Friday, July 17, 2009

One Year Later

"So what do you guys do at night?" my friend T says.
"On the rare chance we get to go home at roughly the same time, we'll try and watch TV," I reply.
Wife says "We're watching True Blood."
"Any good?"
"Well, if you like the occult and people fucking the UnDead, then I guess it's ok," I say.
"Well, what else do you guys do?"
"We read in bed," Wife says. "Like old people."

But she smiles at me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I'm back. But I'm not really here

I like being employed. But I'm ok with not working.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why does that look so familiar?

During lunch at IKEA today, my colleagues and I were irritated by a group of siblings at the neighbouring table. Before you go all stereotypical and think 'What a non-parent thing to say,' try sitting next to 5 kids, each of whom have a furry, floppy toy duck that emits a high-pitched squeak when squeezed. Each of them. Squeezing. Squeaking. Giggling. Every. Single. Minute.

But it did get me thinking about the toy.

The device that makes the toy duck squeak is placed in the neck. That and the fact it has bulging eyes makes me wonder if the design is based on something rather specific. Pet shops always tell parents to be careful when mixing kittens and puppies with children because children often don't realise these tiny animals aren't toys. Pet strangulation is common.

And then you think about that toy.
A toy that only makes a squeaking sound when squeezed around the neck by tiny hands.

Makes you wonder: Why is it dolls and action figures always seem to lose their heads before their limbs?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

According to plan

The sound of a home renovation is a terrible sound. Visually, it has in common with cosmetic surgery that necessary destruction of the thing you're trying to make pretty. It's like this initially; it's only temporary; it'll be beautiful in the end. These are things I tell myself every time I visit the new house...and get an eyeful of something that looks like a scene from Black Hawk Down.

Each time I enter the house I steel myself, and my jaw locks in a mask of stoicism I don't feel. Every step of the way has been a test of nerves as the contractor regularly starts a sentence with 'Hey, bro, can we talk?' with the same practiced, neutral politeness of an oncologist or funeral home director. And you realise that things can be going according to plan and yet need about 38 course corrections along the way.

But it's only temporary. Everyone I've spoken to has had the same stories, and they give the patronising smile of those who've forgotten how tough high school was just because they're in college. My experience is not unique, merely personal. Merely mine.

I hope I've not been a terrible, sulky, dramatic husband through all of this. Though I'm not going through this alone, I've occasionally demonstrated an ability to make people feel like they've left me to fend for myself. It's not true, even those times when I've felt so, just so I could wallow a bit.

But it looks nice so far.
It'll be beautiful in the end.

Motherfucker, it better be.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

See you in the next life

This weekend in Malaysia, it's Cheng Meng (or Cheng Beng, depending on your dialect). Taoist devotees will make their annual pilgrimage to cemetaries or crematoriums to visit their dearly departed, spiff up the old headstone (or urn) and reminisce a little. But the Chinese are Chinese first. Regardless of religious persuasion, more than a few Chinese folk will be asking for lucky numbers they can buy at the local lottery booth. Also a must - burnt offerings.

Burnt offerings are a part of our culture.* They're also a thriving cottage industry, and though its roots are older than old, the products on sale each year are as progressive and in touch with modern trends as a fashion label. A quick primer for the unfamiliar: It's customary to burn offerings for those who have passed on so that they want for nothing in the next life. I don't use the word 'effigy' even though there people-shaped burnt offerings, because effigies are usually burnt in protest. Burnt offerings are quite the opposite.
This year, a few us accompanied a friend to one of the many Chinese shops in Section 17. And Section 17 is very Chinese (restaurant menus sometimes don't even feature English translations). My friend was buying just a few items for his grandparents. What you do is you pick out whatever you want and the boss puts it together for you in a box, neatly arranged in the correct order (the order is apparently important, and little things matter - the boss lady was insistent that the wrapper on one item be removed).
The Netherworld is referred to as 'Hell' but its meaning is quite different from the Judeo-Christian view of it. Well, maybe not different, but more...egalitarian in nature. Everyone ends up there, you just occupy a station in (the after)life closer to your karma. There are lotsa stuff you can buy with the prefix 'Hell' on it; paper replicas of things you'd use in life:
  • Hell Notes. The preferred currency of the afterlife. Exchange rate roughly RM1.50 to one stack of I dunno, three hundred notes.
  • Hell Pavilion laptops. HP can't be too happy about that.
  • Cars. Chinese folk love auspicious number plates. Anything with 3, 6 or 8 is good. You can customise these with a marker pen.
  • Electric massage chairs.
  • Safes. Gotta put all those Hell Notes somewhere.
  • Louis Vuitton Bags. Yup, still the monogram version. Also, you got all those Hell Notes. You gotta spend em on something.
  • Guinness.
  • Toiletry Bags. Toothpaste and tongue scrapers.

Two years ago, one of my uncles joked that the trend now was to burn petrol kiosks so the deceased could actually drive the cars your burned them. Similarly, there wasn't much point burning a swanky house if you didn't include a staff of maids to help maintain it.
I wonder if the Global Recession we're going through affects them. It should shouldn't it? After all, we're the ones running out of money to burn. Doesn't that make their economy linked to ours? Or do they have their own leaders working on stimulus packages?

This year though, something else caught my eye.
Among the myriad burnt offerings for sale, are schoolbags. Complete with pencil case, and cartoon characters on the front. Only kids need those.

* When I say 'our' I mean as a Straits Chinese and as a Malaysian Chinese. I'm not religious myself, and can hardly claim to be a keen observer of Chinese tradition, but these are the rites I - we - grew up with.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

And still people stay

Of all the things to give up on, a job must be the most common.
Within the employed universe, my job isn't the hardest. Not even close.
Doctors Without Borders.
Missionary in the Congo.
Dude Cleaning Toilets.
Dude Making 3-Foot Buddha Head Carvings. At a rate of 17 heads each month. By hand.
These are hard jobs. You must come home totally drained.

Nor is it the most pride-swallowing or soul-destroying.
Stand-up Comedian.
Clown For Hire.
Dude Selling Encyclopedias Door-to-Door.
Dude Asking You To Sign Up For Any Kind Of Worthy Cause With No Personal Benefit.
In fact, not quitting - especially after I've made these comparisons - is a point of pride. I'm made of better stuff, I shouldn't be ungrateful etc etc.

And at this point in time, quitting just doesn't seem responsible.

I also want to be a writer. Like a writer writer.
Which is perhaps the most common, no...the most cliche job in the world.

So the job I feel like quitting and the job I want are both common.
So, there's nothing special about me either way?
Hold on.
This can't be.
This is terrible.

This is common.
And still people stay.
And I'm becoming one of them.
That's what's terrible.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

C'mon boy. Time to go to bed

My wife told me my dog was exceptionally friendly and affectionate on Sunday. He clung magnetically to my folks, and my in-laws who were over for dinner. He also climbed the stairs and peeked several times into the door of the home office. He usually wheezes slightly, but not that night.

The next morning, my folks found him; looking like he'd fallen asleep, leaving a warm spot on the floor. He was 15 / 105 years old.

My wife thinks he was looking for me that Sunday night.
But I wasn't there.

Coodie is a foodie who likes to drink smoothies.

Our favourite rhyme, sung one last time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Say something nice

A good colleague and even better friend left last Friday.

They had an extremely emotional farewell for him at the local pub. They asked me to give a short send-off speech. I said:

'Personally, I'm glad you're gone.
Now there will be no Gold Standard to hold ourselves up to.
No impossible combination of really nice and really smart.
We can finally go back to all our old excuses:
That deadlines are too short, budgets are too small, and all clients are assholes.
We can once again tell ourselves that things are impossible.
Personally, I'm glad you're gone.
I just wish this didn't hurt so fucking much.'

Friday, February 06, 2009

It's thin ice time

I have never been fired from a job.

I remained employed throughout our last economic crisis, nearly a decade ago. I took my first copywriting job on what seemed like the eve of the recession and soonafter took a pay cut of 13%. The management promised to reinstate it. Nearly two years later, the economy improved (and the company worsened) sufficiently for me to quit. I don't know if anyone ever got their 13% back.

I'm slightly better off now, and I'm actually part of the kind of meetings I imagine my old company must've had before deciding to cut people's salaries. This morning's meeting painted a grim scenario, and laid out several survival  strategies. Money. Jobs.

This is a proving period. 
I'm going to be asked to do some grown-up things. 
I'm going to find out what I'm like in a shit storm.
I'm a little excited.

Surely this is the wrong reaction.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Today, I love you

When I ran about three hours earlier, the streets were clear of MPVs pouring school children onto the kerb. People have decided to stay in, out of respect because clearly, this day belongs to me.

Just 20 minutes ago, the view through my windshield showed the sky, painted the kind of perfectly colour-calibrated blue I’ve only seen in travel magazines. I see an airplane leaving contrail, a sharp line waiting for God’s signature. The sun, surprised to see me on the road so early this morning sends me a wink, achieved by bouncing a ray off the plane’s wing. A solar powered Elvis sparkle smile.

I shouldn’t be looking up, especially not while going at 90km/h. But there are about six cars on the road, all a respectful distance away. My Smart Tag beeps and the automatic arm of the toll booth raises, saluting. G’morning sir.

Five minutes ago, I walk into the office. I’m the only one here. The department is dark. I don’t miss a single one of them. I’m hungry now, and I walk over to my colleague’s cubicle. He seems to have appeared at my whim, almost as if his sole purpose was to offer me company at breakfast.

I’m posting this now, before the mood decays. Next week, the madness returns along with colleagues coming off their Chinese New Year break. They’ll bring with them their resentment and foul mood from having to end the always-too-short vacation. This brief lucid bubble of time punctured rudely by the office’s dominant, manic-depressive self.

But today, job, office, life, I love you.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I don't do resolutions

Of course, like everyone else,  I've done the whole New Year, New Leaf thing. And of course I want to do new things, do old things better.

But in recent years, I've had the same goal.

Each year, I want to be nicer to have around.

I had no list. I've never said it out loud. And I guess I didn't actually put it down in words till I was asked the other day. That person asked 'How many years have you succeeded?'

I don't know. That's a really good question.

That person has agreed to let me know next year.
Suddenly I have a resolution, a friend, and a tracking system.
I keep one, I keep them all.