Hail Wilhelmina Pepermunt!

May 9, 2012

A friend of mine recently came back from Amsterdam.

Now, if you are familiar with any aspect of Amsterdam, you will know people who go to Amsterdam go there to get high on smoke and drink, pop pills and engage in all sorts of party animal behaviour. It is the garden of earthly delights. So it was with great (albeit naughty) anticipation when she told me over the phone that she wanted to meet me for lunch the following day to pass me “a gift” she’d brought back from Amsterdam.

Of course I was excited – are you kidding? It’s “stuff” from Amsterdam, baby!

The next day at lunch, with gleeful fingers trembling, I took the non-descript brown paper bag as she slid it across the table. I inspected the paper bag – it was coated with a thin layer of white powder. Very contraband-ish. Dare I open the bag in broad daylight?

With bated breath, I pry the bag open and look inside – there’s another white bag on the inside. My friend looks at me with eyes big as dinner plates as I pull the bag out cautiously, ready for narcotics officers to pounce on me at my slightest flinch. Finally, I get it out of the brown bag and this is what I see.

wilhelmina-pepermunt.jpg

A white bag with the head of a woman on the front, in the national colours of the Netherlands, that reads “Wilhelmina Pepermunt”.

A little confusing, to say the least (especially when you’ve been set up to expect to receive a pound of blow from your party-hardy friend who just came back from Amsterdam.)

At this point, the smell of peppermint hits me like a subway train – this might not be hard drugs but judging from the smell, it’s just as strong. Braving the minty-ness of it all, I open the bag, peer inside and see the biggest freakin’ mints I’ve ever seen in my entire life!

wilhelmina-pepermunt-inside.jpg

I know it’s hard to tell from the photograph but trust me, these mints were so huge they could be casino tokens for gambling cats or something. In fact, just to give you a size reference, I’ll take a comparison picture with a Panadol capsule.

They’re freaking mints for God’s sake!

wilhelmina-size-comparison.jpg

In any case, I started wondering about the name – “Wilhelmina Peppermunt”. It was somewhat regal and the picture of the woman printed on the front was no slouch either. I thanked my friend for the gift and made my way back to my office, ready for some answers.

A quick wiki later, I came upon the origins of my bag of Dutch mints:

“Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Marie (of Orange-Nassau) was Queen Regent of the Kingdom of the Netherlands from 1890 – 1948. She then became Queen Mother from 1948 – 1962. She had the honour of ruling the Netherlands longer than any other Dutch monarch in history.”

As for her relationship to peppermints, Wikipedia came up short on that. Although I’d like to cook up a story about how Wilhelmina ruled the Dutch by pelting the commoners’ heads with extraordinarily large peppermints, I can only assume that these peppermints are more a sort of touristy keepsake. Why do I say that?

Because upon a more thorough wiki lookthrough, I found this picture.

 

dutch_coin_10_guilders_1912.jpg

Doesn’t that guilder on the left look like one of my peppermints?

Anyway, they turned out to be pretty tasty and what’s even better is that they last as long as they look like they last – and that’s a really long time. In fact, I popped one in my mouth before I started writing this post and I’m only almost halfway through it. I suppose, judging from Wilhelmina’s long ruling, it should only be fitting that her mints last longer than any other, right?

Well, at this point, with the mint in my mouth, all I can (or can’t) say is:

Hail Wilhelmina Pepermunt!

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Do fat people have more fun?

May 8, 2012

Just last week, as I was running around the track at Bedok Camp for my RT when, it struck me – do fat people have more fun?For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term RT, it simply means Remedial Training. Remedial Training for what you might be asking? Basically, as part of being a reservist in the army, one is required to keep fit and pass a yearly IPPT – that’s Individual Physical Proficiency Test for those not in the know. For those who fail IPPT (that’s me and half of Singapore’s men who left the army to a life of potato chips video games), they will be summoned to attend RT, which is 24 sessions, 2 1/2 hours each, of physical training over the span of 2 months. We run, we jump, we do chin-ups, push-ups and all manner of calisthenics with strange obscure names like “Ranger Hop” and “Chicken Backside”.

My story this week begins with a particularly busy Tuesday RT session where I had a lot on my mind. After being stuck in traffic, I arrive slightly late and in what can only be described as a state close to catatonia, I told the processing Physical Training Instructor that I was in the Green group instead of my usual Blue group. Why? I have no idea.

Anyway, I proceeded to the mass warm up but it was only after we were seperated into our groups and Green gathered onto the running track that I realized my mistake.

It was when I realized what the Green group was composed of.

Now, the term “morbid obesity” conjures up images in one’s mind both frightening, funny and tragic at the same time but basically, this is an example of what you’d have to look like to be morbidly obese:

able.jpg

Yup, you guessed it – the Green group is the group for the obese, some more morbid than others.

Surrounded by the mountainous flesh around me, my first instinct was to leave but then I calmed myself down and decided to stay. Why? Well, I thought it might be a novel experience to see what these guys did for training as I was certain none would be able to stomach, nay survive, the training dished out by my original Blue group instructors. And so training began with a 30 minute jog around the track. It was an “Endurance Jog”, meaning that everyone was supposed to keep moving for 30 minutes, at their own pace, around the track.

So I began my jog.

5 minutes passed and I realized that I couldn’t get ahead. There was a wall of people in front of me, spanning all 8 lanes.

They were all walking.

Feeling indignant at not being able to run at my own pace, I run up close to them and was about to ask them to make way when I realized that they weren’t walking on purpose – they literally couldn’t run.

I will never forget what I witnessed on the track that day. These guys were literally huffing and puffing and turning red in the face, sweating buckets and looking like they were all going to keel over and have massive coronary failures. And they weren’t even running! Amazed at this phenomenon, I began to trail behind one group who seemed to be doing better than the rest. They were walking at a faster pace, still huffing and puffing, but also managing to hold a staccato conversation between them. So I did what any good writer might have done – I eavesdropped. This is what I heard (reproduced here almost verbatim):

“Wah lan, damn shag, balls. Cannot make it lah.”

“I know. I wanna die also.”

“Why they make us come for this? Cannot pass anyway, what.”

“Ya lor, fat is fat lah. How can they expect fat people to pass IPPT? Then cannot pass already they ask us to come here and do this shit.”

“Ya balls. I wanna die already lah. Wah, you know what I’m thinking about now?”

“What?”

“I thinking about the KFC at Bedok lah. Shiok, sia.”

At this point, both men started laughing out loud, really heartily. One punched the other in the shoulder and the other laughed even louder.

They were actually having fun.

Throughout the “run”, I sidle up to different groups and I find a commonality in all their conversations. Nope, they’re weren’t all about dying from the run or the merits of Colonel Sander’s fried chicken; the commonality here was that everyone was laughing.

Everyone.

There were people cracking jokes left, right and center; there was a humongous dude doing the Macarena down Lane 3 of the track; there were at least 15 people laughing with him; it was such a party some were even singing as they walked along the track. It was a regular riot. I was 8 weeks into my RT phase and not one week had I seen an entire RT cohort have so much fun. Most times, my usual Blue group (which consisted of people who had failed by a thin margin), was so hell bent on shaving off those minutes or getting one extra chin-up that we forgot about the fun of it all.

Now I know people who are in RT will be up in arms about this and saying “what’s so fun about RT?” Well, to them, I say, next session, hook up with the Greens. My theory as to why they laugh is that it’s only natural that when you’re so far down, the only way to go is up and these dudes are on the up and up. They’re laughing so much even the Instructors can’t do anything about it but to laugh along. It’s the same way people laugh in the face of insurmountable odds. If you can’t beat ’em … laugh at ’em?

Next week, I’ll be back with the Blues, resuming my regular grind, trying to shave that minute off my 2.4km run timing. But if I don’t succeed, I’ll just take a look at the Greens and I know, that nothing in life is so serious that you can’t have a laugh at it.


Storytelling – Pixar Style

April 23, 2012

Pixar story artist Emma Coats #lawnrocket has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.


The World Is Ending … Where Will You Be?

May 14, 2010

My wife told me last week that the world was coming to an end.

My first instinct was to think: “Oh God … what did I do wrong now?”

But she was serious. She was speaking to someone who told her that. The world, as we know it, was coming to a definite end. And there were signs.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know we’ve all heard it before. The Mayans predicted it, different religions say it’s coming to an end (in a bid to get everyone to either repent or join them or both) and we all know about the Apocalypse and all that.

But what this person told her had facts to back up her claim. Now I could be wrong about this recollection but I think this person knew about some drilling that was happening in Indonesia and what happened was these guys were drilling for oil and instead of hitting oil, they came up with tons and tons of boiling mud.

Yup. Boiling mud.

Why would the mud be boiling? Well, ‘cos the Earth is angry, obviously.

No, I’m just kidding. There’s a logical science to that.

Basically, when they hit boiling mud, the rationale is that the mud was boiling because it was coming from the Earth’s core and since then, this mud has just continued spewing and spewing out. This, to her, was a signal that something cataclysmic’s about to happen.

Think about it like this – imagine a pimple. Basically, it’s a swell on your skin due to the buildup of pressure underneath it. When you put your fingers to it and squeeze, harder and harder and harder, it’s gonna pop and sometimes, what’s underneath comes spewing out, relieving the pressure. Basically, the drill was the fingers doing the squeezing.

So what you might say? Well, relieving the pressure off a pimple is a good thing. But when you’re talking about the Earth’s core, that’s heavy. And the fact that the mud is spewing out constantly now means that this pressure is being released from inside the Earth.

So what happens when the pressure’s completely gone?

Earth crust displacement? Tectonic plate movement?

Basically, worst case scenario is that the continents start to move and everything goes topsy turvy. You’ve seen the movie 2012 and that’s what it is – complete and utter destruction. What follows is panic, mass hysteria, chaos – basically the worst possible outcome.

When I was a kid, I always thought that the world would end when aliens came. I had no idea we would be destroyed from within.

And it’s a scary thought.

But the question is not when the world will end (the Mayan calendar says December 21, 2012) or if it will it end at all … I think it’s where you will be when that happens. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Where will I be when the end of all ends comes near?

Quite frankly, I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone can answer that.

Maybe I’ll be at home, in bed with my wife when the tsunami hits. Maybe I’ll be at work, furiously tweeting about how the building is shaking. Maybe I’ll be on the frontlines, fighting to save humanity (yeah, right – like I’m that noble).

I don’t know.

But what I do know is that this knowledge gives me hope.

Strange as it sounds, it makes me think that I should live life to the fullest, be all I can be, rides rollercoasters backwards, run with scissors, love my wife lots and call my sister more often. These are good things. It’s strange how man reacts when he thinks there’s no more time left for him.

So, come December 21 2012, where will you be?


Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels … Bad?

May 6, 2010

When I was young, I read a book called Animal Farm. This book chronicled the rise of animals on a farm and how they revolted against the humans – their mantra was “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad!” (or “baaaaaad”, as was the case with some of the sheep).

Seeing the book in the library today, it got me thinking about that mantra. Except that it wasn’t exactly those words I was thinking of but more in terms of wheels and transportation. You see, although I get around mostly in my car, I also own a motorcycle. Actually, it’s a scooter (and if you want to be more specific, it’s a Vespa).

Whenever I talk about it, people always tell me how dangerous it is to ride a bike, how it’s unsteady and how when a person rides a bike, he’s covering the bike as opposed to having a car cover you when you drive. I also always hear things like, “What happened to your car? How come you got a bike?” and when I tell them nothing happened to my car, it’ll beg the inevitable response of, “Then why do you ride a bike for?

That’s a good question.

Why do I choose to ride a bike?

Is it really, “Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad?”

I guess since I was a kid and I got my first taste of life on two wheels on a BMX bicycle, I was hooked. From there I progressed on to moutain bikes (I even raced professionally once, a long long time ago in what seemed like a galaxy far far away) and then motorcycles. To me, driving was something that people did but riding was a skill – it wasn’t something everyone could do. Driving didn’t involve balance and physical control; to me, driving was always more like using a computer. You have a control panel which you operate and the car moves based on what instructions you give. Now I know a lot of hardcore drivers will disagree with me here but you can’t argue that on a day-to-day basis, that’s what driving is. No one is drifting on their way to work, people don’t do 180s on hairpin turns going out to lunch. Most people just drive straight, turn left and right, reverse and stop.

Riding, on the other hand, requires pure concentration. It requires balance, confidence and physical control. If I’m taking a corner, I have to know where my weight’s going to be or I’ll go off course. If I don’t concentrate, I’ll lose control of the bike and maybe have a nasty accident. And there’s also centrifugal inertia, the basic principle that governs riding a bike; the faster you go, the more stable you’ll be.

My point is, riding is an specialized activity and driving is something we all will eventually do. You can’t zone out on a bike the way you can while driving.

Sure, there’s no air-conditioning.

Sure, there’s no radio.

And sure, if it rains, it’s a real bitch.

So why do I do it then?

Because I like the wind in my face. I like the feeling of the rumbling beneath me as I ride. I like the fact that I’m out in the open, nothing surrounding me, the world an inch away from wherever I stretch my hand out. I like the feeling of the open road, the feeling that anywhere, anytime, anything is possible. It’s hard to describe (and I’m doing a shitty job of it, I know), but I feel it whenever I get on the bike and it feels like nothing else in this world.

And that’s why I do it.

So … Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad?

All I can say is …

Feels real good to be real bad 🙂


Roach Rest

April 27, 2010

Last night, I dreamt of cockroaches.

At first, it was just one. Then one became two, two became four, four became eight and before I knew it, the sink was crawling with them.

Then they were all over the floor, the pipes, the toilet, the bed … everywhere.

I tried squashing them and that worked for a while but then I realized that every time I killed one, there were another two that appeared, hissing and dirty and evil. Ugh. I turned on my computer this morning and realized what I was dealing with in my dream last night were basically Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Now, I’m not the cockroach-fearing type (my wife is). My fear factor of choice is actually the common house gecko – that curdles my blood to no end. But, of course, who wouldn’t freak out at the sight of millions of cockroaches climbing out of the sink and into your house?

I think my fear stems from very early on in my life. When I was a kid, my parents let me watch anything. And I mean ANYTHING. My Mom’s favourite way to get me to shut up was to plonk me in front of a TV, switch it on and go do her thing. Strangely enough, my grandfather did the same to me, except that he used to buy me a ticket to a movie, leave me in there, go do his own thing and then come get me after (I was about 5 years old). So needless to say, I watched a lot of movies and a lot of TV, not always of quality, I might add.

One of the flicks I enjoyed a lot was one I caught on TV one of those days my Mom left me in front of it.

It was a 1977 film called Damnation Alley. The basic premise of the movie is that the world is in shambles after doomsday and a group of survivors try their darndest to make it across the post-apocalyptic United States where a sole radio transmission has been detected.

Along the way, they deal with crazy mountain men, intense radiation and, my favourite – killer cockroaches.

I must’ve seen Damnation Alley about a hundred times ‘cos I had recorded it on tape (eventually the tape snapped and it ended my viewing of the film – who knows how long that might have gone on had the tape not broke.)

I managed to find the film and the cockroach scene on YouTube so here it is, just to give you a taste of what six-year old Leslie, home from school, spent his afternoons watching:

Man, I love the way George Peppard (rest his soul) says “This whole town is infested with killa cockroaches! Repeat – killa cockroaches!” I must’ve repeated that line to myself a hundred times over, trying to sound like him (so much for scoring cool points with any of you out there reading this.)

Anyway, it’s funny what a little research can yield. As I was searching for stuff on Damnation Alley – I realized that the movie was intended to be 20th Century Fox’s big sci-fi blockbuster for 1977. It was the movie that would rake in the bucks for them and the only other sci-fi movie they had that year was a little film the studio had absolutely no faith in to make ANY money.

It was titled Star Wars.

Talk about zero foresight.

So anyway, Star Wars came out, was a huge hit – exploded the box office, rocked audiences and to this day, is still producing content spun off the original 1977 hit.

And where is Damnation Alley, you might ask?

Languishing somewhere on somebody’s VHS tape shelf (mouldy, no doubt)? On discount sale on iTunes and Amazon VOD? Or posted in the far reaches of YouTube?

All of the above?

Maybe so and we can only guess. But somewhere in the strange and complicated psyche of Leslie Tan, somewhere between his telencephalon near his medulla oblangata, it lies in wait.

And comes to me in dreams that I cannot understand.

Or maybe I do?

A dream site said dreaming about cockroaches signified my “need for renewal, rejuvenation and self-cleansing of one’s psychological, emotional and spiritual being.”

Maybe I do need to cleanse my soul.

Maybe I do need to renew my spirit.

Maybe I do need to rejuvenate my body.

Or maybe it’s just the universe telling me I need to watch Damnation Alley again soon – I can’t say for sure what it is but right now, the second option’s looking pretty damn good.

Killa cockroaches, anyone?


8848

May 29, 2009

8848.

These numbers both intrigue and excite me.

Why?

Maybe it’s how I won first prize in last Saturday’s 4-D draw?

Maybe it’s the license plate number on my car?

Maybe it’s the last 4 digits of Angelina Jolie’s phone number?

No, unfortunately, it’s none of the above. While this number will mean nothing to many, for some, it is a symbol of hope, possibility, dreams and aspirations.

What is 8848, you ask?

Simply put, it’s the height of the tallest mountain in the world.

Everest.

My latest obsession.

Yes, the highest point you can be in the world while still standing on it is 8848 metres above sea level, at the summit of a not-so-little mountain we call Mount Everest. 8848 metres, or 29,002 feet, is the cruising altitude of a jet airplane. Yes, it’s that bloody high. Don’t look that high, does it?

Western face of Mount Everest 8848m, Nepal

Mount Everest. Sagarmatha. Chomolungma. The Top of the World.

For those who know me, you’ll know what I look like, right? Let’s face it – me climb Everest? I’d have more chance surviving a poisoned bullet to the head. But then again, a man’s gotta have a dream right? 

Ever since I was 17 and my friend Daphne passed me a brochure for a trek to Everest Base Camp, I’ve had that damn mountain on my mind. Back then, I was too poor to afford even hiking shoes, much less a trip to Nepal so I never went. Flash forward 16 years later and Leslie Tan finally makes his first pilgrimage to the land of the Himalayas – home to 8 of the world’s 10 highest mountains.

Even though weather conditions were mostly overcast when I was there, to be in the same vicinity as the world’s highest peak was awesome enough. I knew I had to come back again someday and get closer to it. Maybe a trek to base camp, maybe … more?

But what is it about the mountain that attracts so many to try and conquer it year after year?

Climbing Everest is most certainly life-threatening. From Acute Mountain Sickness to cerebral edemas to limb consuming frostbite, you have to ask yourself: what sick f**k would want to expose themselves to what might be certain death or permanent disability, climbing up a mountain to stand on a space less than 3 metres wide?

The sick f**k who has a dream, of course..

In all our lives, there is a Mount Everest. It need not be the summit of a mountain 8848 metres into thin air; it can be anything at all. Mastering the piano, riding a bike, dunking a basketball, curing cancer. These are all goals and aspirations that many people have. And they’re totally justified. 

But as a writer, I always tend to look deeper into the justifications and motivations behind a person’s actions. People don’t just act on impluse and for fun – most actions are well-thought out manouevers. So why climb Everest if for most, it’ll mean certain suicide?

Because it’s there? (lame, lame, lame)

My conclusion is that people climb mountains not because they want to see the view from the top of the world but because they want to see if they can do it. The strength of the human spirit lies in it’s constant need to push itself to the limit; making your way to the top of the world, a place where the oxygen is less than half its usual level  and therefore unfit for humans to be in IS that limit. The view from the top is a bonus – the real prize is knowing that you can do it and have done it. Courage does not come before a brave act but rather, after it – that’s the way it works.

I think that’s why people climb mountains – because they want to gain the courage to do it – make sense?

Recently, the first all-women team from Singapore made it to the summit after a long hard journey to the top (from what it seems, the fund raising was harder than the mountain climbing.) These women trained long and hard and had the guts and determination to suck it up all the way to the highest point in the world. Looking at their triumphant photos, I’d say it was well worth the effort put in; my heartiest congratulations goes out to them.

Now, will I ever climb Everest like them? I’m betting not in this lifetime. I don’t think I have the fitness, nor the mental fortitude (yet), to pull off such a feat. But of course, if the opportunity does arise, I’d be tempted to say yes, to the ire of my wife who loves me dearly and does not want to see her husband tread lightly into “the death zone”.

But then again, who am I kidding?

You got nothing to worry about, baby.

I’d probably have better luck just heading down to the nearest 4-D shop and laying $10 big and $10 small on 8848.

Because for now, it’ll just be a number.

But someday …

Who knows?