Thursday, June 26, 2003
I have a business idea. I think it will work because there are a lot of people who would want to buy this. Nine out of every ten conversations with A begin like that. Nothing much out of the ordinary coming from people of this ilk, as there are always men with business ideas who need to tell other men who would listen. Except with A, the business idea is likely to be so far fetched, and so original it either deserves to be listened to for being original or it deserves to be dismissed immediately for being far fetched. You buy a boat. You buy guns. You hire mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, ex-Special Forces troops. You sell berths on your boat to rich, perverted tourists. You take the boat to remote islands, inhabited by backward tribes. You land on the islands. You get the mercenaries to be kwai lan and antagonize the natives to the point where they will retaliate violently. Then they get back on the boat. Then you take the boat to the other side of the island and wait till nightfall and for the natives to come look for your boat. And when they come, the tourists can use the guns and kill them. I think there is a market for it. What do you think? It never matters what I think. The conversation then meanders into the murkier waters of the eternally unresolved issues about my love life before flowing back into clearer, simpler channels of how business is going, and ending with a platitude or twenty about how doing business is always like that one lah.
Monday, June 23, 2003
A Malay wedding
Shareena’s wedding dinner took a little longer than what Boo Seng predicted. He and I had arrived unfashionably early. The earliest among all the guests by the looks of it. So early we had to excuse ourselves to go to the car park to pretend to get something. It was an experience, as I have never attended a Malay wedding in Malaysia. Singapore Malay weddings are usually like what you have in the villages here. Long afternoon lunches that stretch into the night. No set timing for the arrival or departure of guests. A bit like a wake. Shareena’s wedding, in contrast, was a mixture of pomp and homeliness. The ceremony was solemn and religious, with long prayers that reminded me of charismatic Christian preachers who liked the sound of their own voices. We were starving by the time the Muslim version of Amen was said, with guests in the know making a face washing-like gesture signifying the close of communication lines with Allah. We had finished two bowls of tapioca chips before prayers even started, marveling at the decorations, which were actually more tasteful than I had expected. The tables, around fifty or so, had gold bows on linen lined chairs, and a huge silver dome smack in the middle. When the bride and groom finally finished the ceremonies on two thrones up stage, and glided over a sea of songkoks and tudungs to the back of the hall to preside over the guests, the lights went out, and the very capable waiting staff assembled around the tables in the dark with basins of rice to serve the hungry guests. We need more waiters who can see in the dark without stumbling and spilling rice all over customers. I was impressed. Malaysia boleh. The lights came back on, and whoa, another waiter who had crept up next to me in the dark first startled the shit out of me, then lifted the big silver dome off the centre of the table, revealing beef rendang, sambal prawns, curry chicken, dhal and achar. At this point, hunger having got the better of me, I exclaimed a little too loudly, “You mean the food was here all along??!” I was told off by Boo, who said I shouldn’t embarrass my Malaysian friends. Our table was labeled “UNSW”, next to the one which read “Shareena’s Friends”. It is obvious we are not in her inner sanctum. According to Boo and Penny, there were several judges among the guests, as well as several important people, Tan Sris and whatnot. Rank and status could not have been demonstrated more clearly, as the tan sris, datuks, raisins and sultanas were seated near the stage, while the UNSW table was in Siberia, next to the door where waiting staff stood at the ready to commence their night-vision rice assault. Food was consumed at a frantic pace, and used crockery was cleared with equal haste. Jen scooped and scooped cubes of sinewy rendang, one chicken drumstick, four pineapple cubes, one sudu or two of dhal and a partridge in a pear tree, while Allen made very small talk with the four strangers at our table and Boo and myself mused about what type of wedding we would have were we to be so fortunate as to have someone to marry. We then took our place in the queue to leave the hall and spent all of three minutes offering our congratulations to Shareena and Affendy, took the obligatory group photo, then took our leave. We adjourned to Changkat Bukit Bintang and had a beer (no alcohol at Malay wedding) at Deutsches Haus, making it the third visit in three nights for Boo and myself. Being a Sunday night, we called it pretty early after that. Earlier, Karen, Boo and myself went shopping for the wedding gift. As we expected, half the afternoon was spent negotiating traffic, first to Mid Valley, where we gave up trying to get into the car park, and then to somewhere near Bangsar, to a mall whose name I can’t remember for the life of me. We found a shop selling Chinese antiques, called ‘Madam Butterfly’, and bought a porcelain urn with double happiness painted on it, and a wine saucer set. The staff then took a back seat as they watched me rummage through their shop looking for wrapping material. Actually, one of them got a little pissed off because I asked for a box, and they had to go to the garbage area in the mall to get one. We then made them put the gifts into the Kodomo children’s toothbrush box (4 doz.), and made them use their coarse packing tissue to make wrapping paper while we shopped for ribbons and a card. We came back to the shop and saw that they had wrapped the box in the most horrible way imaginable – like a giant candy wrapper, with scotch tape visible all over the place. Too late to unwrap now, and I asked them for their pink coarse packing tissue and tried to mask the scotch tape by making a sash over the wrapping paper, while tying our gold and silver ribbons over the scrunched up ends of the candy wrapper. Creative intentions, ugly outcome. If nothing else, one look and Shareena would be immensely curious as to what the package contained. The way our present sat on the gifts table just screamed out “Open Me Please. Like Now!” I hope they like it.
Sunday, June 15, 2003
I tried fixing the wipers on my car right after lunch, smack in the noon heat, hoping to renew the Tioman tan, but failed in both departments. I popped the bonnet and peered into the engine compartment, thinking, so, this is what my car engine looks like. You could say I know nothing of cars other than how to drive them, turn up the air-con and put CDs in the stereo. It was somewhat of a consolation when my brother saw me mucking around with the bonnet open (its about the only time we interact – the other being when I open my computer cover), and came over to see how he could help, and he couldn’t. My brother, the expert in all things technical and automotive, couldn’t fix my wipers. I have to bring it in to the mechanic’s tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain. So in all, five minutes were spent standing shirtless, spanner in hand, looking for a nut or bolt to undo. No tan. It is a chore talking cars to other straight men. I spent a good half hour discussing the merits of my car to Cheng last night, with him asking all intricacies of how and why my car is worth buying. You need to have the aptitude of a nuclear scientist when you own a car in Singapore, and sometimes, I feel exposed as a supremely unintelligent consumer when people tell me things like, wah, your road tax must be a killer, your fuel consumption must be quite high, your car must be very difficult to park, how many years left on the COE? What is the depreciation? What is the scrap value? But over the past year of owning Mini (the name I gave my Merc Benz 300SEL), the stock response to these questions is, “I got it for real cheap at $28K, 5 years left on COE, fuel is not too bad, am used to the parking, just take up one and a half lots, I start the engine, it works, I step on accelerator, it moves, I step on brakes, it stops, I steer, it turns”.
Friday, June 06, 2003
Texting 1,2,3 The number 7 button on my phone hadn’t been working properly since I returned from Tioman. I had noticed earlier that there had been fine grains of sand embedded in the crevices on the phone’s plastic shell. On Saturday night, I slid the shell off with a screwdriver and wondered how almost a thimble full of fine grain Tioman sand had gotten into the innards of the phone. (It was in the Ziploc all the time, and the only time it ever came close to peril was when our kayak upended on the beach). I took a spare toothbrush and meticulously and gently cleaned the contact points in the phone, put it back together, and being real proud of myself, launched into a long SMS conversation with you while you ate your dinner and watched your VCD. The joy of having liberated the number 7 button made me want to make many words in the messages with the letters P, Q, R and S. I was so happy I would’ve SMSd you continuously even if you didn’t reply.