May 29, 2009


These numbers both intrigue and excite me.


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.


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?


Aw Mickey You’re So Fine …

May 22, 2009

He’s turning 30 this year and still has that smile on his face.

I remember when we were kids – didn’t matter if I kicked him around or pulled on his arm or leg, he’d still greet me with a smile. He was the first face I woke up to in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. When I had nightmares, he’d be there with that black-cherry nose, red pants and that smile.

What a great smile.

Now, I know what you’re asking and no, this ain’t no dog or cat. Actually, it’s a mouse.


A Mickey Mouse to be exact.

And yes, he’s been with me for the last 30 years, just 3 years younger than I am.

Call him dirty, call him grimy, call him what you will – God knows over the years, many people have called him many things, usually after recoiling in terror at the sight of him.

I call him my friend.

Given to me by my Mom when I was 3 years old, this guy has stuck with me through thick and thin. Through tough exams and bad days at school, through breakups and makeups, through the good times and the bad times. I tell him everything and he laps it all up with those extra large ears of his.

Someone once asked if I saw a person drowning on one side of the sea and Mickey fell in on the other, what would I do?

I hesitated on the answer – that’s how much this damn mouse means to me.

Now, I’ve had this blog for a long while but it never occurred to me to blog about this guy who’s essentially shared 30 years of my life with me. Then I read an article in the Sunday Times last weekend about “chow chows”. Basically, it was about people and their old soft toys, their “chow chows” (dialect for “smelly smelly”). So there I was, reading about people who had pillows and soft toys that were really old but they really loved.

And the oldest was 24 years.




Mickey here could show these guys a thing or two. With his darkish face that used to be white and his UHU glued-on nose that was once bitten off by a dog, this is one soft toy that’s been through hell and back and lived to tell the tale. He’s definitely one tough son of a bitch and still has that smile on his face to boot.

What a guy.


These days, he spends most of his time at home with his wife (yes, he got married when I got married). My wife has a pillow called Shmall Shmall (same age as him) and for them, it was love at first sight – now they’re inseparable. When I go to work, Mickey’s hugging Shmall Shmall – when I come back, they’re still hugging. Must be love, right?

So what is it about this guy that keeps me sane?

The truth is, I don’t know.

I guess in a way, he’s a connection to my past and a witness to the many private moments in my life that no other living soul has ever  seen or heard. He knows all my secrets and the best part?

He’ll never tell.

And I know no matter what my day is like, no matter the amount of shit life throws at me, just one look at him, just one hug, and everything goes out the window.

After all, if you can look like this and still have that big a smile on your face, things can’t be all that bad, can they?

(Don’t) Lean On Me.

May 15, 2009

Have you ever seen someone sleep on public transport?Sleepy

I will never understand the psyche of someone who’s able to sleep so comfortably out of their own home, on less than comfortable public transportation, at that. I can never open my mouth so wide in public – my mother always told me things will fly into your mouth if you open it widely in public – I know, Mom’s as strange as me.

But we all know the score. Slack jaw, mouth agape and moving slightly. Eyes closed and head bowed as if in a silent prayer (or thrown back in wild abandon). And the leaning. Oh God, the leaning.

Last week, while I was on the train, I was privvy to a sleeper on the seat next to me. When I first got on, the dude was wide awake. Unsuspectingly, I took my seat next to him and pulled out my book, ready for the long ride ahead. However, not 5 minutes had passed when I was greeted with what seemed like a snort from a pig. Reeling in horror, I realized that the offensive sound had come from the mouth of my tired friend.

Why call him a friend?

Well, he must be close to me because as far as I know, people who aren’t close to me don’t just lay their heads on your shoulder – which is what he did 5 minutes after emitting the snort! 

Now, I’m a great believer in personal space and this space invader was making me really uncomfortable. On top of that, everyone else in the train seemed wide awake and aware of what was happening to me except Mr. Sleepy Hollow. As his head leaned down further and further, I felt like I was trapped in a bad movie that everyone had been forced to go see. Everyone was looking, everyone knew what was going down but nobody did anything at all.

It was time for me to formulate a plan.

Obviously physical force would be required – the man would have to be moved. I had had enough of this shoulder invasion and on top of that, I feared his hair cream would start staining my shirt (I have many irrational fears, this was one of them – right up there with squirrels jumping into my pants; don’t ask.)

And so, in full view of my audience who now had their attention transfixed to my plight like they were watching a penguin fight a shark on Discovery or something, I slowly, ever-so-gently, yet persuasively, leaned back.

Yup, like Fat Joe said, I leaned back.

I could feel a carload of train passengers tense up – was he going to succeed?

I made some progress; the tension in the train car mounted.

He moved; I could almost imagine some people gasping.

And a bit more; everyone in the train held their breath.

Until finally …

The train lurches to a stop and because of the momentum, the dude slams, head first, into the clear plastic seperator next to his seat with a loud thud.

Of course he wakes up. What kind of story did you think this was?

I could hear some people sniggering in the train and of course, Mr. Sleepy turns to look at me – he knows. Oh yes, he knows. So what do you do in a situation like this? My mind told me to look him straight in the eye, steel myself up and say, “Yes, I pushed you over. So what?

Of course, those who know me will know that my mind is one of the many things in my life I ignore the most.

For some reason, I got up out of my seat instead, stood up, grabbed a handrail and pretended I was alighting at the next stop. It’s strange, I know but it’s also true. Mr. Sleepy continued to stare at me except now, he was rubbing his head where it had hit the plastic separator.

Of course I felt guilty.

Of course I wanted to explain.

Of course I did none of that.

What I did do, is take a picture of him with my phone instead. Why? Because shortly after the incident, the dude went right back to sleep – and with wild abandon as well! So anyway, Mr. Sleepy, if this is you, I’m sorry, dude. I didn’t mean to push you so hard – in fact, it isn’t even my fault, it was the train’s.

May you rest in peace for as long as the train journey lasts.

And for God’s sake, try to keep that mouth closed before something really flies in.