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.

Mickey

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.

24?!!!

Puh-leeze.

Pfftttt.

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.

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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.


Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.

June 1, 2008

As we stood in the middle of the utter chaos that was our destroyed campsite, our clothes strewn all over the sand, our tents overturned, and sand flowing from every possible crevice (in our items and our bodies), Yean looked at me and said, “Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.”

He looked at me. He didn’t smile, he didn’t laugh. He simply said that.

And I understood.

And of course, you guys don’t understand.

Obviously.

Well, let me give you some background.

Once a long time ago, I spent a month living in the Gobi Desert, shooting a documentary for the National Geographic Channel about the Great Gerbil and the Golden Eagle.

Now, the region I was in was called Xinjiang, which is in the northwestern part of China but aside from being part of China, this part of the world could not be any less Chinese.

In fact, they don’t even speak the Chinese  we know, in that region. They speak a peculiar dialect called Uygur. Also, they speak Russian, Kazakh and smatterings of Chinese that I didn’t really understand that well. (This mix of dialects was due to the fact that Xinjiang was once part of Kazakhstan and had many nomadic tribes with many languages and the Chinese invaded them and tried to unify them, even to the extent of naming the place the “Uygur Autonomous Region”.)

Needless to say, these cultural differences resulted in differences in food and we had to make changes in our diet and what we ate.

Remember how in Storytelling we always say change = conflict?

Major conflict, dude.

Throughout the whole trip, we subsisted on mostly stewed vegetables, mutton, rabbit meat, more mutton, traditional chinese noodles, even more mutton and … you guessed it … mutton.

In my second week out in the desert, as I sat at the table, half awake trying to see how much sand had blown onto the tomato egg (another peculiar China dish),  Yean asked me what I missed most and represented Singapore for me at that exact moment.

A light inside me came on. It was so obvious it was painful to say but out it came from my mouth:

“Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.”

Soon after, everytime we were in a fix, if sand got into the camera, if the gerbils ran away before we got the shot, if the nomads forced us to drink tea that tasted like Camel’s piss (I swear!) or if a Camel spat on you (I double swear!!), all we had to do was say “Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat”, and it would be alright.

For me, that represented everything about my home and my country. Forget the five stars arising crap; forget the red and the white; the thought of going home to a plate of semi-warm bee hoon with a half moon piece of luncheon meat cut up into thirds and a soft fried egg with a semi-cooked center was my idea of heaven. As long as I had that to look forward to, nothing could get me down.

Then the sandstorm happened.

I remember, we were just sitting there, drinking warm bottles of beer and smoking duty free Camels when Mickey saw it first. It was just a dot on the horizon.

Then it grew bigger and bigger.

And then it was upon us.

Remember Galactus, destroyer of planets, in that recent Fantastic Four movie? That’s what it looked and felt like, from where we were standing.

I cannot remember clearing up equipment in a quicker time but in about 2 minutes, Yean, Mickey, Steve, Becks, the two drivers, the two cooks, the government official and our guide Rick had managed to grab all the film cans, film cameras, lenses, tripods and assorted gear and stash them in the giant tent that we all hid in while the storm blew outside. It was like a scene from one of those Discovery documentaries about tornadoes and twisters.

And it all only lasted about 7 minutes.

And when we came out, it was like Katrina, the Tsunami and an earthquake had devastated the camp. My stuff had been chucked out of the tent and blown all over the place, over the dunes and onto the hills. My tent was buried under a ton of sand and took about an hour to dig out.

It was a fascinating experience but also one of the shittiest days there.

But when Yean said those words to me, the light inside me came on again and I knew, I just knew that no matter how shitty things got, I had that to look forward to.

Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.

Something about that just says …

… home.


The Gig Is (Not) Up.

May 27, 2008

Rock never die.

A friend of mine used to say that back when we were in school, hanging out at the 9th floor with his guitar in hand.

Last weekend I witnessed this fact when I went to watch my friend Nigel play at the Esplanade. It was a reunion of his old band, Steel City Skies, and also a set by his new band, If.

Now, the first thing I noticed when I got there was the crowd. There was Nigel, playing his heart out like he was rocking to a thousand-strong crowd at The Brixton Academy when in actuality, I could probably count the number of people there with my fingers and toes. What struck me though, was also the age group; there were men and women in their 30s and kids that were probably barely 10 years old. Granted, there were a few teens but not enough to constitute any sort of young-ish crowd.

Strange? I thought so.

In any case, I watched on as they played and then Bhaskar did a solo set, during which time I had a kid run past me being chased by his dad. Only difference? I knew the guy.

The dad, not the kid.

There he was, beer in hand, grunged-up berms and a Jason Newsted undercut circa 1989.

And carrying his kid in his arms.

His kid!!!??

I had definitely seen the dude before and I think we even moshed once at a Boredphucks gig at Moods back in the day. He still looked the same, albeit a little older, heavier and more creased (if ever a human being could be creased.)

But that wasn’t what scared me.

What scared me was that he seemed to be looking at me too, and what scared me about that was that it looked like he had the same thoughts about me I was having about him.

We had grown.

Old.

Yikes.

In that moment, we both turned away, ostensibly to revert out attention to Bhaskar’s singing but more, I think, to avoid the inevitable “meet, greet and talk shit about the old days thereby making us feel older” process.

As Bhaskar finished up and Nigel and the boys came out to play out their last few songs, I found myself getting back into the music and thinking – maybe it wasn’t so bad. I mean, we just went away and got older but the situation’s still the same, right? True, we weren’t crowd surfing at Moods but here we were, at yet another gig, listening to another local band rocking out another local set.

And we were enjoying it.

I had the pleasure of meeting one of my heroes once, a musician named Henry Rollins, and he told me that he wants to rock till he ceases to exist. He told me he’d stopped getting tattoos just so that when he’s 60, he’s still got space for more.

I totally dig that.

I guess whatever the age, whatever the situation, we should always find time to rock out. Nothing beats live music and I will continue going to gigs whenever I can, not only to support the local bands, but to be a part of the immortality of music; and whenever I’m a at a gig, all I need to see are the old familiars looking back at me and I’ll know my friend was right all along.

Rock.

Never.

Die.

(cue guitar solo)


A Classy Affair.

May 15, 2008

There have been many memorable firsts in my life. My first kiss. My first fighting fish fight. My first durian (and my last). Last week, I experienced another first.

My first beer in a cinema.

And like they sing in Sweeney Todd, “God, that’s good!

How’d I end up with a beer at the movies? Well, my wife (bless her soul), gave me a surprise on my birthday. She bought me tickets to a Golden Village Gold Class movie theatre. They cost 30 bucks apiece but boy was it worth the moola.

Now, we’ve all heard about the reclining chairs and the concierge service but have you heard about the blanket?

Yup, that’s what I said. B-L-A-N-K-E-T. Blanket.

As I walked to my seat, lo and behold, there it was. A nice, comfy blanket that covered you from head to toe as you luxuriated in the plush recliners. For some reason, cinemas in Singapore are always too cold and this one was no exception. But it had the blanket – and that made all the difference (my toes are curling just thinking of it.)

Now, I’m a big fan of the movies and going to the cinema but this was ridiculous. We ordered chips, sticky date pudding, ice cream and beer – oh god, the beer. Ostentatious? You bet your ass it was. Check out our table at the end of the evening:

I thought that I could never go back to the common seats ever again

However, midway through the movie, I had what alcoholics call, a moment of clarity (strange though, seeing as how I was inebriated.) I was thinking that this experience was kick-ass but somehow, it didn’t feel like a true movie going experience. The movie was great (Iron Man – wonderful) and everything was peachy but I found myself having a strange memory in my head that I couldn’t get rid of.

When I was eight, my uncle brought me to some of the dingiest movie theatres in Singapore and that’s where I got my cinema education. One particularly dingy one was in Hougang. It’s not longer there and a condo stands in it’s place now but back in the day, it was one of the dodgiest cinemas I’ve ever been to. The seats were made of stretched PVC and they creaked like hell. One time, I put my feet on the floor and stepped right into a puddle of piss. Occasionally during the film, the speakers on one side would crackle and the sound would disappear from them.

The strange thing was, there I was, in my recliner, in what might possibly be the most comfortable movie going experience of my life, and I was thinking about that stinky, sticky cinema in Hougang. Even stranger was that I was thinking how great it was.

I must’ve been drunker than I thought

In any case, regardless of my sobriety, my conclusion is this:

Gold Class is brilliant but nothing beats the feeling of being in a real cinema in joined-row seating, where you can literally hear how the person next to you is breathing. At the end of the day, I think cinema is a living, breathing entity and what infuses the experience with life are the people who go there. With Gold Class, although you get your arm space and leg room, the whole deal is not as communal an experience as cinema should be in my head.

And I’ve always believed that movies are communication from people to people and more importantly, shared by the people.

But of course …

… a little beer at the movies never hurt anyone either, right?

This is my first Gold Class experience but I assure you, it won’t be my last 🙂

Thanks, baby! You da bomb!


Do You Believe In Magic?

May 6, 2008

I believe in magic.

Not the David Copperfield, Criss Angel (Mindf–k), David Blaine type of trickery. That’s illusion. What I’m talking about is magic. Dictionary.com defines the word “magic” as “a quality that makes something seem removed from everyday life, especially in a way that gives delight.” 

That’s the magic I believe in.

Now, before you start thinking that I’m gonna go all mushy and gooey over the milk of human kindness or some such crap, I’m going to say this – that’s not magic. Hardly. That’s human kindness and goodness and although it’s magical, it’s nowhere near the kind of magic I’m going to talk about in this post.

The magic I experienced this week, happened in a small electronics store in Vivocity. While my wife and mother went wild, bonding over antique tiffin carriers at Tangs, I sneaked out to spend some quality time looking for a proper home theatre system for the new house.

As luck would have it, some roadshow at level 1 was drawing everyone onto the 2nd floor walkway and, fed up with jostling my way through the human sea, I ducked into the aforementioned electronics store and there It was.

Pure magic.

I know what you’re thinking – the dude has finally gone off his rocker; they’re just headphones!!

Just headphones? Oh, how wrong you are. These weren’t just any headphones (and to get real techie on you) these were Active Noise Cancelling Headphones.

Now, I don’t know if it was the crowd or the louder-than-life host or the drumline that was going on downstairs but the moment I put on those babies, everything faded away to nothing and all that was surrounding me were the sweet strains of Liz Phair. I swear, if I closed my eyes, it was like Liz was singing just for me, right into my ear. Nothing else mattered.

That, folks, is pure magic.

Now, I’d seen (okay, heard) Active Noise Cancelling in action before. I remember I was on a train and my friend J-Boss said to me: “Les, you gotta try this shit out. It’s amazing.” Then he slipped a pair of headphones onto my ears. There was no music pumping out from them. Then he looked at me and said: “Ready? Check this out.” He put his hand on my right earpiece and the last thing I hear is a ‘pop’.

Then I went deaf.

No, it wasn’t AFI blasting out at full volume as I had suspected.

It was nothing.

I couldn’t hear the train, I couldn’t hear the guy beside me talking to his friend. Hell, I couldn’t even hear J-Boss telling me how cool it was. I could see all this happening, but I couldn’t hear it.

Needless to say, I freaked out – as we all do when faced with the magical.

That was my first brush with magic. After that, there were several more occasions – at Jay’s shop with the Airplane Wind Tunnel Experiment (a long story for too short a time) and while shopping for Sennheisers with Periwinkle.

I don’t know about you but noise is something we take for granted in today’s world. Recently in the news, there was an article about how the noise level in the world is increasing and how it’s getting harder to find quiet spots anywhere. In our little red dot of an island, that’s almost an impossibility.

That’s why when a device comes along that allows me to have The Killers give me a little private concert in my ears on a crowded rush hour train, I’d say that beats David Copperfield walking through the Great Wall of China while David Blaine levitates over his head and Criss Angel bends a set of steak knives with his mind, hands down.

Needless to say, magic doesn’t come cheap and no, there is no happy ending to this story. Want it as I did, I didn’t buy the headphones. But I think that’s a good thing. Like the definition of magic, the headphones made the listening experience “seem removed from everyday life“. If I bought this piece of magic, it would be a part of my everyday life.

What use then, is magic when you can get it anytime you like?

So I will admire the magic from afar, like all great things. And I will continue to use my cheap-ass earphones and live in the ordinary. I won’t even try to figure out how Active Noise Cancelling works. I’ll just know that it’s magic and it’s there. Like the author Tom Robbins once said:

“Logic only gives man what he needs …

… Magic gives him what he wants.”

 


The Amazing Disappearing Man.

April 28, 2008

Life is a constant search for the missing.

And last Sunday afternoon, as I was searching for a missing warranty card in my mother’s house (why are these things never around when you need them?) I chanced upon some old photo albums. I opened the first one up and saw a picture from a long time ago. It was from my 3rd birthday party.

And there he was.

In a white short sleeved shirt, dark pants and black glasses. Skinny as hell, just like I have him in my head.

The Amazing Disappearing Man.

Grandpa. Ah Dad. Ah Hoots. He was many things and many names to many people – I knew him as Kong Kong.

I knew him but I never knew him well. I know he was there when I was a kid; there are photos to prove that existence. But in the horizon of my mind, I have only few memories of the Man.

And I know that when I was growing up, I would see him occasionally at my birthday party and some of my cousins’ ones, although I’m not entirely sure.

For the most part though, he was a true master of the Disappearing Act and that’s why I never saw him much.

I remember one occasion where I was in the backseat of my Dad’s car and he pulled to a stop at an awkward junction along Yio Chu Kang Road. Within seconds, a skinny man in a white shirt and dark pants came running. I remember him trying to sneak a glance in as my Dad handed him some money. And I remember a smile forming on that old face of his as our eyes met.

And then, in the blink of an eye, the Amazing Disappearing Man had done it again.

He disappeared. For the next 8 years.

Towards the end of ’96, the Amazing Disappearing Man made his final appearance. I remember seeing him in hospital during that time. My Father never encouraged me to talk to him. I think he was afraid that he would hurt me the way he had hurt them. It was the first time in a long time that I had seen him and probably the first time since I was a child that I had talked to him. He looked at me with an apologetic smile and a humble expression that made me feel awkward, especially with everyone else in the room. I felt like I was meeting a friend of the family, instead of the head of it. I remember the conversation. It was formal and he asked about my studies. Up till then, I had only known him from family photo albums and scattered memories at best.

After his discharge from the hospital, my uncles had a family meeting and decided that it was in his best interest for him to be put into a nursing home. A week later, the Amazing Disappearing Man pulled his final disappearing act.

I guess some birds were never meant to be caged.

Now, looking through the photographs, what’s amazing about it all, is that this Amazing Disappearing Man pulled off his final disappearing act perfectly.

To paraphrase Michael Caine in Christopher Nolan’s wonderful film The Prestige

“Making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. And that’s why every magic trick has a third act. The hardest part. The part we call The Prestiege.”

And that he has pulled off. Right now, the Amazing Disappearing Man is as clear as day in my mind’s eye. In life, he disappeared. But after it, I see him all the time.

I see him in the smile of my Dad as he digs in to a good meal. I see him in the way my cousin’s eyes crinkle when she laughs. And most of all, I see him in my own reflection in the mirror, all day, everyday.

The Amazing Disappearing Man is finally here to stay.

Like I said – life is a constant search for the missing. Sometimes you lose a warranty card, sometimes you find a Grandfather.

Isn’t life great that way?

Now where’s that damn warranty card?