Sunday, November 18, 2012

Organic food

In France, consuming organic food is seen as something only the rich (or the pretentious) do. At the supermarket, the organic food section is usually small and secluded, and looks like an afterthought section created once every other section is done. At peak times when the whole supermarket is overcrowded and the lines at the cashiers snake into the aisles, one section remains deserted - the organic food section.

Normal people would maybe pick a carton of organic almond milk or some gluten-free energy bars from this section, but I have yet to see anyone filling their carts exclusively with organic foodstuff. The French are a bunch of highly critical people, and most of them do not really buy into the idea that organic food is really organic, and they might be right. After all, the ecosystem consists of a very long and complicated chain reaction where everything is related and nothing is standalone. So imagine an organic farmer who stays away from DDT in the hope of growing beautiful organic lettuces, while just a mile away another farmer is heavily using fertilizer and pesticide for his cabbages. Both farms are interconnected by soil and underground water. Who's to say that the organic lettuces are not contaminated by fertilizer and pesticide used a mile away?

Besides, despite all kinds of apocalyptic warning about the world's energy supplies running low, we still pollute on a daily basis to maintain a certain level of comfort at the expense of the environment. It would be extremely pretentious to consume organic food when one spends half an hour in the shower, wasting hundreds of gallons of heated water.

Of course, these arguments are used to support - or mask - the real reason why very few people choose to buy organic food: price. Organic food in France is very expensive. People are not willing to spend three times the amount they would pay on normal pasta, because pasta is part of their staple diet. On the other hand, they would be more lenient towards the idea of splurging on the occasional organic raisins or sunflower seeds.

Which brings me to the core of my thoughts this morning: how do the Germans keep their organic food at low prices?

When I was living in Germany, one of the things I loved was how cheap foodstuff was. I particularly loved their approach to introducing organic food to the masses. Instead of making it the food pariah stashed away in some remote corner people would usually overlook, they would put organic spaghetti next to the normal ones, and they cost exactly the same. They have eliminated the most crucial deciding factor, so I have no excuses left not to buy organic food. In the beginning I was almost always guilted into buying it, but that kickstarted my conscience about eating healthier and it quickly became a habit. I would automatically pick out organic carrots and rucola at the veggie aisles, and I would quickly scan the muesli row for the big green BIO label before rushing off to the checkout. After a while, it became unthinkable to buy so-called chemical foodstuff when organic food was widely available and cheap. I was not a firm believer in the wholesomeness of organic food, but at those prices, 'why' easily turned into 'why not'.

And I felt healthier and happier when I was there. Maybe it was the breathtaking nature surrounding me everyday. Maybe it was the positive energy of the Germans in contrast to the whiny, cynical behaviour of the French. Maybe it was because I loved my job. But I am somehow convinced that organic food played a big role in it. Now that I am back in France and buying organic food is financially challenging, I do not feel as healthy or happy as I was back in Deutschland.

So I am thinking of switching back to organic food, but that will require a substantial budget change. I am not famous for my thrifty ways, and eating organic food will definitely put a huge dent in my wallet. But I guess like it or not, well-being comes at a price.

I cannot get a beautiful home by the river like I had in Germany. I cannot get amazing view of apple and prune farms out of my bedroom window anymore. And I certainly cannot get the sincere smiles people gave me when they said 'moin moin' every day. The only thing I could try to emulate is the food I ate when I was there.

So I am pencilling that into my list of resolutions: eating more organic food.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A macaque who votes is a dangerous primate

"Taken out of context."

The oldest, most worn-down excuse ever existed to explain verbal slip-ups. As the most undiplomatic person on Earth, I am at the risk of having to resort to using this excuse very often in the future, given my whimsical and outspoken nature. Every day I come home regretting at least 5 things I've said during the day. Good thing I am constantly surrounded by intelligent people who are able to take everything into context, think over and analyze my statements instead of passing swift judgement and taking offence easily.

The only problem is that in the future, I might not have the luxury of always being surrounded by smart people. Now that my tertiary education is coming to an end, I have to prepare myself for the prospect of having to face the real world where people may or may not be as smart as those I'm used to having around me, and worse, of having to carefully weigh my words instead of just blurting them out.

I am only capable of conveying my words according to my own understanding of the logic behind them, but I cannot be in control of the listener's interpretation of those words. I can only hope they would ask me to clarify should there be any doubt, and not simply jump to the wrong conclusion that is the complete opposite of what I am trying to say.

Let's take Nurul Izzah for example. A demure, pious and intelligent Muslim Malay young woman with a striking beauty to boot. She had the misfortune of having to deliver an intellectual public speech in a country like Malaysia where politics are run by idiots, and where a lot of people are so badly infected with acute stupiditis that they always put two and two together and get five. In her case, people get "Izzah supports murtad (apostasy)" from her sentence "there is no compulsion in choosing faith, even for Malays." A perfect case of affirmative conclusion from a negative premise.

I am apolitical, thus I do not adhere to any particular party. But I pity her. I pity her for having to explain herself to people who have the IQ of a retarded macaque, time and time again, in the most rational, diplomatic and unnecessarily apologetic manner, just to be met with immature reactions from her opponents who may only be satisfied once Nurul Izzah has been lynched.

More importantly, I pity my own people who - even after the government has institutionalized critical thinking into our education system - still manage to make idiotic assertion on a fairly simple concept.

The saddest part is that most of these people are deliberately dumbing themselves down for the sake of politics.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The demise of sense

Skylar opened the garage door, leading Walter to a stack covered with a piece of flower-patterned cloth.

She lifted the cloth, revealing a pile of crisp dollar bills neatly arranged in packs of ten thousand dollars each. The pile of money took up almost half the space in the garage and reached up to an adult's thighs. It was the money she had been laundering from Walter's meth dealing, using the car wash as a front.

"How much is this?" Walter asked.

"I have no earthly idea. I truly don't. I just stack it up, keep it dry, spray it for silverfish. There is more money here than we could spend in ten lifetimes. I certainly cannot launder it, not with a hundred car washes," whimpered Skylar in resigned agony. "Please tell me, Walter, how much is enough? How big does this pile have to be?"

His response was a cold, pregnant stare.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Voice of reason

I got a call from someone who needed me to be the vocalist of his band for their gig this November. It's been a long time since I last had a gig (by the way I can't really pull off the word 'gig') and I don't really have anything planned in November so I thought what the hell. I said yes.

Then they sent me the playlist. One quick glance at it, and I told myself, "Oh God what did I just get myself into?"

If there are two bands in the world that I can't stand, it's Bloc Party and Arctic Monkeys. I seriously, from the bottom of my heart, honest to God, think their music is shit. Pointless, noisy and extremely annoying. Yet, on the playlist I can see songs from both bands. That I'll have to cover. And I'll have to make it look as if I'm enjoying singing them.

But there's more. Scrolling further down on the list, you'll see Muse and AC/DC. Okay, I'll admit that eventhough I'm not a big fan of AC/DC, their music has grown on me. Muse, on the other hand, I can't even. Since a lot of my friends are huge Muse fans, I've tried to keep an open mind and listened to Matt Bellamy's I-just-got-my-balls-caught-between-elevator-doors wailing voice every time they put Muse on during parties, at full volume no less. But never in a million years would I actually play Muse on my iTunes when I'm alone, let alone cover them on stage as if I endorse their garbage.

As if that's not bad enough, the list also includes songs from Rage Against The Machine. They wrote down 4 songs from RATM, and asked me to choose one. So I listened to all four, again with an open and receptive mind (well, as receptive as one could be when listening to yelled gibberish). I wasn't really familiar with RATM's music before. Now that I've listened to their music, I thank God that for all of my existence on the face of this holy earth, he's spared me from the scarring psychological harm that is RATM's music. Their songs make me feel violated, confused, depressed, angry, bewildered, and maybe even a bit deaf. Then again, I'd take deafness any day over RATM's music.Why am I never in a band whose playlist include tunes like Ray Charles' Hit The Road Jack or Quartetto Cetra's Crapa Pelada?

Fortunately, The Kinks, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Metallica figure in the list. You can never go wrong with The Kinks. And Lynyrd Skynyrd is also good. Metallica is only awesome because I grew up listening to it, otherwise I would have dismissed it as shit. Just like Linkin Park. I found their later albums crappy but I loved their first album, and that's weird because all their albums actually sound the same. Then I realized that I listened to their first album before puberty hit, and the later ones post-puberty. Therein lies the difference.

I don't want to be the asshole who insists on overhauling the whole playlist (which I actually can do, because I'm the singer and singers always have the last word, not to mention they earn more money). So I'm thinking of backing out.

I don't think I'll be able to live with myself if I go through with this gig, knowing that I've inflicted bad taste and shitty music to everybody in the concert hall.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Born To Be A Nomad

A friend shared this article entitled Moving Around Without Losing Your Roots on Facebook and tagged me on it. It's an article about the meaning of home in a globalized world.

I have to admit that after so many years living abroad, the notion of home gets a little fuzzy to me. Well in truth, even before I came to France, I didn't really know where home was. Since a very young age, my family and I have been following my dad moving from one place to another, so we never really had one place where we felt attached to. When my family finally settled in Kuala Lumpur, I got two full years of staying put in one place until I had to go to boarding school in Perak.

Right after SPM, I went to UM for two months before going to INTEC for three months and then off I went flying to France. You'd think that I would finally be rid of the moving hassle for years until I graduate, but no. In France, all Malaysian students change cities at least once, and on average we move house 3 times during the whole study period. In my case, I've called 8 houses home for the past 7 years.

One problem with moving around is you have barely enough time to make good friends, and when you finally do, you suddenly have to move again. I sincerely don't know the whereabouts of 90% of my childhood friends. This was before social networks and mobile phones, so moving away meant losing your friends forever.

I can safely say that I have lots of acquaintances, but very few good friends. One reason why I'm so secretive and such a loner is because I never had the chance to spend enough time to trust or to gain trust from my friends. I grew up knowing that all my friendships had expiry dates, so there was no point in establishing BFFs because before I knew it, I'd be leaving again.

That, unfortunately, has become my lifestyle. People who know me know that I never really go the extra mile to maintain a friendship. I'm never the go-to friend of anyone, because I myself don't have a go-to friend.

I'm not blaming my dad for working in a field where we had to move so much. In fact, I'm entirely grateful for it, because my siblings and I had the chance to learn different dialects and see different cultures at a very young age. Growing up was never boring because we always experienced new things and ended up mastering the art of adapting to a new environment. But in the process, little by little we lost the ability to feel attached to another person who's not a family member.

So I have mixed feelings about the article. On one hand, you want to feel proud to say that you're a citizen of the world, a vagabond who lives on a ship without an anchor and who knows people at every port in every country. On the other hand, you lose the sense of belonging. Everywhere you go, you're the outsider.

When I have kids, I hope we'll be able to stay put long enough for them to create everlasting friendships.

I loved my childhood but in retrospect, I would also love to have one place where I can safely say "this is where I grew up".

The Rapist

I'm thinking of getting a therapist.

Well, no, I'm not depressed or anything. I'm happy as could be. But there are some things in my life I need to sort out and I think I need to talk to someone who is impartial and unbiased about any of my life decisions.

The problem is, I still have trouble believing in talk therapy. My understanding of talk therapy has somewhat improved ever since I met that lady in Grenada. However, every time I hear the word shrink or therapist, I'll still think of all the American movies I've seen where the shrinks get paid a lot of money to sit around and do nothing.

But that's not the main reason why I have a hard time buying into the idea of having a therapist. My biggest problem is this: every therapist has a therapist of their own, because even therapists have problems.

Why is that an issue?

Well, supposed I am a mechanic. I fix cars for a living, and get paid handsome money to do it. But the day my own car breaks down, I have to go to another mechanic to get it fixed. That must mean that I'm not a very good mechanic, right?

Same goes for therapists. If they can't solve their own problems, why the hell should I pay them to solve mine?

But still, there's a FOC therapist in my school. I'm graduating soon, so I need to take advantage of these last few months to actually make good use of all the free stuff you get as a student in France before it's too late.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Remember, remember

Another thing that pisses me off about the American ways is their date format. Their date is written backwards.

It's never really been a problem to me because all the Americans I've met used the date format verbally so where I would say fifth of April, they would say April fifth, which doesn't cause confusion.

The problem arises in writing, specifically with the numerical format. Everywhere else, 5/4/1988 would be fifth of April. In America, that would be fourth of May. That makes no sense. Granted, sense is relative, so what makes sense to you doesn't necessarily have to make sense to me blah blah blah. But common sense is actually very objective, and it dictates that we have to arrange things in a certain ascending/descending order to make life simpler. Days accumulate into a month and months accumulate into a year, so on and so forth. Thus, it is absolutely logical for the date format to be dd/mm/yyyy, now isn't it? In descending order, that would be yyyy/mm/dd, which would look strange, but still acceptable. But mm/dd/yyyy is just bizarre.

Why am I ranting about this all of a sudden?

Well, I was applying for an intern position at this American company, and the deadline for the application was 8/11/2012, meaning I still have a week and a half to submit it. After tweaking my resume (tweaking here doesn't mean embellishing it, it just means modifying it in a way that highlights the skills sought after by the company) and writing an eloquent cover letter, it hit me that I might have read the deadline date wrongly. Which, of course, I did. The deadline was actually on the 11th of August, a month and a half ago, so I'm way overdue.

Since I had gone through the trouble of modifying my resume and writing a cover letter, I decided to just submit my application anyway. I bet all the current applicants suck, so the position is still vacant and when they see my application they'll suddenly realize that their saviour is here, their knight in shining armour.

I've been sending out a lot of resumes to North American aerospace companies recently, and I don't really know why. I can't really afford to fly there, and I don't have a single clue about the accommodation. I'm not even sure if those are paid internships I applied for.

I just figured that I needed to change air. Europe has been fun, but America, that would be something new and exciting. I guess I'm becoming an adrenaline junkie. I always feel the need to be under pressure, because challenge makes everything so much more meaningful. I'll have to double my effort to get to where I want to go and to experience new, exciting stuff.

So I decided to just send my resume to hundreds of companies in the US and Canada because I believe in the laws of probability. The more you put out there, the higher the chance of something good getting back to you, whatever it may be.

But still, their date format sucks balls. Imagine how flat and lifeless the famous quote would be if Guy Fawkes were American: "Remember, remember, November the fifth."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Asian soup

Saying that the Germans eat a lot of pork would be an understatement. Germans are obsessed with pork. Pork is their drug. At the supermarket you'd have a small section for poultry, a tiny section for seafood, and like 3 whole aisles for all kinds of pork. Okay I might be exaggerating, but not by that much.

The Germans are so smart that even if pork didn't exist, they would have invented it anyway. That is how much they love this meat.

In our cafeteria, we have a salad bar and 6 dishes you can choose from. You can be pretty sure to have at least 3 pork dishes, 1 soup dish, and 1 vegetarian dish. If I'm lucky, the last dish would be fish. On my unluckiest day, the last dish is also pork, so I'd have to go for the veggie dish or worse, the salad bar. The only good thing about the salad bar is that it's self-service, so to make my money's worth, I'd pile up all kinds of greens and tuna and corn and red beans in my bowl until it looks like I'm about to hibernate for the winter, and I don't even like red beans.

So the other day I went to the cafeteria and saw "Asian soup" on the menu. I was intrigued. One soup that represents 60% of the human population, encompassing thousands of lands and cultures, from the Mongolians to the Persians, from Vanuatu to Kuwait, from Kamchatka to Uttar Pradesh. One soup to rule them all. The Asian soup.

"This must be a very good soup," I whispered to myself. So I decided to take it.

The soup was murky, so I couldn't really see what was in it. All I knew was that there was no meat in it, so it certainly didn't contain any pork.

Then came the moment of truth: the taste test. I closed my eyes, took a spoonful of it and sipped, expecting to embark upon a gastronomic journey across a multitude of exotic cultures with layovers in the desert of Jordan, on the high mountains of Bhutan, under a papaya tree in front of Angkor Wat, deep into the rainforest of the Borneo, in the wilderness of Fiji, and in front of a mosque in Turkmenistan.

Well, I was utterly disappointed.

The spoonful of shit I just put in my mouth was so called the Asian soup because it had rice in it. Yeah, they put some rice in a soup, and decided to name it "Asian soup". The Germans could have engineered a coconut tree into a space shuttle, but they seem not to be able to grasp the simple fact that Asia is so motherfking ginormous that it's impossible to blend and strain all of us into one soup. The funniest thing is, I'm pretty certain that the "Asian soup" I have eaten cannot even be found anywhere in Asia, try as you may.

If the tables were turned and I were to make a "European soup", I wouldn't even know where to start, because the name itself would make zero sense. What do you put in a European soup? Maybe three teaspoons of economic crisis, an ounce of unreliable currency, and a dollop of dwindling younger population to sustain the workforce?

Yeah, now if only there were a supermarket where I can buy those ingredients for my soup.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

At the risk of sounding like a spoilt brat...

I hate money.

Judging by the way I spend money, one wouldn't have the impression that I hate it. But I actually do. I hate money. Or rather, I hate it that I need so much of it to live, that my happiness actually depends on it. I've always seen myself as a prudent spender, but this year I came to a sudden realisation that I am actually a terrible spender.

I'm happiest when I'm travelling, and that needs money. A lot of it. I also like good food, and good food is usually not the cheapest. I hate making early decisions because I change my mind like I change clothes. If there's one thing I've learnt about myself, it's that I can never be set in stone about anything, because even my mind has a mind of its own. So I always wait for the last minute to decide on something, which is a very expensive habit. A last minute flight ticket or hotel reservation cost a fortune. A last minute change of plans almost always involves money.

I've always told myself I should be more careful with my spending, but like all expert procrastinators, I'd end up saying, "Yeah, maybe later" and swipe that damn card anyway.

Now I'm living in a place surrounded by nature, with fruit farms as far as the eye can see, and it's virtually impossible to spend more than 5 euros a day. But somehow I'm still always broke.

I guess I'm set in my ways. I am and will always be a big spender, and I have to stop being in denial about it. I need money to be happy.

Which is why I hate it. I hate it that I love it.

Stupid capitalism. (When all else fails, blame capitalism.)

Monday, August 27, 2012

There she goes

I ordered a java chip and the cashier asked for my name so she can write it on the cup. I hate it when people screw up my real name by throwing in an 'a' or an 'n' too many so I decided to go for a dubiously generic English name: "It's John."

She looked at me with a slight frown and a twisted smile. "Going for something simpler for me to write down, are you? Well, John is easier to write than, say, Yoaojukulonyihua," she retorted.

"Wait.... How do you know my real name?" I said, trying to be cheeky. And all the baristas burst out laughing.

I usually love making strangers laugh. But not today. Somehow their collective laughing was muted by my own thoughts. The sunny city of Hamburg was full of people, but none of whom actually mattered to me. It might as well have been empty and gloomy, it might as well have been the apocalypse.

During the journey back home, I let Bill Withers mock me on repeat on my iPod.

"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone..."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cut the middleman! Cut the mothereffing middleman!

We've all seen how in recent years, bookstores have been going under one by one like dominoes. Even giants like Borders aren't immune to the attack of online bookstores.

As much as I love reading and would love to support the paperback industry, I'm still a prudent buyer or in modern terms, a cheapskate. I was wandering around in a bookstore in Hamburg two weeks ago when I saw a copy of Moby Dick retailing at 8 euros. The book came out such a long time ago that a Buddhist could have been reborn 3 times since the first edition, so it doesn't really make sense for it to be so ridiculously expensive. So I looked up on Amazon and bought a used copy of the novel. It cost me 1.76 euros with free shipping, and it was delivered to my office desk the next day. And the book is in mint condition and could pass for a new one if it wasn't for this small stamp indicating it had belonged to a library somewhere.

It's a no-brainer, really. You pay a fraction of a book's retail price with just 3 clicks, like literally 3 mind-blowingly simple movements of your index finger, and you wake up the next morning with the book on your doorstep. Sometimes, going to a physical bookstore to buy a novel is like saying, "No, I don't want to pay 3 euros for a large pizza and have it delivered free of charge to my house. I want to go to Pizza Hut to pick up the pizza myself, and pay 4 times as much. I insist."

As if the low price and the speedy delivery hadnt't sufficed, Amazon decided to go all out to kiss my ass by giving me a card that allows free 30-day trial of its new online streaming services from which I can download all kinds of movies and TV series at no cost. It's like getting cheap pizza, having it delivered for free, and on top of that they give you 45000 DVD or Blu-Ray quality movies to choose from in case you need to watch something while enjoying the delicious pizza.

Sometimes it really puzzles me how Amazon makes money, but I don't care as long as I benefit from its heavenly system.

This all being said, I bought a new copy of Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (an amazing read, by the way, I'll review it in another post) at the same Hamburg bookstore and that set me back 14 euros. But that was only because I needed something to read on the train and bus ride back home.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Unavoidable Nazi Talk

The first day I arrived in Germany, it dawned on me that I would be living and working among the people whose grandparents were involved in the most atrocious war ideology ever inflicted on man - Nazism. That very day I asked myself, how much time will have passed before I have a Nazi conversation with a German?

The answer to that is 3 weeks. I just had my first serious Nazi talk last night, with my roommate's girlfriend who incidentally is tall, white and blonde. The Egeria of the Aryan ideals. I jokingly told her she could easily have been on one of Hitler's propaganda posters. She took the joke well but she told me that in her younger years when she first learnt about Nazism, she felt somewhat guilty and self-conscious, so much so that she coloured her hair dark brown.

All the Jews fled Germany during and after the war, so she'd never really met a Jew before. Then she went to New York for some time where she met some Jewish people. She wanted so much to make them like her, it was as if she was being apologetic about what the people three generations before her had done. The fact that the war was not that long a time ago made her feel like she was still carrying the burden of the horrendous crime and it's up to her generation to make up for it.

So I asked her, what is the hardest thing to live with, knowing what had happened during the war. She looked at me and said, "It's knowing that your grandparents were involved in the war and that they might have been Nazis themselves. We don't really talk about it, but growing up as Germans during the war, the propaganda would get to you and you would somehow believe it. How can you not support and cheer the movement that claims your race is the best race?"

It's not really a taboo subject in Germany today. In fact, they talk so much about it in class that people are getting sick of it, and many insist that people stop giving too much focus on it and move on. According to her, they talk about it not only in German and history class, but also in biology. This is due to the fact that many biological experiments were done on the Jews held captive.

However, it's still a somewhat taboo topic in the German homes and it's especially sticky when the grandparents are around. Grandchildren in other countries all around the world grow up with the misfortune of having to hear their grandparents boast about their contributions during the war. Germans kids, however, never get to hear fascinating war anecdotes from their grannies. It's as if the elders wanted to erase that from memory (and even history, if possible) and one of the first steps to do that is by not speaking about it. It's only been 70 years ago, and a lot of German grandparents today were soldiers for the SS. They had all been brainwashed about the Master Race ideology before joining the army, so it wouldn't be shocking if some of them still have remnants of that ideology in them. Hence it's best for the grandchildren not to ask where their grandparents stood during the war, because it could open a nasty can of worms.

My roommate is Swiss, and his grandfather was also in the Army during the war. He had to guard the Swiss border against the Nazis. And he is not one to mince his words, because when my roommate brought his German girlfriend back to his home in Switzerland, his grandpa said, "You're dating a German girl? How do you know that she's not a Nazi?" 

She took it pretty hard, especially because she has absolutely nothing to do with the whole thing, but it's her generation who has to pay the price. The WWII might have ended in 1945, but then there was the Cold War that lasted until 1991. The Berlin Wall had been erected to separate East and West Germany because according to the East, the West still was not clean from Nazism even after the war. To this day, it's still regarded as one of the last bastions of the big war, and it only fell in 1990. So it's not any wonder that it's the German kids of this era who have to clean up the mess.

Germany is a very technologically-advanced nation. It sits among the wealthiest states in the world, and is exemplary in a lot of fields. In the Euro crisis of today, Germany is almost single-handedly carrying the whole zone on its back to prevent its collapse. The German efficiency needs no introduction, and its free education system can put a lot of countries to shame. Despite all this, the Germans opt to remain low-key and walk on eggshells during world summits, maybe because the world still hasn't forgotten about what they did during the war.

I listened to the whole story with a troubled mind. We condemn the Nazis for inflicting the terrible Master Race idea to the whole world, but in a quaint country somewhere in Southeast Asia, there's still a system where a self- appointed Master Race rules a country, and people are still qualified by their origins and creed. During the war, the Jews had official papers that identified them as non-Aryans. In this quaint Asian country, people are identified as 'indigenous' or 'non-indigenous' on official papers, with special treatments for the 'indigenous' people. It's like living in a parallel world where Nazism is dead, but its main ideas are still being upheld.

Germany might have closed their history book regarding racism, but some other countries are still writing theirs.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

If you hate your job, then don't read this post.

Because I love my job. I didn't really know how much I love it until 5 minutes ago when I was browsing the internet and suddenly thought, "I wish Monday would come faster so I can go to work."

I still remember the last job I had four years ago which was cleaning and inspecting parts of high speed trains, and it sucked. Every morning of every day I'd wake up saying, "It's six a.m. already?? But I just went to bed 10 seconds ago!" and dragged my feet to the bathroom which was not an easy task because it always felt like someone put 2-tonne shackles on them.

But now, every morning I go to work singing "Take the shackles off my feet so I can daaaaaanceee.."

My job is awesome.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Growing Up

I miss being young.

Sometimes at work, I feel like people are all so grown up that I find myself being a little boy again. The average age of my colleagues is somewhere in the vicinity of 32, and I might possibly be the youngest, but I've always thought of age as just a number. When you're an adult, you can't be that different from a guy who's ten years older than you.

Boy was I wrong.

In my university, people talk of their boyfriends/girlfriends in a fling-y kind of way, like they don't know where it's going but they don't really care. At work, however, people talk very affectionately of their girlfriends (most of my colleagues are men) and they're at a point in their lives where they need to take the next big step which is either getting married or having kids. Yesterday I was telling a guy about how I plan to travel around Germany during my free time and he said, "You're so lucky to be young. I remember at your age, I went to the tanning place almost every week, I partied a lot, I travelled whenever I felt like it. I even shaved regularly. And now everyday it's work, every night it's sleeping early at 10pm, and every weekend is spent with my girlfriend who lives in Frankfurt and who's starting to ask me when we're getting married. And my razor doesn't recognize me anymore."

One time I was in a car with another colleague who didn't look a day after 23 but who turned out to be 31. He told me he lived with his girlfriend and they just moved into a big house with four bedrooms. I jokingly said, "4 bedrooms? Are you guys planning to have kids or what?" He looked at me, in all seriousness, and said, "Yeah, we're planning to have at least two kids. I want to have more, but my girlfriend is the one who's going to carry them so she'll have the final word on how many kids we should have." Wow.

Since my town is really small, I always wonder what people do on the weekends. I asked this one guy with whom I always speak English because he lived in the States for a couple of years so his English is pretty good. He said, " On the weekends? Oh, I do a lot of carpentry because I love building my own furniture. This weekend I'm going to build a coffee table because my girlfriend thinks the one that we currently have is too small."

Building furniture sounds really grown up to me.

And today, we played beach volleyball after work and the smallest thing I did would be rewarded with a round of, "Good job!" or "Schön!" ("Nice!") or "Gut gesehen!". They only did that to me, maybe because I'm the new, shy intern and they thought I needed some pick-me-up so I could loosen up a bit, but it really made me feel like a little boy surrounded by adults who cheered him just because he managed to avoid colouring over the lines with his crayons.

I miss the days at uni when someone goes to the bathroom for more than 10 minutes and when he comes back, everybody will be like, "How big was your submarine?" or "Did you repaint the bathroom walls with your explosive diarrhea?" or "You sure you did a thorough job wiping your ass? Because now the whole class smells like shit."

Now, whenever someone disappears to the bathroom a bit longer than the time needed for peeing, no one really cares. I'm probably the only one there thinking, "He probably just gave birth to a big, brown and spiral stinky baby," and giggled in front of my computer.

Yeah, growing up is no fun.

Monday, July 30, 2012


I was chatting with a friend about my awesome internship and how I love my office and she said, "Wow, you are so lucky to get this job!" I laughed it off, but I was actually quite vexed by that statement, because after all I've done to get this internship, people still see it as a stroke of luck?

Believe me, this has very little to do with luck. Luck is when you step on a 100 euro bill on the street, or when you are running late to the train station but suddenly your train is running late too. But when you work relentlessly for something, that's no longer a lucky strike.

I've always wanted to work in aerospace, so when I saw this composite convention in Paris a couple of months ago, I decided to skip school and go for it. I perfected my resume, printed out 40 copies (20 in French and 20 in English), and off I went. Each and every of the leading composite manufacturers in the world was there, so I figured there were no better opportunities to drop off some resumes, all the while having small talks with the companies' representatives face-to-face.

I practically combed through each and every stand talking to everyone I saw. I saw my resume being examined before getting put under a pile of newspaper and pamphlets, also known as the day's junk. There's even this Dutch guy who took my resume and when I came back half an hour later, I saw it being used as a coffee coaster. I got rejected by Toray, the world leader of composite materials manufacturer, by a simple head shake. I got turned down by BASF, who told me there weren't any internships available (in other words, "we don't want you.")  Of course, it was not a career fair, so they weren't there to recruit interns. They were selling their products, so I was like a fly in a fancy restaurant. Persona non grata that no one is capable of getting rid of.

Even when I got the job, I was faced with a billion problems. They had to justify why they had to take a non-German intern to the German Employment Centre, and that was a beautiful shitstorm. They asked me to send them all kinds of documents imaginable, from my birth certificate to my SPM result slip all the way to my latest exam results. Hell, I even had to prove that I went to high school in Taiping, and that I had enrolled in a French language programme in Angoulême (luckily I still keep all my enrollment certificates).

Me being me, of course I decided to crank the difficulty level up a notch: I decided to go travelling with my brother and my friends when all this shitstorm was at its peak. So I had to do everything by e-mail. I needed to look for internet cafés while travelling because I had to print and FedEx urgent documents. I had to ask for help from people at my school through the telephone, and I had to call some people in Germany from wherever I was at that moment. And my phone bills went through the roof! I only learned that I had definitively secured this intern position a week before I came here, so for a whole month I was in a limbo state but I told myself to gamble it because I was already in that deep.

And when I finally thought everything was falling into place, I received an e-mail saying that the room that I had reserved had been let go to someone else. And I only had one week before starting my internship to find a new room in a town I didn't even know. So I had to make a billion phone calls to find a new room, and God knows how lousy my real estate vocabulary is in German so it was really a pain in the ass to discuss rent and the tenant's agreement in German, only to realise half an hour later that I was looking at an unfurnished room that is situated in another city, but the agent insisted that with a car, it'll only take me under two hours to get to work. That stupid bitch alone cost me 40 euros on my phone bill.

So no, it is definitely not a lucky strike that I got this job. Luck can only bring you so far, but you have to do the rest yourself. With a little help from people around me, and a little prayer to God, I made this happen for myself. It might sound cocky to say so, but it pisses me off when people complain about stuff but don't work towards improving it. And whenever others made it, they'd say "That's just luck."

Monday, July 23, 2012

I'm Liking This Country

I thought the Germans were a bunch of cold, unfriendly people. These past week, however, has proven me wrong. They are friendly, warm and smiling people who would go out of their way to help you out.

I'm liking this country already.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Stranger Named Light

           Someone once told me I was too cynical about the world, that I saw bad people and the bad in people everywhere. With all the stuff we see in the news today, how can I not? Of course it’s not my intention to incriminate every stranger I see. I just find it hard to believe that anyone would be nice to you just 'cause, without expecting anything in return or worse, without trying to scam you. As a frequent traveller, I am used to being too prudent and holding my belongings a bit too close to my body lest they get snatched or stolen. I am so used to questioning the intention of every stranger who comes to talk to me and expecting them to want spare change, and I am so used to judging people by the way they dress or talk or walk, that I just can’t seem to enjoy pointless conversation with random people in the street anymore.

My sense of independence makes things worse. I am the biggest control freak and my trust issues make it hard for me to depend on anyone. As a kid, I was accustomed to broken promises and I was no stranger to being disappointed, so much so that I told myself that when I grew up, I had to do everything myself in order to avoid disappointment. Unable to rely on people, it gets hard for me to make new friends or to just take people’s words for anything - double checking is my second nature.               

So yesterday when I arrived in Stade, Germany for my summer internship, I had everything meticulously planned. I had an appointment with my potential landlord and I knew exactly which bus I was going to take and at what time. Everything went pretty well. The house was clean and fully furnished, and the rent is cheap. The place is also a daycare centre by day, so it’s full of kids when I arrived. In a small northern German town full of blond, blue eyed people, I stand out like a sore thumb and children look at me as if they’ve never seen a brown Asian guy before. Some kids came up to me and asked me if I spoke German. Some others just looked at me silently and followed my every step with the corner of their eyes. Some told me stories about their holiday plans, and some others asked me to play football with them. I forgot how adorable kids can be. My landlord told them I could also speak French, so they were pretty excited about that and asked me if I could teach them during their summer break.

That was the moment I told myself, “Well, strangers aren’t that bad.”

On the way back from the house to the train station, a German lady started talking to me in the bus. She wondered why I chose Stade out of all the places in Germany. I told her I didn’t, Stade chose me. This is where all the heavyweights in the aerospace industry decided to set up camp, so it’s not like I had a choice. I told her I was waiting for a positive response from my landlord and that I was going to spend the night at a youth hostel. She looked at me and said, “That hostel is going to cost you 30 euros! I have a comfortable couch at home and you can sleep there tonight.”

I was very skeptical. I was a foreigner, we didn’t know each other at all, and she was a frail middle-aged woman so she couldn’t possibly defend herself if I ever decided to do her harm. I would never invite a stranger into my home, so I can’t imagine why a stranger would invite me to theirs. Of course, I have this angelic face people just fall in love with, but that doesn’t guarantee I won’t pin her down to the floor, strangle her and steal all her jewelry.

I hesitated to accept the offer. My suspicious nature told me to politely decline. The problem is, I am independent but I am also a cheapskate freeloader. Why would I pay 30 euros if I can sleep comfortably and have a nice home-cooked dinner for free? Even if she had bad intentions, looking at her small stature, I was certain I could take her down with my pinky finger. So I said yes.

And that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. She turned out to be extremely nice. She made me veggie noodles and carrot spring rolls for dinner. She also gave me a bag of chips while she was cooking in case I felt hungry. We ate cherries she just plucked from her friend’s garden, and she let me use her internet. She was just being this all around nice person I had never met before and that shook me to the core. I grew up convinced that there are no genuinely nice people out there anymore, and now I have this very friendly, nice German lady who gave me food and a roof to sleep under without expecting anything in return. She also called all her friends to ask them if they had any extra room in their houses, in case I didn’t get the room at the daycare centre. She left for work at 7 this morning, and she already prepared me breakfast consisting of bread, cheese, milk and apple juice.          

Now I’m in the train, on the way to Hannover to see some friends, but I’m still baffled by the niceness of this lady. I used to hate people. Now I see that there’s no reason to be skeptical about everything and everyone, because we can be pleasantly surprised at how nice strangers can be. As independent as I thought I had to be, my whole belief system just got shaken by this surreal Blanche DuBois moment I just had – we all need to depend on the kindness of strangers sometimes.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

That furry little bastard

Lately I've been hearing mouse noises in the walls of my room. Yes you read that right: IN the walls. I guess this is a hipster mouse, you know, because running on the ceiling is too mainstream. This building is really old, so the walls probably have a million tiny holes due to many years of rewiring and whatnot. A mouse can crawl through a hole the size of a pencil and it can chew through anything safe for metal. So it wouldn't be shocking if there really were a mouse in my walls (writing 'a mouse' is wishful thinking as I really don't want there to be lots of them, I hate critters.)

I had this problem 2 years ago when we just moved in, but we put some traps about the apartment and we also had a cat for a while so we thought we had gotten rid of it. But now the mouse is back, and I bet with a vengeance, as it's starting to make a lot of noise while scurrying around in the wall at night. Sometimes I hear it scratching on a spot really near me as if saying "Do you hear this? You can't see me, but I'm scratching right next to you. It's me, The Great Mouse, killing you slowly." Suffice to say, this bastard is a brazen rodent.

So I googled the ways you can get rid of the little bastard. I came across sites where people tell stories of their pet mice. Wait, I lose sleep over these nasty creatures and you voluntarily keep them as pets? Mad people... mad people everywhere.

Then I saw this rather helpful article explaining the A-Z of the rodent world and how you can avoid getting infestation in your home. However, I couldn't help but chuckle when I read the line "Once the mouse trapped, you can drive it to a field far from your place and release it there."

How dumb are you? If I caught that furry little bastard that has been making my nighttime a living hell, I wouldn't waste gas and nicely drive it back to mouse Disneyland and release it there just to see it reproduce and come back to my home with its whole family. I love animals, but not those who would stay at my place rent-free, eat my food, and give me rabies and stinky droppings as thank you gifts. And I definitely wouldn't drive them to a place where they can be happy and roam free. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, did the Americans escort them nicely back to Japan? No, they went ape-shit and threw nuclear bombs at the Japs. Now that's how you do vengeance.

If I caught the mouse, I would tie it to a small pole, poke it with needles, and staple its tail to a candle. I'd then burn the candle so the hot wax would run down its tail, all the while spraying its eyes with cooking grease.

Once it is completely blind, I'd make scratching noises and say "Do you hear this? You can't see me, but I'm scratching right next to you. It's me, The Great Human, killing you slowly."

And I'd keep poking that poor rodent with needles until it's dead.

Monday, July 02, 2012

In France, we are very condescending

Like I said before, my resolution this year is to look at the bright side of things and to be more positive. So far, it's been a huge success. I find myself very calm these days. Even when I'm mad, it never lasts for more than an hour, then I'll be back to my chirpy, positive self again. I even tried listening to Justin Bieber to give him a chance, because I realized that the reason I had dismissed him as shit was because it was just uncool for my generation to be listening to Justin Bieber, or to even acknowledge his artistry. I suddenly found that very hypocritical, because Carly Rae Jepsen's Call Me Maybe is just as shitty, but somehow it's cool to like it. You know what, Carly Rae is signed under Justin Bieber. Suck on that, hypocrites.

So yeah, I've been very positive lately, and I'm starting to like it.

Except for this morning, when I received an e-mail from this French lady (she's kind of a bitch, and every Malaysian student in France knows that) refusing to accept to be the guarantor for my new apartment. Of course, she had the right to say no, but she could have said it nicely. Instead, this is how she worded her mail:

"No, I won't be your guarantor. In France, being a guarantor is a serious matter. So either the owners accept our corporation as a moral person to be your guarantor, or you'll have to look for something else."

She is known to be very frank, and I appreciate that. But I hate the part, "In France, being a guarantor is a serious matter."

To me, that's another way of saying, "I don't know how things are done in your backward country, but in THIS country, being a guarantor is a big deal."

Maybe I'm just looking too much into it, but she could have simply omitted the words 'In France' and the sentence would be "Being a guarantor is a serious matter." Just as effective, and not at all condescending. I imagine her thinking that in Malaysia, we live in bamboo huts and to rent a bamboo hut, tenants and owners just spit on their palms, shake their hands, and have a coconut dance together to seal the deal. No guarantor, no legal papers, no signature. Oh, and the rent is two full-grown chickens, ten betel leaves and a spittoon.

No, lady. We also have to sign a contract, and pay rent in the form of money, and we also need a guarantor. And being a guarantor is also a big deal in our country, or any other country for that matter. Not just in France.

I've actually had this problem before. Once I went to the post office to send some letters and I was in a hurry so I just went to the counter and asked the guy how much it cost to send those letters. The guy looked up at me and said, "In France, we say "bonjour" when meeting people."

I admit that it was my fault for not being polite because I was in a hurry so I completely forgot about social courtesy, but that doesn't mean I come from a country where people pee on each other to say hi. He obviously saw that I wasn't French so he felt compelled to start his sentence with that "In France" bullshit. You know what, mister, France has been voted one of the rudest countries in Europe, so you can take that bonjour up your ass, push it farther upwards, and choke on it. Thank you.

Okay, back to my zen self.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Patriotic, I am.

I'm having the worst case of lower back pain but yesterday I decided to give it a big f-you and go play squash.

It was my third or fourth time and I totally enjoyed it. It's a very intensive sport where you have to sprint in short distances during the whole match and hit the ball with all your might to ensure it goes bouncing at a high speed randomly across the walls and trap your opponent. Much like swimming, you don't feel tired while playing squash. But later when you've finished a match, you'll realize that you're sweating like a pig, you're crying for air, and you have never wanted water so bad in your life.

After the game, we went to pay and I saw this huge poster of Nicol David hanging next to the till. I was so proud that I blurted out to the guy, "Hey, you know that this girl is the best squash player in the world and she's Malaysian? I'm Malaysian too!"

The guy was like, "Of course I know Nicol David and that she's Malaysian." And he smiled at me.

I felt stupid. The guy worked at the squash courts, of course he's good at squash and naturally, he'd know who Nicol David was and where she came from. I am just so used to having to introduce Malaysia to the world that I forgot how, in some very specific fields, Malaysia doesn't need introduction.

Nevertheless, seeing a poster of a famous Malaysian athlete made my day.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Reading shit is better than not reading at all

I go to 9Gag for cheap laughs. Nowadays it's almost always repeat jokes and stale stolen gags from other sites, but for some reason I still find myself typing "9" on the address bar, scrolling down, and clicking on the first link every once in a while.

I don't get the double standard on that site. It mocks people who like Nicki Minaj, Twilight and Justin Bieber, but gives too much praise on Harry Potter as if it is real literature. Please, I don't see any difference between Harry Potter and Twilight. Both are void of aesthetics. Maybe they have storyline, but we don't read books solely for the storyline. In fact, I read books for the emotion, for the language, for the wonderment of how much thought the writer puts on a simple phrase, for the use of words, for the witty ways to describe each and every character so the reader can vividly imagine how he/she looks like, for the ways they qualify the crispness of the air, or the excruciating cold, or the sweltering heat, or simply the butterflies a little boy feels in his tummy when the babysitter he has a crush on comes to babysit him at 10 o'clock every morning while his mom goes grocery shopping. All of which cannot be adequately translated onto the silver screen no matter how much we try. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but it sometimes leaves out ten thousand more.

As my mom says, a book today is written in scenes, and we read them as if we're watching a movie, which is not what a book is all about. And writers like Stephanie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, Stieg Larsson, John Grisham, Dan Brown etc., they don't write books, they write screenplays, and screenplays care a lot less about aesthetics which makes reading a lot less enjoyable.

That being said, I don't have anything against Harry Potter or Twilight. I mean, yes, I classify both of them as rubbish literature, but not a long time ago I realized that we shouldn't be against anything that gets kids today to actually read. Most people in the civilized world are literate, but people still make a huge deal out of people who actually read, and those who read are very proud of their penchant for the written words. We are living in a world where working out and reading are accessible to almost everyone, but are somehow regarded as activities for a chosen few. Of course I'd prefer if my kid would read Pushkin rather than Stephanie Meyer, but if reading Stephanie Meyer keeps them away from watching MTV, doing drugs, drinking, and getting (a girl) pregnant, then I'd buy them all the Stephanie Meyer books they want.

The point of this post is, 9Gag should stop its double standards on people's taste. If it wants to mock Twilight, it should mock all other writers of the same caliber. Otherwise they should stop making fun of people who read, regardless of their choice in reading materials.

Honestly, if I can get my youngest brother to read even Harry Potter rather than spending so much time on 9Gag, I'd be happy enough.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I'm Selfish And I Know It

"If it wasn't for Facebook, none of you guys would've wished me on my birthday. Thanks anyway, guys." - A status on Facebook.

So now it's a bad thing that Facebook reminds people of your birthday? Of course, some (or most) of those wishes might not be sincere, but those people did still devote five seconds of their precious time typing out those words. Five seconds might not sound much, but considering that being born is not actually an accomplishment whatsoever, an insincere birthday wish from anyone is actually more than generous. Seriously, how did you contribute to your birth? Did you burst the amniotic sac yourself, pat your mom's belly from the inside and said,"Relax, I got this", before climbing out of the vagina without assistance? Yeah, didn't think so. If anything, our birthdays should actually be the days we celebrate our mothers. They literally risked their lives just to put us out to the world.

It shouldn't matter how people remember your birthday. It's their action that counts.

It's like those who criticize people doing charity for Africa saying, "Charity is actually selfish. A lot of people do charity to feel better about themselves, to portray a better image of themselves, to show off."

Maybe there's some truth in that. Maybe some people do good because they know that they'll feel good about themselves in return. Some people do it just so it can go on their resume.

But I seriously don't see any problem with that.

As long as you're doing something to make the world a better place, your intentions should not matter. Even if it's an obviously staged photo-op of Kim Kardashian helping a blind person cross the street for publicity, she has still helped that person cross the street. Good has been done.

Sometimes I pity rich people. They get booed for not giving back, and when they do, they get booed for not giving enough. And when they do, people say, "Why did he do that? So his publicists can add a 'Philanthropy' section on his Wiki page, that's why."

The world needs charity. No matter how much we give, we can never give enough. So there'll always be those condescending voices doubting our intentions. Sincerity is nice, but action speaks louder than words. If my selfishness makes one less African kid go to sleep hungry tonight, then my selfishness has contributed to a better world.

What has your selfishness done?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

About Jalan Pintas, Hassan Mutalib and existentialism

So a couple of weeks ago I went to The Actors Studio at Lot 10 to see Jalan Pintas, a film by Nam Ron. It was the opening night so we had the chance to have Hassan Mutalib, a renowned Malaysian film critic, in the audience.

The film was... okay. It's a very Aronofsky-esque film with some Memento feeling to it, and visibly low budgeted. The leitmotiv of the film is choice and the ever-popular quandary of "what if?", only with a slight twist: sometimes no matter which path you choose to take, life decides to be funny and fucks you up anyway.

Like every indie Malay film these days, it's ridden with other subplots such as the unemployment of fresh graduates in Malaysia, nepotism, xenophobia and of course, gangsterism. And since it's an indie movie without a FINAS license, expletives are in order, so much so that sometimes the actors just yell out a big fat 'babi!' for absolutely nothing which makes it seem forced and out of place. I know that Scarface is a thousand times more ribald, but Al Pacino expresses vulgarity in a way that is believable and even necessary while in Jalan Pintas, sometimes it just seems like the raison d'être of some of the swear words is merely to give a big 'fuck you' to the Malaysian censorship board.

Seriously, whatever happened to simplicity? I found that so-called 'smart' Malay directors today try too hard to educate, and forget all about entertaining. I'm all for ingraining smart subtexts in movies but please, not at the expense of the storyline and entertainment. Jalan Pintas seems to have one subplot too many, so sometimes it seems out of focus. I however applaud its efficient use of nonlinear narrative because very few Malay films have succeeded in doing this and most of the time it's just a big incoherent mess (Hati Malaya by Shuhaimi Baba, anyone?). I'd also like to praise the use of Snorricam, the kind of camera you mount on an actor's body during physical scenes (usually when the actor is running from/after something) which makes the actor look stationary while the world around him tumbles around. For some reason this technique gives more intensity to the scene.

After the movie, Hassan Mutalib gave a piece of his mind about the independent film industry in Malaysia, how it is changing the game, and how mainstream film directors could learn a thing or two from young filmmakers. One of the things he said bothered me deeply though. A student filmmaker (or was it a journalist) told Nam Ron that he could have replaced those swear words with something else because it was too much, prompting Hassan Mutalib to add: "Yes, when you make a film, you also have to think about the religious consequences. Remember, you have to explain yourself to God one day. How would you explain the use of these swear words in your film? A lot of people don't think about God when they do something, and these people are called existentialists. Freethinkers. They just don't believe in God."

Well excuse me, Mr. I-Failed-7-Papers-in-my-SPM, but the earliest existentialists were mainly Christian. Just because Sartre and Nietzsche are atheists doesn't make existentialism anti-God. That would be too simplistic a logic.

Existentialism and religion are not incompatible, in fact, they just don't have anything to do with one another. For me, being an existentialist means doing things for yourself and not letting other people tell you what you should do and who you should be, all the while being responsible towards your surroundings. It's about creating your own path in life and not being condemned to what you're born into. In fact, the Quran said, "Surely Allah changes not the condition of a people until they change themselves", and that's exactly what existentialism is all about: you, and no one else, are responsible of your own destiny. If an Indian untouchable wants to have a better life, he'll have to work hard and be the nicest person so he'll be reborn as a Brahmin in the next life. If a Indonesian trishaw peddler thinks he'll be better off working without a legal permit in Malaysia, he must have the courage to take one of those dodgy boats in the middle of the night and battle mother nature just to arrive safely at the Malaysian shore. If someone is born into a family of drug lords and prostitutes, that doesn't mean he cannot crawl his way out of it. If he wants it bad enough, he will succeed. Your existence should not be defined by the world you're born into.

And that has nothing to do with renouncing God. You can be a pious Muslim and an existentialist at the same time. As long as you don't succumb to the hedonist idea of philosophy, then you and your faith should be just fine.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

I Am A Member of the Food Court Gym

One sign that your country is going towards becoming a high income nation is the increase in gym memberships. Gym memberships here, gym memberships there, gym memberships everywhere.

When I was still in high school I saw this Fitness First towel at home and I found it weird, because the body weight per capita in my household didn't suggest that any of us ever worked out, let alone had a gym membership. Then I found out my dad was actually a member of Fitness First, and that he was paying a ridiculous annual gym fee. Did it work? Well, let me put it this way: that was a very expensive towel.

So I just came back from Malaysia. It was a great week and a half, and was worth every cent. The moment I landed, I called a friend to pick me up at the airport and he was there almost immediately. I asked him if he was actually going somewhere else, he said, "Yeah, I was actually going to the gym."

And ever since, almost every person I met in KL had a gym membership. Once I was waiting for someone in front of a gym (by the way, what is it with gyms and glass walls? It's like a transparent frontier between the big biceps and the big bellies. And needless to say, I was extremely self-conscious the whole time I was waiting there) and I overheard two guys talking behind me. "Oh, this is my gym by the way," said one. "Oh really? Mine is in (I forgot where it was)," said the other. Both were the office type, with love handles showing above the waist of their perfectly creased pants in the shape of muffin tops. That's when I knew that 'having a gym membership' and 'going to the gym' are two very different things. It's like owning an iPad. A lot of people own an iPad. But only a few actually put it to good use. Others just use the iPad as a show-off piece of technology that they bought just because they could afford it.

And that's exactly what's happening in Malaysia. Gym membership is the new 'sport rim'.

This shows that our economy is improving as people hardly get out of the office, thus they are more and more productive. This in turn makes them burn zero fat as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, thus they have to steal time to go work out. Hence the spike in gym membership number. But the sad thing is, our obesity rate just keeps rising in spite of this, meaning that most people don't actually go to the gym.

Exhibit A: Me. I have a gym membership, but ever since my skiing accident 3 months ago, I was "forced" to stop any physical activities for a while and I stopped going to the gym.

And I never returned.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


This is like sex on speakers. At the first listen I was perplexed, at second listen I was quite pleased, and at third listen I was sold hook, line and sinker.

Everybody keeps saying it sounds like Anggun's Snow on the Sahara (which, by the way, is no longer absurd since it did snow on the Sahara a few weeks back). I, for one, keep having visions of Björk when listening to this gem.

This will stay on repeat until Nicki Minaj comes out with a better song. Which means never.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Jack of all languages, master of none

I received an e-mail from a friend who wanted to know about job opportunities in Malaysia. A native English speaker, he heard about Malaysia's urgent need for skilled English teachers and thought he should apply, but didn't know how and to whom.

I find it great that English native speakers can easily find jobs all across the globe thanks to their mother tongue. I've met a lot of western expatriates living in Asian countries and a lot of them are either English teachers, writers, photographers or retirees who live in Asia in the hope of stretching out their last dollars.

So back to my English friend. He asked me all kinds of questions about Malaysia and I tried to answer as objectively as I could. The problem is I've been living abroad for so long I feel like I am out of touch with the real Malaysian lifestyle. A lot of my answers were based on my memories living in Malaysia (and by living I don't mean going there for month-long summer holidays doing absolutely nothing) and the last time I did that was 7 years ago. I had trouble giving him ballpark figures of prices of everyday stuff. If I remember correctly, the last time I bought a 1-litre carton of fresh milk in Malaysia it cost me around RM4.50, and a giant loaf of Gardenia bread was in the RM2.10 area. I don't know if it is still the case (I'm sure it isn't), but I don't think I'm that far off either even with the infamous Malaysian inflation rate factored in.

Then came the hardest question to answer: "Should I learn Malay? Is it one of the requirements to be employed in Malaysia?"

This was my reply:

"Almost everybody in Malaysia speaks English with varying degrees of proficiency, so you can easily get by not knowing a word of Malay, especially if you're planning on living in the capital city where even the Malays speak English among themselves as a sign of superior educational background and/or affluence. Unlike our neighbours the Thais or even the Indonesians, us Malaysians don't have the same pride when it comes to our national language. Malaysians always pride themselves for being able to speak English or other languages fluently, and look down on other Malaysians who don't. The funny thing is, it's almost always these same people who butcher the Malay language to within an inch of its life with their excessive anglicisms, improper grammar and questionable spelling skills. This lackadaisical attitude towards the Malay language is also boosted by the government's laughable effort at upholding the status of Malay as the national language.

Malay has a rich vocabulary, a very logical and organized grammar, and a great reserve of literary gems. However, looking at advertisements and building names and street signs around Kuala Lumpur, one would be under the false impression that the Malay language is only good for talking about petty issues like food, the weather or football, as it seems to have a limited vocabulary and almost non-existent proper grammatical structure. And the rise of unnecessary English loanwords doesn't help.

In other words, you DON'T NEED to learn Malay to be able to live and work in Malaysia, and it is not an essential requirement when applying for a job. If proficiency in Malay were one of the job requirements, half of born and bred Malaysians would be jobless.

This being said, I think you SHOULD learn Malay. If you plan on living in Malaysia for an extended period of time, having at least basic Malay skills is a must, if only for the fun of seeing the bewildered expression on people's faces when they see a white guy speaking Malay. Malaysians love white people who speak Malay more than they love the language itself. If you record yourself speaking Malay and put it on Youtube, that video will go viral in Malaysia in no time and more often than not, girls will compliment you on how cute you are no matter how plain you look, just because you're a white guy. So be prepared to be worshiped. On a more serious note, you should also learn Malay for its beauty and uniqueness. Can you tell me any other language in the world that doesn't possess the verb 'to be' and is still able to function perfectly?

I hope I've answered your question objectively."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


I just read an article about bilingual people and how they are supposed to have better cognitive functioning because they have to constantly code switch without much effort, resulting in the brain being used to multitasking and resolving internal problems on its own.

The article also said something about bilinguals' ability to 'suppress' one language altogether when speaking in an environment where another language is needed. This is true, because I imagine my mind being separated into different boxes, and there is a special box for each specific language. This means that whenever I'm within an exclusively French-speaking group of friends, only the French language box is activated and all the other boxes are suppressed, meaning even my subconscious (the voices in my head) is in French and somehow I'd magically adopt French gestures and facial expressions that I would never use when speaking any other language.

I never thought of this phenomenon as some kind of 'suppression', but now I reckon that it actually is. Sometimes after a long, long day at school, I'd go home and see my roommate but we wouldn't speak Malay straight away. We would exchange niceties in French and continue speaking in French for a little bit, then proceeding to Malay with French words scattered all over, before gradually switching into full Malay mode for the rest of the evening. I think this is the result of Malay being 'suppressed' for the whole day (for us both) so even though it's our mother tongue, it still needs warming up in order to converse efficiently.

It might seem extremely pretentious to see two fully Malay guys speaking French to each other for no reason, but I find it completely natural. We have friends hanging out at our place all the time and out of politeness, we make it a point not to speak Malay in their presence in order to make everybody comfortable. You know that feeling when you're wedged between two assholes who speak in a foreign language and you have completely no idea what they're talking about which makes you feel like they are talking shit about you? Yeah, we don't want to be those assholes, so we 'suppress' Malay when we have French guests. After a while, we ended up feeling very comfortable speaking French to each other even when there is no French person present.

Of course, Malay is a Godsend when you need to bitch about someone right in front of their face without them even knowing. That's really the coolest thing about multilingualism.

The drawback of being multilingual is you can lose your languages very easily, and it really doesn't take long to lose a language. A few months of non-practice are enough to loosen up language reflexes and automatism, after a year you'd lose a lot of vocabulary, and after a few years of non-practice your language skills get as good as bare metals in salt water. It gets rusty. I remember being a very fluent speaker of Sarawakian Malay when I was living there, and I was so good that none of my friends knew I was a Semenanjung kid until they came to my house and heard me speak with my parents. After moving away, it only took me a year to lose most of my Sarawakian vocabulary. Now I can't even understand half the things they say.

I don't know what the point of this post is. I guess I just got inspired by the word 'suppress' in the article because I hated the way it sounded, but finally realized there were no better words to describe it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Dentist = good money

"Hello, I would like to make an appointment for a teeth scaling."

"Of course. Let me check, I'm pretty sure we have an opening somewhere in May....."

Drawback of universal healthcare? All dentists in my town are booked solid before the summer months. I even tried using the "it's urgent" card but that only got me an appointment at an ungodly hour on an April weekday.

That's it. You want good money? Be a dentist.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My Teeth and I

After all these years living in France, I just found out something I would love to have found out a long time ago: teeth scaling fees are covered by social security. In fact, a lot of non-esthetic dental treatment fees are covered.

I have never done teeth scaling before because I didn't think it was necessary since I take really good care of my teeth. From what I read, good teeth brushing and flossing are enough to prevent plaque formations, caries, gingivitis and periodontitis, and God knows how I am a big fan of flossing. One of my guilty pleasures are flossing in front of the TV before breathing, or more precisely seeping air, through the clean gaps between my teeth until I hear the high-pitched whistling that is music to my ear.

It's not just that I want my mouth to be squeaky clean. It's also because one of the things I hate the most in the world is bad breath. You can put me at a fish market for hours I wouldn't bat an eyelid, you can make me lie on a sleeping bag on the street next to a pile of dog shit I'll sleep like a baby, but if you make me talk within striking distance to a guy who has the breath of a jackal, I'll pray that you be crushed by a Russian tank, skinned to the bone by a sushi chef, shot point blank by a seasoned sniper and burned in hell for three thousand years. And I'll throw in the foul-breathed guy in there with you.

Anyways, now that I know I can go for a teeth scaling FOC, I'm just going to go look around for the best looking dental clinic in my town. Might as well go for the best since I'm not paying for anything, right?

Free dental treatments - another thing I'm going to miss when I leave France for good.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I remember hearing Claude François' Comme d'habitude, one of France's all-time favourite songs and the song that had inspired Frank Sinatra's My Way, for the first time in high school during Hari Bahasa Perancis SBP. A few days after my arrival on France's soil six years ago, I heard the song again on the radio.

You can't live in France without hearing Claude François' name mentioned almost every day. He has one of the most recognisable voices in the French music industry, most of his songs have achieved great success, his fan base was (and still is) massive and his iconic status has passed the test of time, even long after his death. Now they are making a film on him (wonder what took them so long). It has not been released yet but people have been talking about it a lot. It is definitely going to slay at the box-office, I can safely bet my left leg on it.

That got me thinking: if I were to make a movie on a Malaysian (dead) iconic celebrity who is to us what Claude François is to the French, who would it be? The answer came to me literally within a split second - Sudirman. And somehow that got me mad. Why hasn't there been a film about the great Sudir? His voice is one of a kind (he'd only need to sneeze and you'd know it's him), almost all of his songs are well-known, he was among the few Malaysian singers whose charisma was able to transcend the race boundaries in Malaysia, and he has the stage presence comparable to that of Freddie Mercury. No, seriously.

With all the crap they've been putting out in the Malaysian film industry, how is it possible that no one has thought of actually making a film about Sudirman? I don't think anyone needs convincing, but if I have to break it down to you fools, here are 5 reasons why a film on Sudirman is such a brilliant idea:

1) This movie would obviously be a financial goldmine. Sudirman's fan base is huge. He was given the Asian No. 1 Performer award in London, he reigned on the Malaysian music charts for God knows how long, and he had the charm of an angel. His songs have themes encompassing a plethora of subjects, most of them dealing with Malaysians' everyday lives. It's no wonder why his songs are very close to people's hearts. How can you not like someone who sings songs with titles like Anak Gembala, Basikal Tua, Aku Penganggur, Horee Horee, Toyol, Chow Kit Road, and of course, Balik Kampung

2) A good film needs drama and Sudirman's life has enough drama to create a big enough story arc. His mom was a politician and she died when he was 5, then his father died when he was 24. He passed the bar and became a bona fide practising lawyer but he quit to become a performer. He was hated by the Muslim authorities who wanted to ban every concert he intended to do. His free open air concert in Chow Kit Road gathered a crowd of 100 000 people and created controversy when some fans who turned up fainted and suffocated. He had to fight gay rumours his whole career. He knew he was sick quite sometime before his death but he put on a brave front so his fans would not see his illness. He even asked Habsah Hassan to write a farewell song, Salam Terakhir some time before his death, as if he knew his time was coming. Listening to that song still gives me goosebumps even after all these years because it's hauntingly beautiful and because of these two lines

                 "Usah bertanya mengapa aku mengucap salam terakhir kepadamu
                  Kerna waktu berputaran, bimbang tak berkesempatan...

3) You want a good example for the kids? This is a good example. Sudirman was not only an excellent entertainer, he was also a smart student at school. So smart that he got a scholarship to do medicine overseas but he refused. And did I tell you he became a lawyer afterwards? Kids today quit school at the age of 15 to pursue their dreams of "nak jadi penyanyi" after being inspired by Akademi Fantasia and Mentor and whatnot. There's nothing wrong with chasing after your dreams, but remember, a country only needs so many singers. We have more celebrities per capita than we do doctors, and to me that is unhealthy. Sudirman finished his studies before becoming a superstar. He was lucky he made it big, but if he hadn't, at least he had his degree to fall back on.

4) Kids today need a lot of education on the prosperous Malay music industry of the olden days. They need to realize that today's local album sales are poor not just because of illegal Internet downloading, an excuse widely used and rehashed by musicians to justify their failures, but mainly because a lot of local musicians are coming up with stinkier shit than ever before. Seriously, I'm all for supporting the local music industry, but I wouldn't be caught dead even illegally downloading some of the shit that's on today's local radio, let alone buy the song. In his heyday, Sudirman could sell more cassettes per day than today's average singer can for their whole career because Sudirman's songs were actually worth buying and listening to on repeat. Malaysians are not stupid. Believe it or not, we are a tough crowd. We know quality when we see it, and we are not afraid to call shit shit. We are honest people, so if you don't deliver, we don't buy. Simple as that. 

5) People love motivational movies. What's more motivational than a movie about a small man who came from a small village, with a stature of merely 147cm tall, who went and conquered a whole nation with his charisma and his voice? This is a truly Malaysian from-rags-to-riches story, and such a beautiful one at that. It's potential is a no-brainer.

There are of course other reasons, but even with these 5 people can see why a Sudirman film needs to be made. Did you know that not long before his death, he was flown to London to record songs for his English album that was supposed to jumpstart his international career? And it was not just at any London studio: it was on Abbey Road. Yes, the one used by The Beatles. That could be the ending of the movie. A tragic death that cuts him short on his path towards international superstardom, as if he knew that us Malaysians preferred to have him as our national treasure and didn't want to share.

So, are you convinced yet?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

To Lenina Huxley with Love

I just spent an hour watching Sandra Bullock interviews. Haha.

Sandra Bullock is the epitome of wit and femininity. And a real ball buster which is good if you're a woman wanting to survive in today's world because according to statistics (and today it's all about the statistics concerning women's plight, you know, today being the International Women's Day and all), women have been discriminated against by men for centuries and it's not about to stop. I don't think that is entirely true because women's true enemies are other women and they actually bring each other down, but that's a story for a different day. For now let's focus on Sandra Bullock.

I've been a fan of hers since her Speed days because she was this hot chick who drove a bus. The only thing hotter than a pretty girl driving a bus at full speed is a pretty girl driving a bus at full speed in a golden bikini. But well, you can't have it all. And I don't think that would have fit into the storyline. They should have let Michael Bay direct it. He always finds a way to make hot girls in barely-there clothing somehow look pivotal to a movie's plot.

Then there's Demolition Man, in which Sandra plays a (hot) cop, partnering with Sylvester Stallone. Their mission is to track down a criminal coming from the 90's, who somehow managed to escape cryogenic prison. It's my all-time favourite film. I'm pretty sure I wrote about this already. I've watched it so many times I've lost count. I've been known as someone who romanticizes a lot when it comes to things I like, but I seriously think Demolition Man is the perfect combination of action, comedy and romance.

It's set way into the future but there's no flying cars, talking robots or any of that hologram people bullshit. I hate futuristic movies that have flying personal cars just swooping around, as though flying private vehicles are the hallmark of the future. In our times, we already can have flying cars if we wanted to. But just because we can, doesn't mean we should. People already have more than enough trouble driving bi-dimensionally on the street, can you imagine the massacre if people start driving in the air where they need to also take altitude into account? If two cars have a head-on collision mid-air, they won't just remain stationary mid-air until the pediatrics arrive. They will fall on the ground, endangering the lives of the people below. The reason why we don't have flying cars is not lack of technological advances. It's just common sense.

Anyway, since Demolition Man, I've fallen in love with Sandra Bullock. I didn't like her acting in Crash or The Blind Side, two films for which she was highly acclaimed. She nabbed an Oscar for her performance in the latter. In my opinion, her best performances are in While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal and of course, Demolition Man, for which she got a Razzie nomination for Worst Supporting Actress. Well, Hollywood is a crazy place. I mean, they gave an Oscar to Natalie Portman for Black Swan. As much as I like her, I think her Oscar nod was a big pile of steaming bullshit. So if Sandra got nominated for a Razzie, I'd say at least her acting has got people's attention. That goes to show that even during her debut as an actress, she didn't go unnoticed. After all, no press is bad press, right?

So yeah, I watched her interviews. She's a home girl who takes motherhood very seriously. She's very funny, but very grounded at the same time. And she speaks fluent German. Ooh.

Sandra, if you're reading this (and I know you do), please know that I'm your biggest fan and if I had the money, I would literally fly there and kick that cheating asshole Jesse James' ass. And I'll help you raise your kids and be your partner when you need to practice your lines. Or even kissing scenes if I have to.


You're a hair hooker and you don't know it

I met a Norwegian friend in Paris a few weeks ago. She came with a girlfriend whom I didn't know so I introduced myself.

"Oh you're Malaysian?" she asked, eyes twinkling. "My hair is Malaysian too!"

I was puzzled. How is.. umm... well... what? I looked at her very straight, shiny hair. She was black.

"You see, black people don't get to have straight hair. So I had hair extensions put on my head, and the hair is Malaysian. You guys have the best hair, so it's the most expensive on the market. The most expensive hairs in the market today are Brazilian and Malaysian. Google it if you don't believe me."


"How much did your hair cost?" I asked, not just out of politeness because I was really interested to know. You know, if anything happens to me and I can no longer work, at least I know there's something on my body that people would pay good money for that doesn't require me to do hard work. Wait, isn't that the definition of prostitution?

"I paid around 800 euros for my whole head, and it lasts 6 months. You can get Indian hair for a lot less, but it is not as moisturized as Malaysian hair so it doesn't last as long. And Malaysian hair is a lot shinier."

So I asked her how in hell's name these companies got hold of so much real Malaysian hair, and here comes the crucial bit of information I wish I didn't know.

"It's easy. When Malaysian girls go to the hairdressers, where do you think all the cut hair goes? They don't just sweep it off the floor and throw it away. They sell it. That's why they have to cut your hair properly in order to preserve the length."

Badam bam... pishhhh!

Yeah. If you girls are reading this, please imagine your hair being on another girl's head at the opposite end of the globe. At least a part of your anatomy has travelled the world.



"So how did you like Pompeii?" I asked this girl at my hostel in Naples. She was studying arts in Rome, so I assumed she had spent the whole day in Pompeii just admiring the ancient architecture amidst the ruins.

"Well, I'm not gonna lie to you. It was boring," she said. "I know it's kinda amazing that you can still see the remains of a city, like, this used to be a temple, this used to be a school, that used to be a court, and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, you're just walking around looking at rocks."

By that logic, we could look at the paintings at the Louvre and say, "Oh these are just paints mixed together to create the illusion of people." Obviously, I was quite taken aback by her comment, because I had a totally different opinion on Pompeii. You don't go to Pompeii expecting to see Starbucks and big yellow taxis and Chinese take-aways. You go there to see rocks.

"That is the whole point," I said. 'People don't go there to see a city. They go there to mentally put the pieces of rock together and use their imagination to rebuild the city. And it's not just rocks scattered around. You can see pillars with carvings, amphitheatres, houses, bathhouses, and even when it's just rocks, you can still see the solid foundations where the rocks used to be part of great buildings."

"Yeah, they used to be buildings. Now they are merely rocks, very old rocks nonetheless, but still rocks. We were there for 2 hours and after a while we got really bored."

I shrugged. Just because I liked it, doesn't mean everybody has to. It's just a matter of taste, I guess. Besides, it's not that I liked Pompeii. People don't like ruins, the way they don't like paintings. It's more of a fascination. I know I'm fascinated by something when my head is full of unanswered questions about it and when I feel like touching everything. In Pompeii, whenever I touched a wall or a cobblestone, subconsciously there was this voice saying, "You're touching something that is almost two millennia old."

So I could see why the girl was bored, because if you don't have this fascination, you would indeed only see rocks lying around.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Almost a year ago I got hold of Adele's new album and wrote about how good it was. I'm not a sucker for overly melodramatic, sappy songs but somehow her voice and her unorthodox music caught me. Yes, I said unorthodox, because while sappy love songs were once the bread and butter of the music industry, for the past decade it has been considered somewhat passé. Chart-toppers of the new millennium are upbeat, catchy tunes full of sexual euphemisms repeated over and over again during the course of the songs. The lyrical poverty and lack of vocabulary are generally compensated with overbearing bass sounds and synthesized electronic noises hinged on well-known riffs stolen from oldies. They call it sampling, I call it easy money. Why bother coming up with new melodies if you can rehash old ones and distort them to make them sound fresh again? Yes, Will-I-Am, I'm talking to you.

So when Adele came in, she caught people off-guard. Not a size zero, no cheap publicity stunts and quirky fashion sense à la Lady Gaga, no sexual innuendos in her lyrics and no overblown marketing. Just simple love songs written from a broken heart and her powerhouse voice that made everybody stop and say, "I missed this music. It has soul."

21 is a gorgeous record. Flawless execution of every song. A normal album would have 3 good singles and 7 filler songs to make it a whole. 21 has 17 perfectly good songs, all potential chart toppers. One and Only has the same top-notch production quality as Someone Like You, and Turning Tables is just as good as Set Fire To The Rain. These days, not many albums have that quality.

Another great thing about 21 is its congruity. The album encapsulates a tragic love story and all the songs are related to one another. It might sound trivial, but I like an album with a coherent storyline. Without it, an album is just confusing. Take Rihanna's latest album Loud for example. She sings about her love for sadomasochism in S&M, and then about a rape victim killing her rapist in Man Down before languishing about an unrequited love in California King Bed. All in the same album. While all of those are relatively good songs (the keyword here is 'relatively' because while I'm not an advocate of Rihanna's music, I have to agree her songs are pretty catchy), they don't have anything to do with one another. What gives?

I just realized that this post about Adele is starting to look like a sad excuse to hate on Will-I-Am, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and to a certain extent, all of today's music listeners whose taste in music is questionable. But seriously, there's a reason why Adele is such a huge success. She is just a simple reminder to people that there was a time when artistes were valued by their pure, unadulterated talent and that we could be entertained simply by a singer with a beautiful voice accompanied only by a piano.

Adele brings us back to that moment in time when listening to music also means appreciating the lyrics, and that sex was something people do behind closed doors and doesn't need to be advertised on top of the Billboard charts.