Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hey are you from [list all the Asian countries]?

I was getting a haircut at my usual place. It was peculiarly busy for a working Wednesday at 3 p.m., so I had a bit of a wait to do.

In came this dude who took up the place next to me on the waiting bench. He looked at me intently, so I just whipped out my phone and started reading my e-mails just so he could see I was engrossed in something and wouldn't bother talking to me. Plan executed, plan failed.

"Hey, may I ask you something?" he said. "Um, yeah sure," I replied in the most uninterested tone I could muster, complete with the "...and make it quick" 0.2 second-glance to the dude before looking back at my phone. Some people should really acquire basic common sense.

"Where do you come from? Well, let me guess...." Oh here we go, I told myself. This is literally the least fun game in the world, because it only involves the other person listing down 15 prominent Asian countries and me saying "nope" every damn time. Seriously, I've been living and travelling in Europe for almost 8 years and the number of people who guessed my nationality right has been around 3, tops.   



"China?" Nope.

"Korea?" Nope.

"Taiwan?" Nope, and I already said no to China.

"Thailand?" Nope.

"The Philippines?" Nope.

"Vietnam? Cambodia? Mongolia?" Nope, nope, nope.

I was about to say "Let me just tell you where I come from and save the both of us 10 precious minutes" when he finally gave up and said,  "Okay so where do you come from?" Phew.

"Malaysia," I said. He retorted with, "Ahh, I wasn't that far. I was getting there anyway." Yeah, of course. The amount of countries in the world is finite, so of course you would get there eventually. I just didn't have the whole day for this stupid game.

In all honesty, I'm not offended when people do that. I'm just a bit annoyed by the fact that most of the time they don't even bother making educated guesses rather than just jumbling together multiple Asian countries hoping to strike gold.

The thing is, it's either you get it within the first 3 guesses, or you'll never get it. Simple as that. Those who guessed it right, it's because they actually took the time and energy to analyze my appearance, rather than just blurting out random Asian countries.

I have double eyelids instead of epicanthic folds, so statistically speaking there are fewer chances I come from the Far East which would rule out Japan, Korea, China and Mongolia. I'm fairly tall and bulky for an Asian person, and height and weight are very much correlated with a country's financial standing. That rules out Vietnam and Cambodia. From my observation, they are usually the shortest and thinnest of the Asian people. My skin is more olive and mildly tanned, which should hint at Southeast Asia. So Thailand and the Philippines were, in fact, pretty close. So maybe there were actually some amount of logic involved in his thought process. But the fact that they were so far down the guessing list and followed by Cambodia and Mongolia just proved that it was merely a fluke.

Maybe I'm just becoming super politically correct, but i just don't see it fit anymore to just ask people where they come from just because they look different. It might not offend me because I am in fact a foreigner in Europe, but it bothers a lot of other people of foreign origins but who were born and bred here. I still remember a conversation with a friend who had Lebanese origins a couple of years back, during the Hezbollah conflict.

"So what is really happening in Lebanon?" I asked.

"Um, I gather my knowledge on the issue from the news, so you probably know as much as I do, if not more," he said.

"Are you worried about your family?"

"Well, all of my family is in or around Cannes, where I spent most of my life. So no, I'm not worried about them for what is happening in Lebanon," he said, with a bit more sass than I would have liked.

I didn't understand his annoyance back then, but with time, it's all becoming a lot clearer to me.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Life lesson before 8 a.m.

It was a chilly autumn day, as it always was in the north of France. Truth is, on this side of the Hexagon, it was always autumn or winter. Summer would grace us with its presence for two weeks a year, and before you know it, you'd be grabbing your winter coat on your way out again.

I was on my daily commute to campus, half an hour away across town. The journey was mostly uneventful until I caught a glimpse of my Solid Mechanics professor getting on the increasingly crowded metro. She was fumbling with her twisted earphone cords, or what I call the less intellectual version of the Rubik's cube.

It was always a funny sight when I saw my professors outside of campus, living their mundane plebeian lives like everyone else. The sudden realisation that they were just normal people with issues of their own, like earphone cords that needed straightening, or money problems, or just the usual waking up on the wrong side of the bed, somehow lowered the pedestal they were thrust onto.

She saw me. I shot her an acknowledging smile, but she took it as an invitation to come over and intrude the peaceful fictitious sphere populated by me and my iPod. Damn you social courtesy.

"So do you always take the metro to campus?" I asked her, knowing very well that she did. In my defense, there are absolutely no good questions before 8 a.m. In fact, if I were to overhaul the code of social conduct, I would abolish all forms of communication before 8 a.m. or morning coffee, whichever comes first.

"Yes, I do. It's just more economical, what with the hike in gas price and all," she replied. I nodded in agreement. Now that the first stupid question was out of the way, I was stumped. What do we talk about next? I contemplated talking about the weather, but it'd been the same grey sky for the last 5 years, and I wasn't a big fan of stating the obvious.

"So you're a Malaysian Muslim right?" she asked, brows arched. I nodded. "Which sect of Islam do you belong to? Sunni or Shia?"

Sunni, I replied.

"I'm a Muslim, too. My family comes from a predominantly Shia region in Morocco," she said with a smile. We then proceeded to talking about the different rites and rituals of our respective cultures, with no one trying to discredit anyone's belief. It was merely a healthy discussion between two people from two diverging sects of the same religion, without judgement or persecution.

I alighted the metro having learned something about Shia and life in general. Most importantly, I was all the more convinced that people are just people. Back home, us Sunnis see Shias as heretics, with some going as far as seeing them fit to be mass murdered. It's funny how we seem to tolerate people from other faiths more than people from another sect of our own faith. And here I was, talking to a Shi'i, with the Muslim faith being the common denominator for both of us, instead of our different sects dividing us.

The world would be a much better place if people would just let people be.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Bluntness is the only way to get your point across

I recently went out to dinner with friends: Italian place, right smack in downtown centre, huge portions, a bit pricey but that is to be expected at Italian restaurants. I don't have a problem loosening up my wallet strings for good food. In fact, I dedicate half of my paycheck to selecting top-tier foodstuff that is worthy of a magical journey through my intestines. This being said, if I'm paying 25 euros for a meal, I better get 25 euros worth of quality.

Sadly, it wasn't the case that night. In fact, it was the worst restaurant experience I've had in a long time, Italian or otherwise. The waitress had this default pissed-off look like someone just stole her last tampon. We even had a competition going on where we tried to be the first person to make her crack a smile (spoiler alert: I won). And the food was beyond awful. They somehow managed to overcook my pasta to the point where it became so limp, even Viagra didn't want anything to do with that shit. And the cream sauce was basically water with a hint of cream and maybe pepper. The only okay part of the meal was the salmon carpaccio I had for appetizer, but that was only because carpaccio doesn't require any actual cooking.

After pushing the rest of my pasta around the plate (I could only bring myself to eat half of it eventhough I was hungry as fock) trying my best not to look pissed and spoil the ambiance, I decided I was going to give the tamponless waitress a piece of my mind. The waitress, sensing this, just walked frivolously in our general direction as if she was daring me to piss her off with my impending commentary. Come at me, biyatch, I uttered under my breath.

"Any dessert order?" she asked us with one arched brow upon realizing no one was eating anymore.

"Is the dessert as good as the pasta?" I asked her. She nodded, beaming with pride, but somehow still not smiling.

"In that case, I'm not going to have any because my pasta was easily the worst I've ever tasted in my whole life, and I wish I was exaggerating," I said without missing a beat. That was when she cracked a nervous smile and I won the aforementioned competition. "Sir, if the pasta was not up to your expectations, you should have not eaten it," she replied, notwithstanding my obviously unfinished plate. "I ate half of the plate because I was super hungry, and even if I return the meal it's not like you're going to comp it," I said, raising my voice just a tad.

Cue audible gasps all around. Yes, the French can be so dramatic sometimes. I just shot them a look that said "Calm your gonads, people. It's not like I just bombed Hiroshima. All I did was complain about my food". And you can only dream of having a meal comped in France even if there was a giant dung beetle sticking out of it.

The waitress just shrugged and left with our plates.

"Um... You know.. We don't really do that in France. Usually if we dislike the meal or the service at a restaurant, we just don't come back," said a friend. It was cute, because he thought I was a Chinaman fresh off the boat who was unaware of the local customs.

"I appreciate the French Culture 101 lesson, but I've been here long enough to know the do's and the don'ts, thank you very much. Truth be told, I've never even done such a thing in my life. It's just that the food was so bad, I just had to let it be known," I explained. 

On further analysis, I think I should have let it slide and not said anything. For some reason I let my alpha side prevail, and that's not a good side of me.

One of the hardest things I've always had to do is not speaking out my mind. Oftentimes I'm convinced I have Asperger's by the way I'm completely oblivious about how my verbalized opinions might affect people's well-being. It's not all bad though, since I like the fact that I'm the go-to person for a lot of people around me to get advice because they know they can count on my "no sugarcoating, no beating about the bush" nature.

Some people find my bluntness rude, but these same people appreciate it more when I compliment them because they know I give out compliments as often as the Malaysian government fulfills its promises.

I've learned to control what I call my 'honest impulses' where I get a sudden urge to speak my mind, usually negatively, about something. I've learned to let little things slide. I've even learned to lie through my teeth about how pleasant something is, even when it's clearly not.

But if my lying about something is going to perpetuate mediocrity, then it's safe to say I'd prefer letting my honest impulses run wild.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Life As A Dog

Sometimes I wish I could be a dog for a day. Not because they're cute and cuddly as hell (why would I care what I looked like if I were a dog?)

I just would love to know how it is to just love everybody equally and unconditionally.

I was walking home from work today, tired and hungry, when a Yorkshire terrier came to me and demanded - no, insisted - that I pet her. What a beauty she was. Her walker who was trailing behind smiled at me and said, "She loves everybody."

How is that even possible? I can hate someone just because they laugh weird or wear a big-ass watch with stupid tachymeter or nautical shit, complete with four different time zones, a chronometer and a compass too. Who do they think they are? Jean-Jacques Coustaud?

Dogs won't hate someone for their watch. Or for anything. They just love. I envy them. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Great Arguments Are Made of These

We were chilling on the Garonne riverbank enjoying the gorgeous sunset when a lady approached us and said, "Hi guys, I'm kinda bored. May I join you?"

Of course, we said. The more the merrier. She was Korean-American, married to a French, but as her French was pretty dismal we had to switch to English. As the only person in the group who spoke decent English, I had the de facto duty of engaging her in conversation.

All was going well until she uttered, "I live in California, but I hate America. They have absolutely no culture." Naturally she was expecting me to concur, as if it was a sentiment shared the world over. As if, by virtue of not being American, I was supposed to agree that anything American is bad, that the Americans had no culture. The hatred towards Uncle Sam is supposed to be a universal thing, is it not?

Well, tough. Contrary to popular opinion, I, for one, find that the American culture is very present and not just in America, but all across the globe. How can I not, when I'm sporting a pair of jeans and T-shirt, when all I listen to is American music and its declensions, when half of my favourite films are American, when I even adopt American mannerisms when speaking English although my education was largely British.

"That's unfair and a bit hypocritical, don't you think?" I asked, looking her straight in the eye. She reacted accordingly with wide, judgemental eyes.

"What do you mean, unfair?" she queried.

"Well, for one, your outfit is clearly American. You speak with a distinctly American accent, and I'm pretty sure the hamburger is part of your diet. How can you deny the existence of a culture when you are immersed in it?"

"Because it's a stupid culture!" she retorted, obviously irritated.

"So you're acknowledging that it is a culture nonetheless, be it stupid or not?"

"Yes, but not a culture I'd like to adhere to."

"So now that we've established that they do have a culture, we can discuss whether or not it is stupid," I said cheekily, knowing that half the battle was already won because she had just indirectly contradicted her original stance about the nonexistence of the American culture.

"It is stupid, period," she said, probably hoping that such a flimsy argument would suffice. Well, again, tough. I'm going to need more than that, lady.

"I think you're confusing stupidity and practicality. Their culture might not be as ancient as that of the Indians, or as intricate as the French, or as elaborate as the Chinese. But the practicality of the American culture makes it prevalent in almost every developed nation. I'm proud of my beautiful Malaysian heritage and culture, but do you know that people come to Malay weddings wearing jeans and T-shirts instead of our own traditional attires? You want to know why? Because it's simple and practical. Like it or not, we've all adopted the American culture for the sake of simplicity and practicality. So much so that it's become an integral part of our culture, to the point where we deny the Americans their own culture. And that is highly hypocritical."

"If that's the case in Malaysia, then you guys are just stupid," she said, dead serious. Aha. Of course, when all else fails, go for the low hanging fruit. At this point I had nothing else to say to her because suddenly she came off as childish, on top of being pretentious and arrogant. She might have perceived my sudden silence as a sign of defeat, so she decided to go in for the kill. Or so she thought.

"How old are you?" she asked.

"25," I curtly replied.

"Ah, I see. Well, you're still young. Give it some time and you'll see," she said, and I swear I saw her grin triumphantly towards her own reflection in the Garonne river.

I just smiled. So, on top of being pretentious, arrogant and childish, she's also ageist. She is one of those dumbasses who think age equals wisdom. The mere fact that I'm almost 20 years younger than her somehow discredits all my arguments. I might not have lived as long as she has, but I consider myself very well-read and cultured, and I take pride in my maturity. Given her frail arguments and willful recalcitrance even when proven wrong, the only difference between her and me are the wrinkles around her eyes. She might be years older, but none the wiser.

You just can't win with these people.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Coincidences and Baader-Meinhof

I was ten years old when one weekend my whole family decided to go pay a visit to my elder sister in Penang, so I brought a book along to make the long journey bearable. The main character was a girl whose dreams helped solve a crime. While in the car, suddenly my parents had a discussion where Jalan Travers was mentioned and I found it funny because Travers was also the name of the main character in the book I was reading. But wait, there's more. Once we reached Penang, it so happened that most affordable hotels in Batu Feringghi were fully booked so we had to roam around looking for a reasonably priced hotel with vacancy. We finally found one in a secluded area, and the hotel's name was... Travers Hotel. That was when funny became freaky. Today, it was brought to my attention that this phenomenon goes by the name Baader-Meinhof, where you come across something unusual for the first time and later keep seeing that particular thing over and over again over a short period of time.

I love freaky coincidences, because I don't fully believe in them. As much as I'm driven by the logical aspects of things, I still have enough superstitions to know that some occurrences are just metaphysical. Science has accomplished so much, but there are still a lot of things the brain can't grasp, and when the brain fails, science follows suit. Freaky coincidences are among the places science just can't reach. The best we can do is breaking them down into probabilities and statistics, whence phrases like "You have one in thirty thousand chance of finding your doppelganger."

I'm currently reading Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics. While the book is a magnificently boring piece of shit, I'm still learning a lot about Eastern mysticism, most importantly about how we shouldn't try to understand and explain the universe but instead just agree with it. I'm not even trying to understand coincidences; I just enjoy them.

Last summer I was walking around London with a friend I'd known since primary school who came for a short visit. We were just reminiscing old times when all of a sudden we saw this girl walking in our direction and she looked extremely familiar. Turns out, it was a common friend of ours from primary school who just happened to be in London at the same time. She was studying in Dublin, Ireland and was only in London for the weekend; I just arrived all the way from France that very morning, whereas my other childhood friend had driven down from Aberdeen, Scotland the night before. The fact that the three of us came in from three different countries just to bump into each other in yet another foreign country is just mind boggling. Granted, my encounter with the Aberdeen dude was planned, but the fact that we bumped into a common friend from primary school (that was 13 years back!), in a cosmopolitan city as sprawling as London, is something to ponder upon.

Humanity owes so much to coincidences and serendipity as most inventions and discoveries were unearthed this way. In a world where people are growing dismissive of divine presence, God still finds a way to gently shook us to the core and remind us who's boss. It's... beautiful.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Musical chair

At lunch today somehow my boss and I got to talking about relationships and marriage. Neither of us believed in soul mates, but him even less so. The French in general are quite skeptical about marriage, and I don't blame them. 50% of marriages in France end up in divorce, so if those statistics are to be trusted, the odds don't look good.

This said, my boss got married 6 years ago and had three beautiful girls out of it. So I just had to ask why he decided to get hitched anyway despite the odds.

"You know, when I was your age, I fell in love all the time. I could fall in love 10 times a day, and I'm not even exaggerating. At any given moment of my youth I'd have a girlfriend, and with every girlfriend I thought it was going to last. I really loved every one of them, and I could never understand people who complained about not being able to find love because I was in love all the freaking time. But I've never really had that one Earth-shattering relationship where my girlfriend was my everything, where I was ready to die for her, where being with her trumped everything else in the whole wide world. Maybe I'm just unlucky, or maybe that kind of love only happens to very few people."

I said nothing. I just wanted to know where he was going with it.

"And you know why it tickles me when people talk about soul mates and tell me that they've met theirs? It's the fact that these so-called soul mates always happen to live in the same city, or work in the same industry, or studied in the same university. For all I know, my soul mate could be somewhere in freaking Nepal and there's no way in hell I could meet her. But for some of these people, their soul mates happen to grocery shop at the same store or go to the same bar as they do. Isn't that convenient?"

Still not seeing where he was going with this.

"What I'm saying is, even if my soul mate were somewhere out there, I would never cross path with her. Now, does that mean I should never settle down with anyone? Just because destiny hasn't been all that nice to me, does that mean I can't get married?"

"So you're saying that you settled for the next best thing?" I chimed in.

"No, not really. If you think about it, love is like a game of musical chairs: you turn round and round, and all of sudden you realize time is running out so you decide to settle for the chair you have at the moment and hope for the best. That's all there is."

Then our conversation was cut off by this other dude who started going off at a tangent and veered away from our initial discussion, so I never got to hear the end of my boss' interesting train of thought.

I don't really know why I find his words fascinating. Maybe it's because I know for a fact that he's a devoted husband and father, which means that he makes do with the cards he was handed, and play them off magnificently well.

It's the kind of honesty and clarity of mind that I find essential, yet lacking, in our society today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Keep calm and keto on

There are upsides and downsides to everything, including weight loss. The upsides include a boost in energy, stamina and confidence. The downsides, however, have been unexpected. For one, I need to buy new clothes, and tonnes of them. I just bought a new pair of Pepe Jeans two months back that set me back a pretty penny, and now I no longer fit into them. I currently only have one pair of jeans that fits.

The most surprising bit, however, is that my shoes are getting too big. I've always thought that your shoe size remains the same no matter what, but it is actually not the case. My running shoes are getting loose, and my everyday shoes as well. I've been gradually tightening the laces for weeks now, until today during my daily run when I realized that the laces couldn't be tightened any further. Same goes for my running pants.

My spending this month has shot through the roof so I can't really afford to revamp my wardrobe. Besides, I'm thinking of losing another 4 inches around the waist for the upcoming months so it wouldn't be wise to splurge on new clothes only to say goodbye to them a couple of months later. Thank heavens for belts, though. I've added two holes to my belt, and tomorrow I'm going back to the leather store to add another one.

It has not been an easy journey so I'm quite pleased that I've been able to stick to it. As a go-getter who never deprives himself of anything, my life motto has always been "if I want it, I'll get it" and that includes food. To be able to just restrain myself from eating whatever the hell I want is a huge accomplishment. Having a health freak for a boss has been a huge help too. Every time we bump into each other we'd be talking about yesterday's running session, or arguing about healthy meals, or just discussing running shoes brands. He's 8 years older than I am and has three kids, but he doesn't look a day over 27 and could outrun me any day. I'm really looking forward to the day when I can run at his pace without panting like a pig.

Another unexpected downside to weight loss is the flabby skin. I was convinced that the human skin is supple enough to just balloon up or shrink as needed, and that if I lost weight, it would just magically tighten itself. Fat chance. I currently have flabby belly skin that just hangs there, and Google told me that the only way to tighten it was by doing sit ups and crunches in order to build abs and fill it up. I was appalled. I have an imaginary list of things I despise with a passion, and those two things are way up there along with "waiting" and "people with bad breath".

So today I started working out to Jillian Michaels videos on Youtube, and it's been a bitch. I've been phasing out simple and complex sugar and running 4.5km almost every day, but this was the first time I actually felt my body hating me. Every muscle in my body just vibrated with utmost contempt towards its host, so much so that when the excruciating workout session was over, I could hear applause from every fibre of my body followed by a brain impulse saying "never again!". I swear, even my damn brain was in on it.

I say, fuck you body. I'm powering through, and you're going to power through with me, like it or not.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

First World Tribulations

The crisis is hitting home. Well, my current home, that is. With the rise of emerging Asian markets (i.e. cheap labour, almost non-existent human rights, total disregard for the environment etc.), French companies are struggling to keep up. Mine included. In our last meeting, there were talks about downsizing and taking things offshore, something I found very hard to believe in the aviation sector. I guess with China having their own aircraft industry now, the fear on this side of the globe is getting more real than ever.

The repercussions were immediate. A co-worker was told his contract was not being renewed and he has to pack his stuff before the end of the month. That is three days away. The average salary increase is only around 2% this year and the worker's union is furious. We even received e-mails from the upper management, written in an extremely patronising tone no less, about how further negotiations are not foreseeable. The number of paid leaves are being slashed, meal allowance remains the same while food at the canteen just underwent a price hike, claims are being scrutinised to death, and recruitment is getting frozen. Those who are on their probation period might see themselves getting the boot at the end of it instead of an open-ended contract.

As for me, I don't have the slightest care in the world. Of course, work is piling up because we're bidding on tenders left and right, and the sooner I come up with solutions to our problems the better. It might sound stressful to some people but to me it's heaven. I like feeling important, I prefer working under pressure, and I sure as hell enjoy it when my boss sees my work and says "That looks great, we might be able to sell this." On top of that, I am actually applying everything I've learned from freshman year up to my Master's, and that includes my prior experience working at the German Aerospace Center. My dream job has always been one where I get to actually be creative and use my brain, and knowing that my work will eventually lead to improvements - no matter how small - to aeronautics, that is just an indescribable feeling.

One tiny problem though. It is getting hard to maintain a positive outlook on your job when others around you are whining all day long. I am used to the constant bitching of the French (and am actually quite fond of it), but hearing them complain about not being able to tend to their gardens after work because of the long hours is not much fun. Coming from a country where a 37-hour week is almost unheard of, I get really wary of my co-workers bitching about it.

Personally, I am pretty content with our working conditions. In fact, I think it's really hard to beat. I am on first name basis with everybody, my bosses and I are very good friends, the work environment is very hip and young. You just can't imagine a better work environment anywhere. Of course the crisis-borne fear lingers and everyone gets uneasy about it, but I think it's really not as bad as it sounds. In France, even if you get sacked, the government still gives you around 60% of your previous salary until you find another job. Sixty percent! That's a shitload of money. I have a friend doing a trip around Asia right this moment using the compensation given by his company after he got laid off, as well as the monthly unemployment allowance given by the government. In short, he is actually earning a lot more than I am right now, and I'm busting my ass off at work while he is somewhere in Cambodia soaking up the sun and the culture.

That is the beauty of a capitalist-socialist economy, and the French should appreciate it more. While it is not to say they should stop complaining, it surely is a reason to look forward to the future. And it is absolutely not a valid excuse to shit on the present because all said and done, they still have it way better than most of the world's population as of right now.

Ahhh first world trials and tribulations... even after all these years they still look petty to me.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Morons: Blessing in Disguise

There's this TV show called Anges de la Télé-réalité in France which chronicles the day-to-day happenings in the life of a group of young, relatively attractive but extremely stupid people, not unlike MTV's Jersey Shore. Nobody I know has any kind words to say about this sad excuse of a TV show, but almost everybody knows it. This show has spawned some catchphrases which, ironically, are mainly used by the same people who hate the show.

It made me wonder: how is it that a dumpster of a show ridiculed for its sheer idiocy can get such high ratings? This must mean that people are still flocking to watch despite all the negativity surrounding it. There must be a whole lot of them who actually like the show for whatever reason and watching it becomes a guilty pleasure. So I decided to dig deeper, going on to internet message boards, talking to people around me, and tuning in to talk shows which are bound to discuss this show. The hatred towards Anges de la Télé-réalité is unanimous, no doubt. So at first I concluded that fascination was the main reason. People are just fascinated by wreckage (in this case, the presumed brain damage suffered by the cast), the exact reason why we can't look away from a car crash.

But is that all there is? Fascination gets old fast. I was fascinated the first time I saw a sword-eater doing his trick on the street, but would I watch a TV show of that guy doing the same thing every day? Definitely not. After a while I'd just secretly wish the guy would choke on his sword already. So fascination is too flimsy a thread to sustain an audience of a TV show.

What is it then?

I decided to dig even deeper into the psyche of the French in general, what they like and what they don't like, what unifies them and what divides them. (Spoiler alert: Sweeping generalisation of the French coming up!) One thing stood out: their love for sounding intelligent which may stem from either a staggering superiority complex, or self-doubt. Many times I have been confronted with people who would used the entire Obscure Obnoxious French Words Dictionary in the hope of shutting me up. It's like they are born with Schopenhauer's The Art of Being Right pre-installed in their heads. The French have chauvinism and sarcasm down to a science, and damn do they know how to be sassy. In short, arguing with them sometimes feels like listening to a repeated chorus of "Look how smart I am!".

That's when it hit me: the French innate belief that they are all naturally smarter than everyone else still needs polishing sometimes, and shows like this make them feel better about themselves. It's really reassuring to see certified morons broadcast their lives on national television because it provides a huge ego boost for everyone. It's like the whole country is circle-jerking while watching the show, finally convinced of their superior IQ. As much as they hate the show, they wholeheartedly love the morons for merely existing and making everybody else look better.

I don't know if I hit it right on the nail, but I'm pretty sure that's it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Badge Conundrum

At work everyone has a personal badge used to enter the buildings, use the elevators, basically to have access to anything. The smart thing to do is to have it on you all the time which is why they also provide us with lanyards so we can have our badges around our necks. Surprisingly, people prefer keeping them in their pockets or just holding them in their hands because, you know, wearing your badge around your neck is "nerdy".

I still remember in high school, people would only put their name tags on display during morning assemblies or spot-checks, while the rest of the time people would bend over backwards just to hide their name tags for fear of looking like nerds. Some would turn their name tags around so the names weren't visible, and some would just keep them in their shirt pockets. The coolest guys already had their names etched on everybody's mind anyway so wearing name tags was beyond redundant to these people. Breaking rules, no matter how petty, was an essential part of being accepted by the cool kids. I had friends whose stationery sets consisted of a single pen because apparently having a pencil case was uncool. Why walk around carrying unnecessary stuff like rulers and erasers when you could just mooch off of the nerds who had them?

I, on the other hand, was already a huge nerd back then so I didn't bother breaking simple rules because I reckoned they made complete sense. I always wore my name tag with pride, never went to school without socks, never kept my hair long, never had 'cool' off-coloured pants that were not quite as olive as they needed to be, always had my shirt neatly tucked in my pants, so on and so forth. I figured that breaking rules was really more of a hassle than anything else and I was too lazy to go out of my way to look cool.

Fast forward 9 years, I am now working amongst highly intelligent adults and high school inferiority complex is way behind me, so it's still bewildering to see people trying their hardest to conceal their badges like it's some sort of skin disease. You can't spell school without cool, so it made sense back then. But now it just seems utterly stupid. In a company where high-tech airplanes are the default screensavers and everybody could spit out Star Wars quotes on command, it's safe to say that everybody here is already a bona fide gigantic nerd. We were hired because of it. If you think wearing your badge around your neck would make you a dork, well sorry but.. that ship has sailed long ago my friend. You can hide your badge all you want, but your fluency in at least 5 programming languages is proof enough that you're one of us.

I've made peace with my geekiness and now I embrace it fully, so it's hilarious to see others still struggling with their inner nerds. Or maybe, just maybe, they are so afraid that displaying their badges would burst their nerd-o-meter and they would be catapulted onto Nerd Planet with no way of getting back down. In that case, I hold nothing against them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Sweetest Mother of All Evil

Sugar is evil.

I've phased out sugar from my diet almost two months ago, and it feels great. Well, technically I still get sugar from my daily intake of carbohydrates (I make sure to keep carbs at a minimum), fruits and milk, so I'm not exactly sugar-free. But I've managed to stay away from sweet cereal, dessert, sugary drinks, sauces, vending machine junk items, and I drink unsweetened coffee, dark as night.

For the longest time my staple breakfast menu was sugary cereal at around 7.30 a.m, inducing an insulin spike in my body. This, in turn, would drive me into a trembling fit at around 11am and I'd find myself racing for the cafeteria. On several occasions, I got dizzy during afternoon classes due to sugar crash, resulting in a trip to the vending machine for a quick sugar fix.

Cutting back on sugar has been a wise decision. I now find myself rarely hungry, and more energetic than before. I can now survive on as low as 1400 kcals per day, and my bowel movements have never been more luscious. I also drink a shitload of water every day, making my pee look like a glistening stream fit for salmon rearing.

Now that spring has finally graced its presence upon the city of Toulouse, I make it a point to go cycling any chance I get and to go for a run every day. I've been doing a 5km run every day for the past week by the Garonne river where the air is pure and the view is just lovely. Toulouse is such a beautiful city with its old, pink buildings and sunny climate, it's a shame that I didn't take up running earlier.

This is Pont des Catalans, the bridge I cross on my daily runs. It's hard to feel tired when the view is this amazing. As much as I'm thrilled that my sojourn in France is coming to an end, mundane stuff such as this bridge always makes me think twice about leaving this country for good. Besides, I'm pretty certain that once I set foot on Malaysian soil, sugar is going to get to me and never leaving.

Given my genetic predisposition for diabetes (both sides of my family have had a history with this bitch of a disease), I can't help feeling that unless I do something about it, sooner or later it's going to get me.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I've been watching a lot of messed up films back-to-back this weekend so I thought I needed to watch something more mellow, maybe a comedy, to retrieve my faith in humanity. A quick search on Google returned a lot of recommendations for Ted, one of the highest-grossing films of last year. Yeah, why not. A story about a good-for-nothing guy whose best friend is a vulgar pothead teddy bear. Original? I think so. Even Roger Ebert, I mean, the late Roger Ebert thought it was pretty damn funny, and I've always trusted his taste in movies.

Well, big mistake. I found Ted neither funny nor original. The script is lazy, at best. Too many references on today's pop culture is the quintessential attribute of lazy writing. Yeah, poking fun at Justin Bieber and Katy Perry might be somewhat funny now, but I doubt these jokes can stand the test of time, and I'm not talking about decades to come. I bet in 5 years, people will forget who these people are and the jokes will become obsolete.

Then again, it's a Seth Macfarlane movie. I should have seen that coming. I've never found Family Guy particularly funny, and the running gags get old really fast. Ted sometimes feels rushed and lost in its own mediocre storyline. Whenever that happens, they will resort to cheap non sequiturs like the flimsy filler subplots of Patrick Warburton's and Ryan Reynolds' cameo as a gay couple, or the appearance of Sam Jones from Flash Gordon doing shots and snorting coke.

To be honest, the reason why it took me this long to finally give Ted a watch was because I knew exactly how the story was going to unfold and I didn't find the original idea appealing. But again, I was beaten by an overwhelming majority of people who enjoyed it, so I finally thought yeah, let's give it a go. Disappointment ensues. Even Giovanni Ribisi can't save it.

The only redeeming factor of Ted, and also the only reason why I didn't turn of my VLC player midway through (the internet pirate equivalent of walking out of the movie theater) was Mila Kunis. She's just really, really, really, really hot. And she speaks fluent Russian too, which for some reason amplifies her hotness. To top it off, she's also a good actress. I have to salute the producers for casting her, it's as if they knew that the storyline was sub-par so they needed an American-Ukrainian bombshell to distract the male brain and keep it from thinking straight.

I give Ted 7/10, with a breakdown of 0.02/10 for the storyline, 0.08/10 for the fact that Ted looks extremely lifelike, and 6/10 for Mila Kunis. I'm pretty sure this is exactly how it got the 7.1/10 rating on IMDb anyway.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Today I Am No Longer A Functional Human Being

I'm a sucker for graphic horror movies. Gore, chainsaw, decapitation, sick cannibals, you name it, I've seen it. I've seen them all.

Well, at least that's what I thought.

Tonight proved otherwise. I just went through the most disturbing, gut-wrenching, mind-numbingly sick and twisted cinematic experience. It was so disgusting I think I officially just became dead inside, more so than I ever was. This movie is so fucked up it makes The Human Centipede look like The Sound of Music.

I can't believe I let myself watch the whole thing. For the entire duration of the film I was like a deer in the headlights, can't keep watching but can't look away. I am now just a hollow shell of my former self. I doubt I can ever recover from this.

Serbians are just... fucked up.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My Brain and I

I used to have an incredible memory. I had this ability of finding space in my brain to store the most trivial stuff I came across, and because of that I think I'm running out of memory space. Sometimes I wish I could delete some stuff in my head to make room for new stuff. It is frustrating when I keep forgetting super important things like deadlines and meetings, all the while still remembering stupid rubbish I committed to memory 11 years ago such as all the names of the women in Mambo No. 5 with their respective attributes, and in the correct order.

Sometimes I don't even understand my own brain. I could be analysing super complicated numerical analysis stuff for a whole week to get a full grasp of it for work purposes, but comes the weekend, my brain would conveniently forget everything I just acquired. But of course, that embarrassing thing that happened to me a billion years ago? Yeah, still remember every detail of it like it was yesterday. Get your shit together, brain, and sort out your fucking priorities.

Maybe this is an early onset of Alzheimer, in which case I'm screwed. But I really just think that I need to free up some space up there.

But my fucked up memory could also be awesome sometimes. The other day a colleague asked me to help her with a German technical document about composite materials (she doesn't speak any German). So I went over, had a quick look at it, and somehow my brain managed to dig up a lot of German vocabulary that I thought was already history. I was especially surprised when it managed to correctly translate the word Rücktrocknung because honestly, I don't remember ever having learned the word. Yeah, I speak of my brain as a detached part of me because most of the time it truly feels like it's controlling itself and I'm just in for the ride.

Now if only it could ignore stupid trivia and focus on things I actually need to remember, that would be great.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Iron Lady

I watched The Iron Lady on a flight last year, and didn't like it one bit. Yeah, yeah, Meryl Streep is a great actress, what else is new? The woman could play a kitchen sink and everyone would be in tears. She should be given a lifetime achievement award of some sort already and then we could all move on. The movie itself was a drag.

Well I might have been a bit biased when watching the movie because I already established a strong dislike towards Margaret Thatcher since I read about her a couple of years back. I don't really remember what good things she did while she was in power, but she used to be a supporter of the Apartheid in South Africa. To me, that one detail about her eclipses any good thing she ever did, if any.

And I don't really get how people say she paved the way for female leaders everywhere. If anyone should get that accolade, it should be Hatshepsut, the first and longest reigning female pharaoh, and that was over 3500 years ago. And she did a damn good job governing Ancient Egypt. There has been a lot of great female figures ever since, so why are we fixating on this one woman as though she changed the face of the Earth?

I'm not trying to be disrespectful, because a life is a life and her death (or anyone else's for that matter) shouldn't be celebrated. But I've been seeing a lot of Tweets and Facebook statuses praising this woman in the wake of her passing. Just because she was the longest-serving British Prime Minister and a woman doesn't make her the greatest one. Well, to be honest, I don't really understand British politics that much and I really couldn't care less about the debates on Tory or whatever the hell the Brits always yap about. One thing I do know is that Britain is one of the most powerful countries in the world but as of late, their Prime Ministers have all been unremarkable on the world stage. It's safe to say that 10 Downing Street has merely turned into a cross-atlantic extension of the White House.

Well maybe I read the wrong book about her where she was portrayed in a bad light, and I let myself be influenced by the author's own inclination. But for a person as influential as a British Prime Minister, it's one thing not to step up to combat a policy as hideous as the Apartheid, it's another thing to fully support it. To be fair, she did a complete turnaround and opposed the Apartheid towards the end, but only after extreme pressure from all around the world. That's like apologizing for something only because you got caught: it doesn't count.

So there is my opinion about the late Margaret Thatcher. I might be oversimplifying things and I certainly overlooked a lot of great stuff she did. After all, you cannot maintain power in a democratic country for 11  years without doing something right. But I'm pretty sure she doesn't deserve all the credit she's been getting.

For what it's worth, rest in peace Madam Thatcher.

ps: Apparently I've written about her before, also in a relatively bitter tone. Yea, I might need a Thatcher chill pill.

Monday, April 08, 2013

My friend, the Autobahn Gonzalez

I saw this video at work today (yes, my office doesn't block any websites) and couldn't help laughing. German dude went up to almost 150km/h on an American highway and got busted. Serves him right. Like the officer said, they weren't on an Autobahn. The officer was a complete tool, though.

But anyway, the Germans do drive like pumas on Epinephrine. That's what you get when the national automobile industry is so awesome that people trust car makers with their lives. Back when I was working there, my daily routine included working late (sometimes till midnight) with my office mate so what we did was we would order pizza for dinner, watch a TV series, and called it a night when our codes were done compiling. He would then proceed to driving me home and that was always the moment I dreaded the most.

This dude was borderline crazy (which might be why we got along very well). The moment his car engine started roaring, he would already be flooring the gas pedal and pulling a Hamilton in the parking lot. Never had I thought I needed more than one seat belt in a car, but the first time he drove me home, I remember frantically reaching out for a second seat belt that wasn't there. And I held on to the grab bar so hard my knuckles hurt. I even rehearsed my last words in case the paramedics had a notepad with them.

Even after a month, I still had trouble getting used to his demonic driving. Once, we were so sick of eating pizza that we decided to go to McDonald's Drive-Thru for something to eat. We drove off back to work and I was thinking we were going to wait till we reached the office before working on our fries and burgers.... until I saw him reaching out for his Big Mac and fries with both hands, while driving, at a speed of 120km/h on a 40km/h street. I started freaking out so he said, "Relax, I'm driving with my knees, I do it all the time." I looked down and saw his knees just maneuvering the steering like pros (this dude was at least 1.90m tall). That completely reassured me.


But still, there we were, two kids having dinner in a car that was going at a speed not meant for such a narrow lane, both gobbing down on our burgers and none of our hands were on the steering wheel. I have to give it to the guy though, knee-driving looked awesome.

Oh and wait till I tell you about how he handled highway exits. He would go as fast as his VW Polo could take it down the highway, and 10 meters before he had to take an exit he would do the brake-and-drift like it was nothing. Meanwhile on the passenger side, on top of hurting knuckles, insufficient seat belt protection and my head going numb from the car vibrations, I also had to endure extreme centrifugal force pushing me against the passenger door all along the highway exit curve. If Tracy Chapman is still looking for a fast car, I'll gladly give her this guy's contact number.

It wasn't all bad though. In fact, looking back, it was the most fun I've had on the highway. We would go so fast everything else looked like molecules in a hadron collider, all the while having Herbert Grönemeyer's Bleibt Alles Anders playing full blast on his MP3 ("Es gibt vieeeel zu verlieren, du kannst nuurrr gewinneeeeen.....").

I've never really understood what the song is actually about, but every time I listen to it now, it takes me back to all those late nights I risked death on a German highway.

Who would have thought risking death would be so much fun?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Perks of Being A Wallflower

I just finished watching The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And it is a humongous snoozefest.

I used to be big on high-school/teen angst/coming of age books and movies. I've grown out of it, though. The only reason I watched The Perks was because I wanted to see Emma Watson playing anything other than a budding witch. She's cute as a button, but sucked big time as an actor in Harry Potter. Every time she delivered a line it would seem like she didn't know how to feel about it, hence she always ended up looking like she just poopfarted and was waiting for the smell to arise.

In The Perks, her acting has improved by leaps and bounds. To be fair, her acting talent was dismal so the room for improvement was enormous and she could only get better, which she did. Unfortunately, her casting was a huge miscast. She didn't have any gritty edge needed to portray a girl who has a slutty and rebellious reputation. She was just too prim and proper for her role. And the fake American accent didn't help. She just came off as a sweet girl next door with a confused exotic accent and a made up reputation peddled by bitter dudes who tried hitting on her but got turned down. Well maybe that's the effect the producers were going for, maybe not. Either way, I didn't buy any of it.

I am also getting tired of the recycled theme of there being 4 types of American high school kids: the jocks (or jerks) , the bitches, the nerds and the misfits. And heaven forbid that any of them downplay their role. According to Hollywood, jerks are first-class bullies who trip you at the cafeteria for fun when you're holding a full lunch tray. This, of course, followed by a douchey evil laugh and all-around high fives and the whole cafeteria laughing and pointing at the fallen victim (nerd/misfit) and the bully's hot cheerleader girlfriend (the bitch) just jumping on the bully's laps for a full-fledged impromptu make-out session. I've never seen this happened in real life, ever. No one trips anyone with a tray full of food just for the hell of it.

The bitches are always the prettiest and the sluttiest, and the nerds are always bespectacled fashionably-challenged kids with big crooked teeth who are so smart they can build a spaceship just with whatever they find in the high school science lab. And the misfits are those who don't really belong to any of the other groups, but they all have seem to have one thing in common: superior taste in music and literature that others just don't get. If I had a euro for every time a high school movie starts out with a "great 60's song" with an awkward misfit walking to school holding a book by Salinger/Fitzgerald/Steinbeck/Rand or any of the famed English authors...

One of the supposedly obscure great songs used in The Perks to further alleviate this whole "great taste" agenda was David Bowie's Heroes. Okay, since when is David Bowie obscure? Heroes is one of his most famous songs so it doesn't make sense to use it as a song "only appreciated by those in the know". In fact, some of the songs used in the film were chart-toppers like Come On Eileen and Temptation, so the whole hipster act didn't really pan out well for the characters now did it?

I don't really know who the target audience for this movie is (I'm guessing the Harry Potter fans given the fact that they chose to put Emma Watson in a role she's the worst fit for), but I'm pretty certain I'm in the overly-critical demographic group this movie is not suitable for. Seeing that it got a rating of 8.1/10 on IMDb, it seems like I'm beaten by an overwhelming majority, so this movie must have a certain appeal unbeknownst to only myself.

I hope the book is better than the movie because I've heard great things about the book and that incited me to see the film adaptation. If the book is just as bad, then I seriously have to reevaluate the whole paperback industry and its purpose.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

War and turning 25

I'm starting to get interested in war.

Or the ideology leading up to war, to be exact. I've been reading up a lot on all the major wars in ancient and modern history. I suddenly find it fascinating how millions upon millions of people would throw themselves on the front lines, risking imminent death just to protect their motherlands, knowing mighty well they might not live to see the fruit of their labour.

My ex-roommate was a war freak. He was obsessed with World Wars and Hitler and the army, and I didn't really understand that obsession. If it weren't for the government scholarship, he would surely have applied to join the army. Of course, every boy at one stage of his life has dreamed of being a soldier. I had the epiphany when I was around 6. But then I switched to wanting to be a police officer, then a firefighter, and then for the longest time I wanted to be Prime Minister. None of those ambitions got to see the the light of day, so I really admire those soldiers who stick out their childhood dream to the end. It's a noble profession.

I thought war was completely unnecessary and stupid, thus needed no glorification. It's always the same shit. War is declared, both sides get badly hurt, the whole world goes into recession, cities are destroyed, people die, both armies get weakened, an embargo is imposed, a peace treaty is signed and that's it. Why can't they just skip the whole bloody process and go straight to the peace treaty?

Little that I knew, mass civilian killings are not merely byproducts of wars - they are part of the multipronged objective. Hitler was accused of genocide, but aren't all wars about a group of people hating another group of people wishing they were dead? The Pan-Arabism movement in the Middle East was basically the Arabs wanting to get rid of Zionists and Shiites, either by ousting them, converting them into Sunni Muslims or annihilating them altogether (the latter evidently being preferred). Of course, annexing new lands seems like the general goal of a war, but the acquisition of new territories also means having to find a way to earn the loyalty of the occupied groups of people. It would be much easier just to wipe them out in the first place.

Wars are more complicated then I previously thought, which makes it a lot more fascinating. I love how twisted wars can get, how hatred ends up prevailing and trumping all logic, to the point where people just forget what they actually set out to fight for and just continue killing or getting killed thinking they are already in so deep and have nothing to lose anymore. The war in Syria started as a revolution of a people against their oppressor, and now it's an outright civil war between the different ethnics. How did they even get there?

I pity them as much as I applaud their bravery. I now understand more about the importance of war and at the same time bewildered by the stupidity of it all. I am enlightened and saddened by all the war stories I've been reading and war movies/documentaries I've been watching.

I should give up engineering and be a war anthropologist. If there's even such a job. That would be awesome.

ps: I'm turning 25 today.

Monday, April 01, 2013


Ten food items I'm going to miss once I leave Europe:

1) Scallops

Sure we have ten thousand types of shellfish in Malaysia, and they're delicious and dirt cheap too. But none of those come close to the succulent God creation that is the scallop. I've been in Toulouse for a month now, and scallops here are quite cheap compared to the north, so I make it a Saturday ritual to get 250 grams of scallop from the local fishmonger also known as the fish section at Carrefour. A dab of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, 1 minute on the skillet each side, and your scallop is done. Well, when I'm feeling particularly fancy, I'd go to restaurants for a scallop risotto (did that just last night and all in all set me back 30 euros. In my defense, I just got my pay last week). 

2) Salmon

In Malaysia we are blessed with a lush selection of lean, tasty tropical fish, so I shouldn't be complaining about our fish department. If you go to a French fish market, all you can see are huge fishes with scary faces and slimy white bellies. Even their stingrays aren't as juicy as ours, and they cost a bomb too. But then you have the salmon. Now that fish is certainly a bug in the system, because it's just as beautiful as it is delicious. And very cheap too. Just last week I bought three slabs of fresh salmon for 5 euros, which is practically a steal. I used one to make salmon sashimi, and grilled the other two for Monday and Tuesday lunch at work. Paired them with fusili and red pesto, and I was good to go. (Of course I bring my own meal to work. Lunch at the canteen costs 8 euros, and it's pretty much shit on top of shit on the side of shit with shit for dessert. And my red pesto fusili with grilled salmon costs me under 3 euros to make, a no brainer. Yes I have to wake up an hour early everyday to prepare lunch, but a good healthy and cheap meal is worth waking up early every day for).

3) Foie gras

I don't eat this a lot because it's super expensive and I'm dirt poor. But every time I get to, I'd thank God for all that is good and holy in the world, which this thing definitely is. For those of you who have never tasted foie gras, I'd compare the taste to dark chicken meat ground in Parmesan cheese, with the texture of soft butter. Usually people eat it with fig jam and spiced bread, but being fancy is not my primary concern, so I just put my foie gras on a toast. Just as good, and ten times cheaper. Besides I'm not a fan of spiced bread because it's more sweet than it is spicy, and it overwhelms the foie gras flavour. A lot of people have an aversion to the way the ducks and geese are being force fed until their livers swell and they become sickly. But if the end result of the process is a sumptuous fatty liver then I say force feed away. Some studies show that ducks and geese don't have gag reflex, so the whole force feeding process is painless to them and we needn't worry. Brought this up to an anti-foie gras friend, and he asked me, "Painless? How do you know? Are you a goose? Or did a talking goose come to you and tell you that?"

Good point. But then again, these geese are fed delicious, high quality corn all day. If I were a goose and all I had to do was laze around while constantly being fed good food, why would I be complaining? That is my idea of heaven anyway: a fat me in the middle of a Coca Cola pond being fed scallop and tuna sashimi by angels all day long.

4) Tuna

Okay tuna might sound like a generic fish. I associate tuna with camping trips, because every time I go camping I'd bring cans of tuna spread in my backpack. If you go camping with me, I'd be the dude with the God-awful tuna breath. But I shit you not, fresh tuna is actually a magnificent food. The red tuna flesh is a tantalizing sight in itself. Just make sure to go to a good fishmonger, though. I had a few food poisoning episodes with not-so-fresh tuna slabs, and I had only myself to blame for having prepared tuna sashimi with tuna sold in styrofoam at 50% off. Tuna is a lot more expensive than salmon, which is justified by its heavenly taste. So I decided to skimp on cheap tuna and God paid me in cash right there and then. Never had my toilet bowl gotten so much business in one weekend, and I'm lactose intolerant.

5) Milk

Good milk is expensive in Malaysia. Very much so. A liter of milk costs around RM5, and the good ones even more. In Europe however, milk is disgustingly cheap and surprisingly good. Growing up, I was used to the taste of HL milk and I loved it because of the slightly sugary vanilla taste. Now I know that milk should not taste like that. And in France, they have this milk campaign where every milk brand uses milk from the nearby region, so you can be pretty sure that your milk is fresh and it benefits local dairy farmers.

6) Baked goods

If you've ever been to Delifrance in Malaysia, you would know how... bad their croissants are. Croissants should never be dry. And they should be warm. And buttery. The one from Delifrance are none of those. To compensate for the sub-par quality of their baked goods, they stuff their croissants with chicken or tuna with three tonnes of mayonnaise so you'll have a heart attack while also getting ripped off. I'm surprised Delifrance is still surviving while it should have gone under years ago. Baked goods in France is a different story. I'm not a pastry person, so I don't really buy them. But I'm glad to be in a country where, no matter where you are, you don't need to walk more than 10 minutes to find a good bakery that sells buttery croissants for 90 cents each. Malaysia is still way ahead of Europe when it comes to white bread, though. Gardenia bread is just unbeatable. Try spreading peanut butter on Harry's bread here, and you'll get a flaky peanut butter sandwich that tears in the middle.

7) Duck

I hate duck taste when I was in Malaysia. To me it was just a greasier, fattier version of beef. And they tend to overcook duck in heavy sauce, so in the end you'll get chewy red meat bathed in its own fat and an overpowering sweet sauce. It was not good. Coming here, I've learned to appreciate the taste and texture of duck meat. I don't have it often because it's still very greasy, but if cooked and drained right, duck meat is very crispy on the outside and extremely juicy on the inside.

8) Asparagus

Asparagus is very picky for a vegetable. It only grows in a short period between May and June, it needs to be cooked right, and it needs to be eaten very fresh. An old asparagus would be hard and chewy. I don't usually give my veggies a 5 star treatment because well, they are just plants. You can stir fry any edible plant and it'll taste good. But not asparagus. During the asparagus season, you'll have to go to the market early in the morning or you can be sure to see only shitty asparagus left on display. People go crazy over these long green things, and it's perfectly understandable why. Try steaming fresh asparagus and eat it just like that, you'll never get enough. It's crunchy and juicy at the same time, and it goes well with any sauce as long as you don't drench it lest it'll become too soggy.

9) Aurora sauce

Aurora is the best Italian sauce, hands down. The first time I tasted it, I went to heaven and back. During my month-long backpacking trip to Italy a couple of years back, in every city I'd look out for restaurants with aurora sauce on their menu. To this day I still don't know what exactly is in aurora sauce, but I'm pretty sure it's the same ingredients used to make the Powerpuff Girls: sugar, spice and everything nice. (Okay a quick Google search told me it was tomato concentrate, cream and garlic.) Aïoli is another good sauce I'm going to miss, but not that much because it's just basically mayonnaise with garlic, and is jam-packed with cholesterol.

10) Firm cheese

I am a big cheese fan. The stronger the taste, the better. In small doses, of course. Given my lactose intolerance, ten trips to the bathroom after dinner are not worth any cheese except for the comté. It trumps all the other cheese in existence. I remember going skiing in the Jura last year and we had a cheese night with different types of cheese from around the Jura area. The Jura comté was so exquisite, I wasn't even sorry for what the toilet bowl had to go through afterwards. However, I'm not a fan of soft cheese like the ones they have in the north. Now that I am in the south, I'm going to stock up on cheese and eat it like it's Doritos.

So there you go. Except for foie gras, everything else on this list is cheap everyday stuff that comes by easily in France, which is the main reason why I'll miss them. Of course, you can get them in Malaysia too, but I'm pretty sure it's unaffordable.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Little Things In Life

What I've been going through these past few days has taught me one thing.

You may dream big, reach for the stars, and strive for excellence. But in the process, don't let the little things in life pass you by. You'd be surprised how beautiful they can be.

In the end, it's these beautiful little things in life that make it worth living.

On another note, I've been missing my newborn niece really badly. She's two weeks old and I've never met her. Is it strange to miss someone you've never even met?

Pak Lang loves you, Laila.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Let's hope this is not universal truth

Copy pasted from a comment on Reddit:
I've been with my wife since 1983.

Here's the ugly truth. What young people think of as romantic love has nothing to do with marriage. That is lust and infatuation. Marriage is about family. The way you stick by your parents and your siblings and grandparents. Your husband or wife becomes your FAMILY.

You stick by them when you hate them, when you love them, when you are angry at them, and when you are thrilled with them.


Because over the long decades, people change. Dramatically. She will lose interest in all of the things you thought brought you together. You both like hiking? That's nice. In ten years one of you will hate hiking. You won't have any artificial structures that helped create your relationship and bring you together.

You will have to do that all by yourselves. And how do you do that?

By not depending on romantic love to get you through. Not expecting to be "happy." Instead, do your job, do your best by them, and stick by them like you do your other family.

It's going to be a bad time, folks. And a great time. It's going to be all kinds of times.

Don't pussy out because you are disappointed that marriage wasn't fun. It's not fun. It's family.

This might be the most depressing thing I have ever read.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

This is why I need a therapist

For the past 3 weeks I've read so many thesis papers and scientific publications I seriously believe I am ready to do a PhD. No, really. Sometimes after I finished reading a 400-page thesis paper I'd be like, "That's it? It took this dude 3 years to do this? I could do this in half the time and give this dude a run for his money."

Of course that's just me trash talking to self-aggrandize myself while in truth, I'm pretty sure I'd flunk my PhD due to depression since I'd be isolated in a lab somewhere with no human contact.

The funny thing is, I always thought doing a PhD was something extremely difficult and almost unattainable. As a young boy, I always wondered what doctoral fellows actually did. What are they researching about? Haven't us humans discovered it all? After all, there have been billions of people on Earth before us, what makes us think we could just figure out something new after only two and a half decades of being alive? What else is there to find out?

Turns out, we are far from done with technological advancements. The human race still has a long, long way to go before we can finally say we've left no stone unturned. There are, literally, not enough people on Earth for us to discover every single thing about the universe. For a seven billion-strong army of grey matters, we are actually moving at a snail's pace. 

A doctoral fellow is basically someone choosing an extremely minute aspect of an already very specific field of study, and spending three to five years of their lives putting that minute aspect under a microscope, trying to make something out of it.

Am I considering taking on a PhD? Hard question to answer, as it just crossed my mind these past few weeks. I had never, during all these years of existence, thought the question would even pop up. Honestly, I never thought I could do it. But a Skype session with a friend changed everything. I told him all about my Masters results, and he told me, "With those results, it would be a shame not to do a PhD." All of a sudden, it's all I can think about. To top it off, I'm spending every day doing research at work with minimal supervision, reading and analysing scientific journals. My daily correspondences include some researchers in Luxembourg and Germany, and today I found myself reading a journal written by Japanese researchers. And I've never felt more alone at work. It's as if I'm doing a PhD already.

I really need to get over this phase. I promised my family I'd be back by year end. I can't possibly bring myself to tell them I'd be staying back in Europe for another three years to do a doctoral dissertation. I've given enough false hopes and broken enough promises, and I've had my time in the sun on this part of the world. And I've about had it with missing weddings and births and birthdays and Hari Raya and everything in between.

It's about time I went back.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Me 1 - Pizzaïolo 0

I saw the coupon. Tried to look away, but couldn't. It kept calling to me, pleading, in a voice of a distressed kitten.

"10.90€ instead of 18.90€ for a giant salmon and scallops pizza. Free delivery."

All I had to do was click where it said, "Order online now!"

One click. One simple click. And twenty minutes later I would be in seafood and cheese heaven. "Go ahead, you can do it! One little click, all it takes."

I didn't do it. Couldn't do it. Been a good boy for two weeks.

And I couldn't be more proud of my self-restraint.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Ship That Never Sinks

Truth is, it's been quite lonely here. The city is beautiful, the weather is great, the people are nice, their southern accent is endearing, the food is great etc. It is strange that I find myself missing the north very much. I have made some friends here, but it is still too early for me to feel completely at ease with them.

So I just got a call from a friend from the north. He and some good friends of mine are coming down all the way south to see me in two weeks. I know for a fact that flight and train tickets cost a bomb that particular weekend, given it will be Easter holidays and all. So I asked him how much they paid for the flight and train tickets, and his answer was, "A fortune, but don't worry about it. You are well worth what we paid."

Which silenced me for a bit. In every friendship there will come a point when money stops being an issue, and I think we have reached that point. I feel grateful to have met so many great people in my life abroad, but these guys are the very reason why, even after all these years, I still find life in France to be amazing.

Thank you, guys.

Friday, March 08, 2013


The past week and a half have been a turmoil. The move from the north to the south, the apartment hunting, the new job, my exam results, etc.

Everything went very smoothly, to my complete and utter surprise of course. As a pessimist, I was expecting everything to go wrong: I wouldn't get an apartment in the south so I'd have to go sleep in a barn somewhere. The new job would be a nightmare, with horrible bosses and grumpy colleagues, and everyone would be calling me "The Intern" as if I didn't have a name. I would be in charge of the copy machine hours on end as well as making coffee for everybody.

But no. The apartment is perfect. It's smallish, yes. But everything is spanking new, and it's really close to work and not that far from city centre which is a perfect compromise. My job is awesome, and I am on first-name basis with everybody. I am surrounded by extremely smart people all day long, and I can see airplanes take off and land all day long from my office. I serendipitously found out that the aeronautical town where I currently work is the twin city of the German town where I used to work last year, so I guessed it has all come full circle.

My colleagues are all young engineers, but amazingly a lot of them hold a PhD. Never in my life have I felt so inferior. There is even this one guy who cannot possibly be over 27 years old, but he is already referred to as The Expert because well... he really is an expert in thermal analysis of airplane interiors. The average age in the office is somewhere around 30-35, so the place is vibrant with energy. A young work environment means a lot of room for innovation and progress. I respect the elders, but they usually are set in their ways and leave no wiggle room for change because "I've been doing it this way for thirty years and it works fine". In an ultra high-technology industry as aeronautics where every boundary of science is pushed to its limit, everything is susceptible to constant change. New discoveries are made every day, new patents are being filed ceaselessly, and new groundbreaking ideas are thrown across the meeting table on a daily basis. The only aspect that can afford to be rigid in aeronautics are the security norms.

Well to be completely honest, work has been a bit stressful. Not because of my job scope itself, but because of this inferiority complex I am suddenly feeling. My bosses are super smart and experienced. My engineer colleagues are nerds who can point out exactly why there is a temperature difference of 4 centigrade between the cockpit and the cabin during the flight and correct it. Even their jokes are first-class nerd jokes that I do not get, and I consider myself a huge nerd as well. I mean, if you can incorporate the terms "thermal boundary conditions" in your one-liner and make it funny, you are a first class nerd. A funny one at that, though. Now I know how Penny must feel amidst her smart friends in The Big Bang Theory.

When I told this to a colleague, she said, "You'll be fine. In fact, if you must know, a lot of people applied for this job but you got it because F. (my boss) thought that you had an impressive résumé and your telephone interview was solid."

She thought she helped, but somehow that extra bit of information added more pressure. What if I don't measure up? What if I am only good on paper? What if they suddenly think that I am not cut out for this job and fire me?

It is all only in my head, I am sure. But there were times when I wished I was surrounded by dumbasses so I could feel like the smartest in the group and feel superior again. Yeah, I am full of shit like that.

Good news is, I just got all my final exam results, the last exams of my life. Verdict? Well, I don't mean to brag but my foot is sore right now because I kicked some serious ass! Looks like I am heading straight to Graduation-ville for both my Masters, and I couldn't possibly be more proud.

As per usual, this post follows my classic pattern of: jumbled up shit -> story development -> conflict -> arrogant ending.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Last Minute Man

If I were a superhero, my name would be Last Minute Man because I do everything at the last minute, almost with no exception.

No matter how grave the situation at hand is, I can never get things done without the help of adrenaline. Last Minute Man doesn't pack until 2 hours before having to leave for the airport. He doesn't board until the final call is announced three times. He doesn't go apartment hunting until 2 days before he has to start working in a completely new southern French city. He doesn't buy train tickets until all the second class seats are all snapped up and only first class seats are left. Well, Last Minute Man is also Comfort First Man, so a first class seat doesn't sound too shabby for him, especially for a 9-hour high-speed train ride from the north to the south of France. Think of all the extra legroom! And he made sure to request an island seat so he doesn't risk having an overly chatty neighbour with bad breath. If only there were a Kid-Free Zone on the train, he would have chosen that option too. They do have a Kid-Friendly Zone though, so Last Minute Man made it a point to steer clear of that.

Last Minute Man is starting work on Monday with a giant in the aeronautics industry, and he hasn't even started to read up about his mission. He thinks he has plenty of time Sunday to finish reading some serious thesis papers on a highly technical material physics stuff. Of course he does, because between the unpacking, grocery shopping, cleaning the new apartment, and some friends from the South hollering him for a meet-up downtown, he has all the time in the world to read thesis papers.

Last Minute Man is a pessimist, but when it comes to getting things done at the eleventh hour, he's the most optimistic guy in the world. And believe it or not, by hook or by crook, he always got them done just in the nick of time.

Last Minute Man is a true Malaysian superhero, because in his shoes, many would fall apart under the extreme pressure of juggling a million things all at once, but Last Minute Man just keeps going. He lives on stress, and he binges on pressure. Last Minute Man sort things out one after another, and by the looks of things, he's not going to stop.

Not now. Not ever. All hail Last Minute Man!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Here's Johnny!

We arrived in Tangier on New Year's Day after a long train ride from Marrakesh, hungry and exhausted. So much so that we didn't even bother to haggle with the taxi driver who probably charged us quadruple the normal amount for the short trip from the railway station to our hotel.

It had been so long since I went to a hotel with a doorman, and this one had two. We thought that after 2 sleepless night in nomad tents in a freezing desert, we could use a little comfort. On the internet site where we made our reservation, the hotel definitely looked a lot fancier than the dodgy back alley European hostels I usually frequent, and it cost less because we were in Morocco after all, where luxury comes cheap.

The moment I stepped into the lobby, I felt goosebumps on my back. The place was fancy all right, and it could've passed for a 5-star hotel... if we were in 1950. The utilitarian furniture reminded me of Le Corbusier's Villa Savoye. The sitting area looked like it was inspired by the hotel where Humphrey Bogart ran around in Charade, minus the telephone booths. People were smoking in the lobby, exactly the way it used to be in the olden days. The suspended luminaries were outdated in design, and the table lamps had caps in the shape of tubes. The reception counter was wooden, painted in mahogany. In keeping with the ambiance of days gone by, there was a clerk behind the counter typing furiously on a typewriter. A typewriter!

The place was very clean and well kept, but something about the frozen-in-time look made me uncomfortable. Like I'd seen it all in a horror movie before, and something terrible was about to befall upon me. The doorman was a pleasant guy with a permanent smile on his face, but he terrified me the most. His uniform was a faded orange Nehru jacket and a matching sarouel, with long white socks that went all the way to the knees and a bright red tarbush nested on top of his head, very reminiscent of the creepy lift operator at Disneyland's Tower of Terror horror ride where you get into the lift and plunge to your death while the lift man eerily laughs, showing his rotten teeth, and vanishes.

The hotel probably spent all their money on polishing their outdated post-war furniture because the doorman also doubled as the bellboy. He showed us to the lift and carried our bags to our room. I felt plenty rich at that moment, because I was so used to cheap hostels that my travelling mantra was "Please God let there be an empty bottom bunk in the 16-bed dormitory with shared bathroom." And here I was with a bellboy carrying my suitcase, and all of a sudden I felt like Bill Gates.

Despite all this, I still felt uneasy. The dim hallway, long, empty and very, very quiet made me nervous. The bellboy's silk tarbush tassel swung from right to left in a hypnotizing manner, which made the walk to our room even more like a stroll down the death row for some inexplicable reason.

"This place is creepy," I remember telling my travel companions. They just looked at me without saying a word, most probably because they were too fatigued to entertain my childish remark. A 20 dirham tip, and the bellboy left us to enjoy the extremely vintage looking room. The closet doors had maroon cushions on them, that's how vintage it was. And don't get me started on the bidet in the bathroom.

The next day we went down to the lobby using the stairs just because we felt like it. I saw some framed photographs on the way down, and they were all dated to the pre- and post-war period. The stairwell floor was covered in small black and yellow square tiles and I had to double check the date to make sure we were, in fact, already in 2013.

The huge lobby with utilitarian furniture, the typewriter, the long and quiet hallway, the pleasant bellboy with an eerie smile. Suddenly it all added up, and it hit me: I was staying at The Overlook, that creepy hotel in The Shining where the innkeeper murdered his wife and twin daughters, where blood comes out from the lift doors, where room 237 was haunted by a naked old woman's ghost, where Jack Nicholson froze to his death while chasing his son with an axe in a blizzard.

That's why I felt so nervous and spooked. Tangier was a lovely city, and the people were nice. But if I could do things differently, I would gladly pick a dodgy back alley hostel over a spooky vintage hotel that looks like the one they used to shoot The Shining, a horror movie that makes my hair stand on end every time I hear its title.

When we finally left the hotel, I felt relieved. And I'm glad curiosity didn't get the best of me, otherwise I would've sneaked behind the reception counter and taken a peek at the typewritten sheets just to check if they were, in fact, just hundreds of pages containing one single sentence: "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy."

In which case I would be traumatized till the end of my days.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

RM 10

Whenever I go back to Malaysia, I never cease to be surprised by how expensive things have become. As a young boy, I remember looking at 10 ringgit bills like they were messiahs disguised as red banknotes, with which all my wishes would be exalted and all my wantings satisfied. A misplaced 10 ringgit would spark a fight between us siblings, because a lost 10 ringgit really felt like your world was crumbling down around you.

But now, a 10 ringgit bill seems more and more like what it really is: a simple piece of paper. It still holds a value, but not the one it used to have. Not to me, anyway. These days I can never be so confident as to go to 7-11 with only 10 ringgit in my pocket, hoping to buy 2 grocery items as staple as milk and eggs. Even if it was enough, the change would be small pieces of metal even a vending machine would spit out in disgust.

I go back to Malaysia once a year, which seems like such a short time for significant changes to occur in KL. It is not. KL is such a dynamic city buzzing with all kinds of excitement that KLites change eating habits the way they change phones. Whenever I ask friends for makan recommendations, I'd get a plethora of new or up-and-coming makan places, and all of this new eateries happened to sprout out within the short period of time I was absent from the country. It's impressive, and one of the utmost reasons why I love KL so much.

The only problem is that most of these eateries charge exorbitant prices for their food. I wouldn't mind spending more on exceptionally good food or great ambiance. I just don't think it's logical to be spending more than 10 ringgit on bubble tea, or 15 ringgit on a simple nasi goreng ayam. Let's not get me started on Tutti Frutti. That stuff is good, and I went there 3 or 4 times during my last holiday in Malaysia. But a small bowl can cost around 15-20 ringgit, and the big one can set you back 40-50 ringgit.

When I really think about it, a lot of my freshly graduated friends' salaries are in the vicinity of 2000-4000 ringgit, with some making more than 5000 ringgit and then a few who are cashing in over 10K a month, but these two latter groups are not the majority. So how they hell do they manage on a 2-4K salary to afford going to these expensive places on a weekly (if not daily) basis? Either these people are excellent at minding their money, or they are in denial that they don't make as much as they'd like to.

When I first went out with my girlfriend, it was Starbucks-Tony Roma's-Pizza Hut-fancy salmon laksa at The Curve kind of affair. Then I realized that neither of us was actually that fancy, so we toned things down - way down - and started hanging out at mamak stalls and Rasta, where I felt more at home. Come to think of it, I don't think any of those people we saw at those posh restaurants were really all that fancy anyway. No matter how dim the lights are and how jazzy the music they play in those restaurant, Malaysians will be Malaysians. We talk loud and laugh like no one's business, negating all kinds of romantic ambiance you are going for. And table manners? We don't follow them, which is yet another reason why I love Malaysia. I once licked the side of my knife in a restaurant here because some good sauce was dripping, and got stared by almost everyone. Apparently in France it's impolite to lick one's knife at the table, and I, honest to God, couldn't give a flying f- to the French complicated table etiquette with their ten thousand pieces of cutlery neatly arranged on both sides of the plate, three million types of glasses (you could give me a bowl for all I care, I just want to drink water dammit!), and napkins in the shape of constipated swans.

But I digress.

So my point is, knowing my splurging self, I can really imagine myself being one of those people who live beyond their means when I go back home. I have to develop the skill of saying no whenever people suggest glitzy restaurants, and remind myself that I just can't afford it. All this while I've been going back to Malaysia on holiday, so I spend money according to what I earn in euros and everything looks dirt cheap. But now the moment of truth is approaching and I'll soon have to stop dividing all prices by four and start spending like the poor fresh graduate that I will be.

Hopefully at that time the 10 ringgit bill will regain its former value in my eyes and I'll appreciate its existence in my pocket.

Sunday, January 06, 2013


My ultimate goal in life is to win a Nobel Prize in Physics and a Man Booker Prize. Well, I thought of winning a Pulitzer as well but opinionated as I am, I can never be good at journalism where you have to be objective and stick to the hard facts. My piece on the Syrian civil war would have been titled "Let's make those uneducated Muslims fight among themselves so the rich countries can swoop in and suck their oil."

It's 2013, so I guess it's the perfect time to have new resolutions.

Hence this year, I am going to start writing a book that will get me that damn Booker. As for the Nobel Prize, I'm thinking of inventing human teleportation but as of now, I've got nothing yet.