Monday, September 30, 2013

Why There Are No Balinese Cookbooks

Like seriously.

Don't get me wrong. I love the island. Absolute tropical paradise. When it comes to theatre and dance, painting and sculpture - I doubt many places in the world could possibly compare to this small yet enchanting haven of arts and culture. So many amazing sights to ooh and aah over that it was wonder I even managed to find the time to have regular meals.

Which I did... much to my ever growing disappointment. Turns out the wonderfully talented Balinese must have concentrated their prodigious efforts towards perfecting their arts in the temple workshops rather than refining the far simpler, more humble art of cooking in the kitchens.

Not that the food doesn't look simply stunning.

Man, what can I have for lunch today?
Just that the bland tastes of the local food honestly cannot compare with the delicacies of the neighbouring regions such as Thailand and Malaysia. Perhaps a touch of bias? But since I loved everything else about the island, I tried my very best to love the local dishes as well but by day five of my stay, I'd practically given up on the Balinese menu.

Paul : What's wrong with the food here!
Calvin : I have no idea. 
Paul : The spice route runs through here. Did they somehow miss the boat? 
Calvin : So I take it that the babi guling isn't that great?
Paul : Not really. Roasted pork back home blows this out of the water. 
Calvin : Agreed. 
Paul : Now I know why they don't have that many cookbooks. 
Calvin : Very true. 
Paul : I'm gonna live on steaks and chips from today.

Best thing I had was corn cob roasted on a beach.

Or maybe instant mee goreng - which is delicious but isn't particularly Balinese.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Get Me Out Of This Airport

Not that I ever did but you'll probably never hear a word of complaint about our airport services after this.

It was my second time to Bali after almost a decade of being away. Long enough that I could hardly recall the lurid circumstances of my last trip. Still I did remember having a wonderful time which served as a good enough reason to talk Charming Calvin into heading there on an impromptu vacation.

OMG How do I get out of this airport!

Unfortunately even the first landing was horrific enough with the plane hitting the ground hard enough that the breathing masks crashed down from the ceiling. Who knew that my first shot here would be a hasty instagram shot of my mother looking aghast with breathing masks draped carelessly around her shoulders!

And that was before we descended into the hell of immigration in the airport. If I hadn't known exactly where I was, I would have thought we'd fallen into a haphazard riot of unwashed OZ surfers with Rastafarian dreadlocks.

Calvin : Are we in the right queue?
Paul : Hell if I know. There are hardly any signs.
Calvin : Oh wait, this looks like the visa on arrival queue. 
Paul : I see the immigration queue on the other side. Oh wait, was that the queue for the toilet.
Calvin : Damn the queue is crazy long.
Paul : I think we might be here till the end of our trip. 
Calvin : Wouldn't be surprised. 
Paul : Are we even in the right queue?
Mother : We are never coming back. Like ever.

And that was before coming upon the smallest baggage carousel ever - shocking when you realize that Bali has international flights coming in almost every ten minutes.

Sabarlah Menanti. In Malay, that literally means to wait patiently - like the lyrics to the lovely song below.

But the minute we stepped out of the airport into the beautiful magical paradise that was Bali, everything changed. Almost like falling under a spell. After barely a day on the island, even my adamant mother changed her mind about never ever returning.

A note to future visitors - the Ngurah Rai Airport in Bali will be moving to a brand-new state-of-the-art premises by the end of the month, so fear not! 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Sacrifice

Grateful village headman offers his one and only daughter to the returning champion after managing to overcome deadly peril against all reasonable odds. It's a familiar enough dramatic trope that most of us have heard some version of it - even as impressionable children listening eagerly to the much-repeated fables. Bet no one ever thought to ask the poor soon-to-be-affianced girl exactly what she thought about being so cheaply bartered off to some random stranger.

Never did see myself in the role of the vaunted hero though.

And I certainly never wanted to have a vulnerable virgin bride placed at my doorstep. Not even the fairest in the land.

Partly the reason why today's extraordinary incident left me utterly dumbfounded. Decidedly worse than any of nurses' previous feeble attempts at matchmaking.

Lady : You're a really good doctor. A lifesaver! 
Paul : Well thank you. All in a day's work.
Lady : Are you single?
Paul : Umm... yeah?
Lady : You should marry my daughter.
Paul : What?
Lady : Really! She's a very good girl. Studying in college. Quite pretty too!
Paul : What? 
Lady : Here's her number. Take it down.
Paul : You hardly know me!

In my years of work, appreciative tributes from patients have ranged from floral bouquets to boxes of chocolates; never have I gotten a wife-to-go instead. Hope she wasn't intending to skip on the bill.

Hi, my mom asked me to follow you home? 

Much to my endless consternation - and to her daughter's red-faced embarassment since she was standing barely five feet away, the lady insisted on jotting the number down - along with other pertinent details - on a notepad. No doubt if I had demurred any more, she would have shoved me unwillingly in the direction of her mortified daughter. Far from helping, my conspiring nurses stood at the sidelines snickering over my patent discomfort.

Of course if she'd offered up her eligible son, I might have been a little more agreeable. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mid Autumn Fasting

Soon as the Hell Gates come to a deafening close in early September, it heralds the coming of the Eighth Lunar Month on the Chinese Calendar - and subsequently our preparations for the annual Mid-Autumn Gathering at Netherfield. Just planning a party might sound deceptively easy - but soon enough you'll find yourself knee deep in preparations with detailed dinner menus to prepare, various caterers to choose, multicoloured lanterns to pick from...

Dammit did I forget to order candles? 

And of course, delicious savoury mooncakes to indulge in. Generally eaten in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival which falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month. Legend has it that the mooncakes were embedded with secret letters, not to mention coded with messages on the patterns on the pastry surface, to start a rebellion in China under the rule of the Mongols. Though I assume few of the malcontents had the time to read since most would have gobbled up the sweet treats.

Something most apprehensive gay boys these days avoid with a vengeance, considering the thousands of frightful cholesterol-laden calories concentrated into one sinfully decadent golden-hued slice. So much so that most partake of only one meagre piece for the entire festive period, choosing to hand the rest out to their less watchful friends.

Like myself.

Which I find a pity since I adore the tempting treats. Certainly not the newfangled snow skin mooncakes with alarmingly outlandish flavours such as kaffir lime or musang king durian; just my classic baked lotus paste with double salted egg yolk will do well enough for a traditionalist like me.

Contemplated getting several gift boxes as I usually do this time of year - none for the finicky health-conscious in-laws of course - but I decided not to keep that many for the coming soiree. With almost all my anxious weight-watching friends, and that includes my nurses, seemingly on a fad diet for the past few weeks, it seems as if there might be some trouble finishing the lot.

Nurse : Ooh but we love mooncakes. 
Paul : Don't think I'll get that many this year. Who's going to finish them?
Nurse : Of course we will.
Paul : What about your diet?
Nurse : Forget the diet. It's a once a year thing.
Paul : You just swallowed one teensy baby carrot for lunch. 
Nurse : Which makes the mooncake so much more worth it.
Paul : If I get a whole lot, you'd bloody well make sure you finish them all. I'll stuff the lot in your mouth so help me God.

Though something tells me I'm going to end up dining on mooncakes for several nights after the party. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Standards of Gaydom

Sometimes it's not that hard to understand why most heterosexual men still remain vastly terrified of homosexuals as a whole. Our presumed sexual voraciousness and apparent irrational need to convert them to our debauched ways aside, our straight brethren must find it nigh impossible to live up to the impossible standards set by us.

Well maybe not by me - but by the rest of my fabulous gay brothers. With homosexual men generally deemed to be funnier, wittier, better-dressed, even better-looking by the far more discerning females - something we see regularly played to stereotype on the mass media - is it any wonder the already overawed straight boys would feel just a teensy discouraged? Rather than simply lounging in their grungiest boxers like the manly cave slobs some of them are, now they have nattily-dressed fags to compete with. Literal near-perfect Ken dolls some of them. How not to feel intimidated!

We have to keep up some standards!
Like it or not, every so often even I feel a tad daunted by the excessive standards set by us gay men. The Best Little Boy in the World hypothesis for sure. Quite exhausting merely trying to keep up with the gay Joneses.

Especially when they constantly keep reaffirming such double standards.

Jones : Oh that guy's cute. Well for a straight guy anyway.
Paul : For a straight guy? What do you mean by that?
Jones : Well he's a cute guy by straight standards.
Paul : Straight standards?

Jones : You heard me. 
Paul : Meaning he wouldn't be cute if he was gay?
Jones : Of course. Probably just average for a gay man.
Paul : Ouch.

Looks like even we hold other gay men to higher standards. Guess I was right to feel disheartened! If I slip up one morning, do I lose the pink passport?

Then again if I'm a hideous troll by our impossibly high gay standards, does that mean I'm actually somewhat doable in the straight world?

Friday, September 13, 2013

When the Kat's Away

With the erratic weather we're having marking the changing of the monsoon winds, Netherfield is heralding a change of its own as one of the tenants takes their leave at the end of the month. Finally taking her vows as a bride, Kool Kat is returning to the other side of the Big Puddle to be with her husband. Since there doesn't seem to be any reason to get another - and the rent is pretty much covered, I doubt Netherfield will be hosting somebody new.

Not to mention I have my eye on a certain other property close by, something far more permanent than a lease.

Kat : I'll be packed and gone by the end of the month.
Paul : That's pretty fast!
Kat : Wait, what was that sound?
Paul : I think that's Felix popping the champagne. He's been eyeing your room all summer long.

Rather than the steady measured pace of her arrival, Kat seems to be in a wild desperate hurry to leave this time. Literally tossing clothes and supplies into her suitcases in a wild bustle. Almost everything of hers that wasn't nailed down to the floor - even the crummy wall clock she bought for less than five dollars - found its way into several stuffed boxes on our porch in a matter of hours.

If I hadn't been in the rapt audience for her wedding ceremony, I would have thought she was packing for a hasty elopement.

Didn't take but a day for her to clear the room - several tiring hours of non-stop commotion - which left me feeling just a tad non-plussed.

Paul : You heard that Kat's leaving?
Felix : Yeah I heard her packing.
Paul : She's even taking the dustbin. 
Felix : Wow. 
Paul : Packing should be done by the end of the week or so. 
Felix : And that rocks! I get the bigger room woo hoo!

Something tells me Fabulous Felix won't be overly torn up by her sudden departure. Never one for sentimentality obviously.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Shorts & Trunks

Despite living close to the sea - with the sandy beach never more than twenty minutes drive away - I don't actually go swimming that often. Blame it on my near irrational fear of the scorching ultraviolet rays ever present on said sunny beaches.

Which explains my severe lack of swimwear; at least nothing serviceable. The ones I have would probably float away with the coming tide.

And I politely declined Fabulous Felix's all too kind offer to loan his super-skimpy see-through white Speedos. For shame! I might hit the gym a little more regularly these days but there's a limit to my exhibitionist tendencies.

Unless I looked like him of course. 

So with a trip to a tropical island listed on my travel schedule, I had no choice but to hit the stores. Usually one of my favourite past-times - but this time, flicking through endless racks of scanty spandex, all barely larger than a pocket handkerchief, sent chills down my spine. Not to mention in this conventional little town, there's really not much choice for men's swimwear apart from low-cut trunks and briefs in indeterminate variations of black and blue.

Find board shorts far too prudish so I picked out one of the less risque trunks. Super stretchy as the material was, I found it almost impossible to guesstimate the size.

Paul : Could you reasonably guess my size? 
Salesgirl : No need guess guess la. Just go try la. 
Paul : You're serious. I'm allowed to try the swimming trunks? 
Salesgirl : Why not! Take the whole bunch. 
Paul : I presume a whole battalion of men have gone through them as well?
Salesgirl : Not that many la. Okay one la.


Yes, I've heard about the girls trying on brassieres in the changing room but wasn't this a little bit much? Admittedly a little dubious but I figured I'd just slip them on really really fast - and off even quicker. With my briefs modestly underneath, surely I wouldn't catch anything less than savoury.   

Friday, September 06, 2013

Plus One

There comes a time in your life when wedding invitations - otherwise unreasonably known as red bombs 紅包 - start arriving at your doorstep.

For years I used to cringe inwardly when receiving them since it would remind me painfully of my assumed singlehood, which was patently untrue but relatively unknown to some of my less well-informed friends and family. Many a time, I desperately wished to send back an impetuous hastily-scrawled RSVP proclaiming to the world that I - the self-avowed homosexual - certainly wasn't going to be shoved into the singles table with the rest of the blushing bridesmaids.

If anything they should leave me in a debauched den full of virile yet susceptible and half-soused groomsmen.

However these days, I don't have to give them that particular heads up. Past a certain age, most friends readily figure out the dirty truth without the actual telling - and hey, news seriously travels fast on the grapevine when you're gay. Seems the little rainbow flag pinned to my coat isn't as discreet as I once imagined.

So these days, I'm getting quite accustomed to receiving wedding invitations with a significant plus one noted beside my name. What differentiates the card I received a week back was the fact that not only did it have the plus one to indicate my partner, it actually came with Charming Calvin's name handwritten neatly beside mine. Rare enough that I could barely hide my delighted grin.

Paul : Did you see the card! So great yeah!
Calvin : Meh.
Paul : You're not impressed, you little cynic?
Calvin : Meh. 

How's that for validation!

So yes, LGBT issues might be getting an unfairly severe hammering in our homophobic political arena - what with nonsensical rehabilitation camps and anti-homosexual musicals - but down on the ground, at least amongst the dear people I know and love, there has been lots of encouraging progress on our front. Irrational haters are still there but the supporters on our side are growing.These days even my staid brother has started to be a far more fervent supporter of gay rights than even me. Things do get better.

At this rate, kindly folks - not to mention my terrifyingly compelling niece - are nagging the both of us to finally make it official, I might be drafting out our very own red bombs sooner than later. 

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Peek out of the Closet

For someone voluntarily exiled to a remote forgotten outpost in the tropical jungle, I have to admit I have never ever had a more gay life. Hard to remain steadfastly in the closet when you have someone adamantly homosexual like Fabulous Felix prancing around on his disco-dancing rainbow unicorn beside you. So bonny, blithe and gay that it makes you wonder why anyone would even bother hiding.

Sometimes though I tend to forget that some of my resolutely closeted gay brethren are still struggling with intricate issues nearly impossible to unravel in a lifetime. Chief amongst them would be those thorny religious issues - and most would already know what the collective Judaeo-Christian faiths think about homosexuality! Less generous hugs and welcoming kisses, more fiery brimstone and pointy pitchforks.

Or at least the more intolerant, doggedly orthodox doctrines.

Which is why I found myself agog when one of my oldest friends finally came out to me - someone I half expected would soon be joining a seminary - despite years of my suspecting that he wasn't entirely straight. Rusty gaydar might be slightly wonky but it still manages to ping correctly once in a while.

Is it the right time to come out of the closet?

I'll admit I was a bit blasé when he said it since I pretty much figured that out. As it turns out while I was being unabashedly gay at work, Jocund Jonah was instead battling his inner Barbra Streisand - with Jesus and his apostles on the other side of the ring judging unfavourably. Hence the dilemma.

Jonah : There's this internal struggle especially with religion. 
Paul : So that's your metaphorical whale!
Jonah : Something like that yes. 
Paul : You do know there's at least a ten percent chance of being gay in any given population? So at least one of the Apostles has to be gay. 
Jonah : Never thought of it like that. 
Paul : Bet it's St Paul. 
Jonah : True, the thorn in his flesh. 

Took Jonah all of forty years to be expelled from the metaphorical whale into the open - and now he is out and proud. Well at least to a selected few. Baby steps I guess.

Next step would be stepping out as a gay man. Still undoubtedly freaked out by the wildly salacious nature of our homosocial apps but Jonah's somewhat willing to give it a try, despite knowing that laying himself out there on the notoriously judgemental meat market isn't all that easy. Especially at our age.

But better late than never I say.