Sunday, November 27, 2005

3 pets: the fish

I think fish are pets that least fit the description.
And I think I know why: it’s their eyes.

Fish can’t blink, and it makes them look fake. You look at all those fish in finding Nemo and whaddya see?
The little fuckers have eyelids.
When you’re small - as most fish tend to be - you need eyelids to tell people shit. This is why mini versions of things (babies, puppies, hobbits) all have eyelids so they can tell you stuff without talking. Fish can’t show emotion, much less return it.
A happy fish and a depressed fish look the same.
Without eyelids, fish aren’t much of anything unless they’re colourful (clown fish, neon tetra) or big enough to hurt you (sharks, certain species of garoupa).

Or diseased.

Now a fish with a medical condition is endlessly fascinating.
Raggedy tails, growths on the stomach, immediately make fish more interesting.
Our fish had something called dropsy.
What happens is the fish begins to bloat and swell unnaturally. So much in fact, that its scales begin to lift off its body making the fish looked spiked, the way a cat’s fur bristles when it’s on edge. If your goldfish suddenly looks like a swimming orange pine cone, it’s got dropsy.

My brother and I watched with morbid fascination as one of my dad’s goldfish morphed into this terrible creature, a fish other fish wouldn’t play with or invite to bump against the aquarium glass on Wednesday mornings.

Only the turtle, possibly feeling some kind of common quality (they were both grotesque motherfuckers) was unfazed.

My dad tried putting medication into the water but to no avail. The goldfish continued to expand and my brother and I began to worry.
What if it died?
What if it ruptured and we weren’t there to see it vent its little goldfish guts into those crystal, chlorinated waters?

Then one morning, it was gone.

We checked methodically.
The water wasn’t cloudy, so the fat orange fuck couldn’t have popped (there’d be bits of him everywhere wouldn’t there?)
He didn’t jump out.
He didn’t just croak or he’d be belly up on the surface, bobbing like some silly sequined golf ball.

Then we noticed the turtle on the bottom.
It looked at us and opened its mouth, like it was yawning.
In its tiny jaws, staring straight at us, was a single unblinking eye.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Something like normal

As some of you might remember, my neighbour's son got into some trouble with loan sharks a while back. And when they didn't pay up, things just got worse.

It's been almost six months since the last incident.
Looking back, I now realise not only did my neighbours adapt, so did we.

Not looking each other in the eye became easier, and like dancing partners learning each other's timing, we knew just when to leave the house so we'd never run into each other and be faced with the awesome pressure of making conversation.

Two weeks ago, my dad – always the friendly one – started a conversation with my neighbour's daughter's new boyfriend. It was actually so he could tell the young man to please stop throwing your cigarette butts on our front porch thank you very much. Before long my dad knew his name, that he was from Canada, and taught English somewhere in the city.

That one conversation broke the dam, and our families started greeting each other over the fence again, conversations progressed beyond two words ("Hi, Hey") and the wife cooked meals for us.

You need your neighbours at certain points I think. And there are few things harder than not being able to connect with your neighbours, given that neither of you can easily move to cut the tension. So if you ever find yourself in a tough family situation, it might do you good to open up.

But not too wide.
Because maybe your neighbour's son is one of those that wakes up at 6am to run.
Maybe when he comes in to put away his running shoes he sees something through your front door.
Like you sitting nervously watching a replay of last night's security tape, fed from the night-vision camera mounted on your roof.
Scrutinising every face that passes in the lenses view.
Including the 6:23am version of himself, stretching in front of your house.

And maybe he now realises that the seige hasn't ended. It just moved inside the house.
And maybe normal isn't always what you think.
Just what you can see.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

How to break

Love something. This is a crucial first step. Ideally, your selection should be something that brought you great joy or made you feel good about yourself. Dreams (careers, achievements, ambitions) are usually a good choice, particularly one that has just been made real or very close to success. People or relationships are equally suitable. As long as it’s close to your heart, where it has the ability to do the most damage.

Avoid the light. Night is the best time to cry. The physical darkness will match the spiritual one that now faces you. It’s not all for you of course. If you live with others for instance, the darkness will allow them to hide, giving them an excuse not to reach out to you with words of comfort (if they do, this will help your descent, but more on this later). And night reinforces that myth that says it’ll all be ok tomorrow – as if bad things never happen during the day.

Focus on details. Little things you should have done, advice you’ve ignored, things you missed, anything that may have contributed to your downfall. They don’t have to be real, but they should contain some truth. This will provide a fertile breeding ground for self-doubt and loathing. Let hindsight gnaw at you from the inside out with its thousand little teeth.

Refuse help. Put on a brave face and muster all that practiced (but fading) bravado. If done in the early stages, it sets up a wonderful pattern of pride that makes it virtually impossible to humble yourself enough to ask for help when you’re finally in some serious strife. Then, when you’ve drained your reserves of resourcefulness and composure, your pride will be the flimsy shell holding it all together. And because you’ve hollowed yourself out, when you fall, you’ll crack wide open. Then you can beg.

Be an island. When it becomes apparent that things are getting out of hand, you will have two kinds of people. Those who want to see the carnage and those who genuinely want to help. To the former, you will have to bite your tongue as you detect their condescension, continuing your charade. The latter, comprised of true friends and loved ones, you will alienate with your bitter dismissal ala I-don’t-need-your-fucking help-I’m fine. Either way, you will sever the last support lines you have. And you will be truly alone.

Have a sense of self-entitlement. It is the capstone lesson in your crash course in Falling From Grace. Fail enough times in a row, and it will be tough not to take it personally. It will be hard not to think fate doesn’t have it in for you. When it gets shitty, you will revert to your 10-year old self and say to the Universe that you deserve a break. That for once, just once, can’t things go your way? This is the final masterstroke. You will find that the Universe / fate / God is deaf. It owes you nothing.

The result is always the same. If you have all of the above ingredients, you will come spectacularly apart. For best results, wait for your heart to catch, and your throat to tighten and resist with all your spirit. And you will feel your self-esteem, your stability, everything you felt made you a worthwhile person leak out through your mouth as you scream. Before long, your scream goes silent (sound cannot carry in a vacuum) as you jettison the last particles of your dignity through the airlock of your soul.

How to mend (not be confused with How To Heal)

Get up.
Make a list.
Write down, every day, as item number one, “I am still standing.”

It is the one thing that is fact.
Free from bullshit, from exaggeration, and it says nothing about how well you are doing.
But it is a simple, repeatable truth.
And when you’ve been brought low, low, low, you will treasure it.

But first, get up.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Movie reviews: Paradise Now and Wolf Creek


In Melbourne, I watched The Flight That Fought Back. a TV movie about United Airlines Flight 93, the hijacked 9/11 plane where passengers stormed the cockpit, and possibly preventing it from reaching the White House.

By coincidence, a movie called Paradise Now was being screened in independent cinemas which arguably was the exact opposite of that: a story told from the viewpoint of two suicide bombers. I'm lucky I caught this one as it would never have been screened in Malaysia. If think the film board would have been hard pressed to decide if it celebrated suicide bombings (though it doesn't) or it showed middle-easterners and Muslims in a bad light (it doesn't). The film board I'm sure would've decided to avoid the choice altogether by not allowing it.

I also saw an Australian film, Wolf Creek which was Oz's answer to Se7en. Not for the weak of stomach I can tell you. Again, unlikely to hit Malaysian theatres.

But the rest of y'all can save a bit of money or have your say at my POOR UNFAIRLY IGNORED LITTLE MOVIE BLOG.


Monday, November 07, 2005

I’m home

I’m writing this while it’s still fresh, though fresh may not be the word considering I’m suffering from sleep deprivation.

I can’t condense the two weeks, and I can’t tell you all of it.
But if you’re interested, I’ll bring out some of the shiny bits.

Trams are so much better than trains. I think it’s the whole slow turns and weaving in and out of streets. More variety. Trains just rocket through. Imagine dating someone like that: would you prefer someone who just wants to get to the end, or someone who can show you the sights?

Hot stinging showers in cramped shower cubicles are the best. With mirrors.

The city council kept its promise. One day in 1997, some old lady told me she was collecting donations so the city council could build a better library for my old neighbourhood. I was in a foul mood and told her “Suuuuuure, here’s 20 bucks I’d otherwise flush down the toilet!” I basically threw money at her just to spite her. She just smiled politely and said “Thank you, young man.” The original library was smaller than a grocery store. It now has its own 2-storey building, and you couldn’t see all of the books just looking into the window.

I run better in cold weather. I usually do about 8kms twice a week in KL. I ran three times a week for two weeks, clocking more than 13kms each run. Mind you, this was only a personal best. On Saturday, I ran alongside members of the Victorian Road Runners doing their 8km time trials. Good thing I wasn’t a member cos even the under-15s kicked my ass.

I think I’ll go back to school at some point. And I want to teach a class.

My body can take a lotta bacon grease.

Melbourne is the new Hollywood. Eva Longoria (exotic slutty one from Desperate Housewives), Reiko Aylesworth (constipated, tight-skirted one from 24), Carson Kressley (fahionista Queer Eye) were in town. Eva appeared in a big budget ad campaign for Myer, an Aussie department store, so the appearance mighta been part of the contract. All of them turned up for the Melbourne Cup, a horse-racing carnival and public holiday. Imagine: your government declares a holiday so you can gamble! How cool is that?

I took lotsa photographs. A lot of them are crap and they’re mostly landscapes but I paid more attention to stuff. Not just knowing they’re there, but appreciating them. Lotsa times my mind colours the pictures, altering their detail. But capturing the way things happened and the way you remember them can be very different things, and I want to spend more time on the latter.

I discovered chicks with short hair so do it for me. Specifically short, carrot-topped chicks wearing white sleeveless singlets with green clover prints and khakis with the edges of the pockets slightly frayed. Not that I actually, specifically, have a fixation on anyone. Nevermind.

My hair grows faster in Melbourne. I shave and after breakfast, I’ve got stubble. Why the hell can’t that happen here? Maybe it’s the bacon grease.

I went to a ‘real’ Melbourne rave. I’ve seen people on drugs, but I’ve never actually seen people take them. I’m not into techno or crowds but still, it was educational. I know now why they walk around with lollipops and baby pacifiers (their teeth grind when they’re high). Raving has just exploded in KL, but they’ve just copied the style and not the spirit. Everyone has the same clothes and moves. Nobody looks the same at a Melbourne rave. Not the way they dress, not the way they dance. Nobody judges you there. Which is why a bald Chinese guy with the dance moves of a block of wood won’t draw funny looks.

It wasn’t really a holiday. It was more like going home. I felt immediately comfortable. And when I left, I didn’t feel sad. After all I’m coming back.