness makes it unique!

Fine. I can see how gay men would find the family reunion synonymous with the Spring Festival extremely exasperating - especially with the endless probing questions from the nosy relatives. Over here, Christmas can be spent with a select group of like-minded friends but come the Spring Festival, there's simply no escaping blood relations.

But apart from that inevitable aggravation, surely the Spring Festival offers quite as many reasons to love it!

Tacky? I'll readily admit some of the tasteless bling associated with the Spring Festival 春节 - or Chinese New Year - is almost impossible to incorporate into any quietly tasteful home decor. Brilliant scarlets and flashy gold in the living room all year long immediately brings to mind the gaudy tastes of a nouveau riche Chinese towkay.

And surely no one can listen to the cacophonous Chinese New Year songs 24/7 throughout the year without turning certifiably insane.

But celebrated only once a year for fifteen days with all that crazy pomp and ceremony - isn't that the very reason we all love the Spring Festival? Plastering the entire house with auspiciously red paper cuttings? Having the entire rambunctious family gathering at one table to duel over dumplings and meatballs? Waking up early the next morning to dress in our spanking new clothes to receive the cherished red packets?

Honestly I don't think I'd like the Spring Festival half as much if it were celebrated in hushed, subdued moderation. Replacing the dissonant Chinese New Year songs with a reverent carol would be nigh sacrilegious! Even right now I have the strident songs blaring from my laptop speakers - and will probably do so till the day itself.

The fact that it's loud, lively and lusty is why I love it! So bring on the cymbals, the drums and the crackers. In fact I think I'll have a party of my own to celebrate as well!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Look What the Stork Brings

Is it starting to be a new year tradition?

Just two years back, I found myself the lucky recipient of a mysterious bottle of wine festively laid out on my porch with a jaunty red ribbon waiting to be imbibed. Though I viewed the puzzling package with a great deal of misgiving, I finally gave in to my insatiable curiousity ( not to mention a touch of avarice ) and tore the gift open. Since the stray dogs that wandered by didn't keel over dead immediately after a sip, I figured the rest of the bottle should be relatively safe to drink. Till now the inscrutable identity of the generous benefactor remains wholly unknown to me.

Surely Santa would have left a note.

Till debt do us part?

But I let the matter rest - especially since the singular event didn't repeat itself after.

Till today. A sizeable hamper made its way to my workplace addressed to me, laden with peculiar gifts and yes, with a jaunty red ribbon as before. So why are the gifts peculiar? Well, just imagine the perfect gift basket for a baby shower with diapers, baby shampoos and baby bottle liquid cleansers.

Paul : That can't be for me.
Nurse : I signed for it. Your name was clearly written on the form and in full.
Paul : Someone sent me a bag of baby diapers?
Nurse : Trust me, I triple checked. I couldn't believe it myself.
Paul : What the -
Nurse : Are you hiding something - or should I say someone - from us?
Paul : I wish I was.
Nurse : Are you sure? No illegitimate baby?
Paul : Believe me, if there were a baby, I'd be holding it out proudly above Pride Rock amidst tribal drums.

Certainly struck a glimmer of hope in me! Alas much to my eternal disappointment, a brief yet thorough check through the baby-centric contents of the package didn't reveal a squawling infant, recently orphaned, tragically abandoned and armed with a tear-stained letter of recommendation!

The fact that we didn't actually find an unfortunate base-born child of mine tucked into the baby bottles probably won't stop the rampant rumour mill in the hospital from churning out wildly inaccurate tales of my assumed profligacy. Surely I hadn't forgotten some auld acquiantance that I knocked up last new year's?

Could it be a hint of things to come?