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.