Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Undoubtedly one of Diffident David's favourite words which he uses quite frequently - and I presume what he usually jabbers to get out of doing something he abhors. Not that being paiseh in any way excuses him from said task.

However what paiseh means - taken from colloquial Hokkien - is something similar to a feeling of shame or embarassment; ostensibly intended to display a humble common man reticence coupled with the desperate avoidance of any socially inappropriate behaviour that might cause severe mortification. Though sometimes paiseh does seem more like a fear of being shamed with the ever humiliating loss of face, a peculiar concept keenly associated with local Chinese culture.

Undoubtedly paiseh is a word I've rarely used when it comes to myself since bashful reticence seems vaguely foolish to me.

And with passing age and senility, what seems socially inappropriate in the past doesn't seem to bother me as much nowadays.

Paiseh. Paiseh. What is there to be paiseh about?!

Not so for David who frequently bandies the word about. Sad to say these days the word paiseh apparently covers a multitude of sins as the timeworn excuse to shirk whatever tiresome duty lays ahead. Lazy to host a friend. Paiseh. Unable to run a bothersome errand. Paiseh. Refuse to talk to a stranger. Paiseh.

David : Oh my friend is here with her entire family. 
Paul : Ask her out for dinner then. 
David : No la. 
Paul : Why not? 
David : Paiseh. 
Paul : What the hell for? 
David : Her parents are around. 
Paul : So?
David : So paiseh lo. 


Embarassed to ask a friend out for dinner with her family? Surely there aren't all terrifying flesh-eating monsters - since they managed to nurture someone who became a 'friend' - so what's the paiseh all about? After I ranted for a little more than five minutes, I realized that wasn't the worst of it.

The word seems to be quite infectious indeed.

David : Alright I finally asked her for dinner.
Paul : And? 
David : She refused. 
Paul : Why the hell for? 
David : She is paiseh. 
Paul : What the hell. 

Perhaps I might understand trying not to impose on a friend but when the invitation's already being offered?! Wouldn't it be far more embarassing to merely decline? Honestly wanted to knock both their irksome paiseh heads together.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

All About Karenina


Through this particular medium of intimate journaling, I have met and loved quite a lot of people. Since blogging peaked several years back and is now on the slow wane, only a handful of my friends still faithfully maintain their posts considering the severe lack of serious readers these days. Some like Diffident David can't even make it through a particularly lengthy tweet, much less an entire mundane blogpost. Let's not even go to books yet.

I know many would shake their heads in disbelief but really, when was the last time you saw someone pick up a book to read for pleasure? Some kids can even barely finish reading a brief status update.

But I digress. Till now I update my blog every once so often though sometimes not as regularly as I would have liked. Most days I people my writings with close friends and acquaintances that I know, sketching a rough caricature of their characters, personalities and outlooks with some all-too-obviously laughable exaggerations of their everyday foibles, faults and flaws.

Which I love. Don't get me wrong, I don't see idiosyncrasies and imperfections as something to dislike in a person - I take them as part and parcel of who they are.

Yet rather than being incensed at being satirized there are some friends who actually find themselves aggrieved at not being more aggressively lampooned in my posts - despite the fact that their lives are so wildly fascinating that it makes them instantly recognizable just by merely hinting at the place and events.

Maybe it's time to find Karenina!

Such as Curvy Carenina.

Obviously christened as such after Tolstoy's eponymous heroine, Anna Karenina, who finds herself rather helplessly dragged along the relentless locomotive of her fiery love life directly onto the sadly unforgiving tracks. Pretty much gossiped about by the rest of the priggish townspeople who have painted her character in terrifyingly bold shades of scarlet. Fortunately our Carenina has far more wit, considerably more forthrightness and hopefully significantly more resolve which would preclude her from that unfortunate, and ultimately foolish, dive under the wheels of a passing train.

Indeed they bear more than similarities in character since just like the dramatic Russian socialite she's named after, Carenina finds herself the unwitting target of a lustful, affluent aristocrat who's already irrevocably betrothed to another far lesser being.
He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.
Undaunted by any such restrictive societal conventions, Carenina has responded to his frequent exhortations of love by utterly yielding to his highly seductive charms. Speaking of his shockingly accommodating fiancee, our wicked Vronsky dismisses his adulterous intentions easily enough.

Vronsky : There are as many kinds of loves, as there are hearts. 
Carenina : Tell me more. 
Vronsky : You're far more informal, so casual and carefree when it comes to love. Certainly far more than my fiance could ever be who has everything planned out.
Carenina : Every move, every position?
Vronsky : Decidedly so.  

Which obviously makes me wonder. How irrationally formal could this fiancee be? Would she prepare beautifully handwritten invitations for sexual intercourse on gilt-edged cards expecting an equally formal RSVP in return? Place a note on his and her calendars to confirm the expected timing to match?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Cousins

As many of you would have guessed, I come from a relatively untraditional household.

Well, at least in my own nuclear family since some of my older uncles do subscribe to a terrifyingly conservative, vaguely Confucian doctrine. Think Father Knows Best. Thankfully my father, despite the occasional tyrannical bluster, turned out to be far more liberal than most, which perhaps explains the rebellious anarchists he involuntarily fostered in his home. Till now, setting the rules anywhere whether at home or at work would invariably incite me into figuring how to bend or break them.

Enlightened permissiveness there might be in our household but some traditional values still hold true. Unlike most of my peers these days who can hardly recall half of their blood relatives, we were brought up to consider members of our extended family such as our cousins to be as close as our own siblings.

Blood is thicker than water isn't just an antiquated aphorism in my family.

Which is why till now I have relatively few qualms over taking the strap to their unruly brats if they dare step over the line, cantankerous uncle and all. After all, my own hard-nosed elders wouldn't have hesitated to do the same - and for that, I do wholeheartedly thank them since otherwise I would have probably turned into a monstrous miscreant.

Even amongst my cousins, no matter how far flung they might be, there's always an invariable link - made stronger these days with the ever-present chat messaging apps which keeps us all regularly apprised on each other's mundane daily movements.

So you can imagine my horror when I came to the sad realization that not everyone shares such strong familial sentiments.

Paul : That was a lovely lunch. Who was that pretty young lady beside you? 
Calvin : My cousin.
Paul : Visiting? 
Calvin : No, she lives right here. 
Paul : What? 
Calvin : She also works here. 
Paul : And you have never ever seen her? 
Calvin : No, why should I? 
Paul : So what does she do? 
Calvin : Don't know. 
Paul : You're not at all curious to know? You don't want to know her better? 
Calvin : No.

For someone who places such emphasis on familial ties, you can imagine my horror.

Calvin : I have little interest in knowing her.
Cousin : Neither do I. Just because we are related by blood doesn't mean we have to get along.
Paul : I can't tell if I'm impressed with such refreshingly modern views or appalled. 

Not only is this unnervingly anonymous junior Borgia right in town, she's apparently not the only cousin of his age around. Surprisingly quite a number I have yet to meet - and here I'd been led to think he only had eccentric elders left. Despite having a family presumably far more conservative than my own, there are certain key Confucian tenets they don't seem to hold dear such as the prime importance of familial kinship and consanguinity.

In stark contrast to their seeming familial indifference, my adorably nosy cousins found themselves practically agog with curiosity when they found out about Calvin. Half of them, at least the more boisterous half, couldn't wait to meet and have him interrogated under a swinging lamp.

When it comes to cousinly relationships, I'll have to say this is far from the worst though. I've had friends who didn't even know some first cousins even existed till bluntly pointed out. Fabulous Felix spent half his life without meeting his.
“At some point, the family you create is more important than the one you were born into.
No argument with that but that doesn't mean we should entirely overlook the extended family we were born into either. Just like any other relationship, it takes time and effort to build a connection and some relations are certainly worth getting to know better.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

The CDinosaur

Even in the sweltering burn of the hellish tropics - namely right here, there are the rare, blessedly cool, rainy evenings when all I want to do is sit with a book in hand while the radio plays my extensive collection of CDs.

Yes, I said it. CDs. Compact Discs for the tragically uninitiated.

What? People still buy CDs? 

You'll be excused - especially if you're one of the brand new Millennials - if you're wondering what the hell I meant by that. Turns out no one I know here actually buys CDs anymore! Like ye olde wound-up cassettes of the past, hardly anyone ever uses the CD players in their vehicles - since their outmoded CDs are mostly used as makeshift coasters or bird repellents.

Wouldn't surprise me if the kids today actually wondered what the heck the shiny discs are. Perhaps we could deceive them into thinking they are shiny metal fascinators?

Look, it's not that I don't have digital music. Despite my sad lack of IT knowhow, I'm far from a total Luddite and I actually have a similarly comprehensive collection of music on iTunes as well. Somehow I just prefer watching the entirely banal act of rifling through the CD cases, picking out the disc of the day and watching it spin on the deck.

I told you I'm peculiar.

After all without said records, what would Corinne Bailey Rae sing?

With the way things are going, guess one day it would be 'Put the iTunes' on? Somehow doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?

Wonder what they would think if people knew I have vinyl records as well. 

Saturday, July 02, 2016

A Spot of Bother

My grandmother has a tumour.

Don't freak out. Relax though. Not only is it a slow-growing tumour barely in its nascency, there's very little chance my nonagenarian, edging to centenarian, grandmother could outlive said malignancy. Since that near inconsequential nugget of growth has done little to bother her, I've just sighed and shrugged over the diagnosis.

Which is the opposite of the extended family's reaction.

Think horror, heartbreak and hysteria - in a rapid succession of dispirited gushes at first, and then all three packed into one great big emotional eruption not seen since Krakatoa threw a ruckus back in 1883. News of my grandmother's spot of bother turned viral almost immediately with the entire family whatsapp group chat practically flooded in less than an hour with overwrought feeds from up and down the length of the Pacific coast.

With invariably more medical information within than the BMJ.

Too many doctors in the family indeed. Which is how my poor grandmother was immediately hurried through an entirely counterproductive battery of tests, scans and examinations, undoubtedly without her abject consent. Turns out I was the only one who questioned the sheer futility of undergoing such irksome procedures if my grandmother wouldn't give consent for further treatment.

Paul : More tests, really?
Cousin : But we have to get the correct diagnosis.
Paul : So what if you find the diagnosis but the patient refuses further treatment? 

To add further insult to injury, the overly solicitous, well-meaning aunts then decided to mislead my grandma by telling her it's all perfectly routine. All on the erroneous assumption that my grandmother's an addlepated, dimwitted fool - which, if you've been following my blog, she has proven repeatedly that she is decidedly not despite her growing decrepitude.

Hell, I would be pleased to be even half as lucid at her age.

And she would also say hell no, she won't go if they even suggested more surgery.

It shouldn't surprise me so much though since I've had similar experiences with other overanxious families hoping to hide the diagnosis from their loved ones in a peculiar bid to protect them. Seldom ends well though since I find such sentiments absolutely foolish and find myself utterly uncooperative with these provoking requests for a nondisclosure.

Relatives : Could you not inform my mother that she has cancer? 
Paul : She lived through some of the most turbulent times in China, went through two world wars, braved the rough seas to come here with two toddlers, then brought up the entire lot of you. You know what, I think she will survive knowing this. 
Relatives : It would make her depressed.
Paul : It would make her depressed to think that her children don't trust her with such information. 

Perhaps the ethical dilemma changes from patient to patient - with some preferring not to know - but really, how can we withhold such vital information from the patient themselves, especially if they are of sound mind. In my grandmother's case, it's certainly not her first brush with the big C - which the other relatives also tried to keep hush-hush - so I doubt receiving such information would be all that big a blow.