Monday, January 28, 2008

Happy Third, Readings

Saturday, 26 January 2008

I was feeling rather drained at the end of this week, and logic dictated that I should just plant my feet into a pot of soil on the balcony, sprout leaves and photosynthesise. But I couldn't pass up the session of Readings that celebrated its third anniversary.

Many of the regulars where there: Leon, Chet, Dr Shanmugam, Mr and Mrs Ted Mahsun, a few of Sharon Bakar's friends, Animah Kosai and daughter and Readings' own technician, Reza. Luminaries who graced the event included Seksan, owner of the venue, Eric Forbes of MPH Publishing, columnist Daphne Lee, the controversial Amir Muhammad, Shahril Nizam and Jerome Kugan, whom I last saw at La Bodega, KL. Eugene a.ka. Dreamer Idiot, Philipp the Eternal Wanderer and Kenny Mah were glaringly absent, though. And I kind of miss Sharanya Manivannan.

Had a chat with Eric about books and favourite reads (why do I get the feeling I was being interviewed?) Lainie Yeoh sported a stitched wound from an encounter with a snatch thief; the rest of us should be fortunate to encounter them on newsprint. I mistook Catalina Rembuyan for Liyana Yusof (a behemoth of a boo-boo!). Hope she wasn't too offended. Photographer Sufian got much of it on film.

(Ooh, watch me drop names like bad habits - a habit I should also drop, I think.)

But I was late for this month's session. When I stepped into the hall, Shi-Li Kow was reading a funny story from the anthology News From Home, about a deceased pet cat who became the biggest thing since that papaya they said had Lord Ganesh's face.

"...all the aunties, passers-by made offerings to the cat for the next big number ...someone even built one the little red huts (like the ones for the datuks) over Patches' grave... even the DBKL lorry drivers were getting into the act... Don't you miss Malaysia?"

— Shi-Li Kow, describing the only "vision, 2020"
Malaysians are really interested in

Bernice Chauly, one of the Readings' founding mothers, read some pieces from her published collection of poems, The Book of Sins. I swear I've heard some of them before at a previous session last year.

Our own Prince of Darkness, Tunku Halim gave us a peek of his collection of horror stories, Gravedigger's Kiss. And he was, like, sitting next to me during the second half of the Readings. I was beside myself, wondering, "Hey, maybe they aren't all that elitist after all!" - in spite of his feelings about a review of 44 Cemetary Road in The Star a while back.

The other contributor to News From Home, Chua Kok Yee had the audience in stitches with a modern and hilarious yarn about that monster called Progress - and its reluctant sidekick, Intolerance - who spare no one and nothing, not even fairy tales like the Three Little Pigs.

"...you see, we had to make some changes. We had to make the switch to kittens to avoid offending countries where their religion does not allow pigs ...China's OK. They love pigs - I mean, they love to eat pigs, but..."

— Chua Kok Yee, taking a subtle swipe
at censorship and fanaticism

Writer and creative writing guru Chuah Guat Eng (who tutored Sharon once) illustrated the use of language as a weapon with excerpts from her new book The Old House and Other Stories: Penang Hokkien to set up a kill, and Manglish to disarm, or making light conversation. Her rationales for that were quite convincing. I think I should start paying attention to what my parents say from now on.

Gerald Chuah, journalist and Sly Stallone/Rocky Balboa uber-fan came up to the mic to read and ended up giving a dissertation-slash-pep talk on the never-say-die attitude of the underdog, which inspired his book, In the Eye of the Tiger. Although it was a somewhat refreshing and inspiring deviation from the open-your-book-and-read performance expected of in Readings, he was nervous and repeating himself a few times, talking about - instead of reading from the book, and it was nearly six.

"This is Readings, dammit," I mentally fumed, "not a book talk at the Booker Room! Quit quoting Rocky and freaking read something, or I'm kicking you off the podium!"

I was surprised to hear what Rehman Rashid had to say about his book. The excerpt of the review was so inspiring, uplifting and positive. It didn't sound like Rehman Rashid at all.

Did I mention that there a cake-cutting ceremony? Up till now I've never wished a non-person a happy birthday before. First time for everything, I suppose. Books by some of the readers were also on sale. Didn't feel like buying anything, though.

I will be sure to catch Readings' fourth anniversary.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Books, Wind And Water

Finally found the long-awaited download of the infinitely better version of the Will.I.Am "hit". How did they record all that with straight faces? Right now it's the tenth replay of the file. And. I. Still. Can't. Turn. It. Off.

Don't help me.


"Hello!" went the young lady's enthusiastic greeting. "Are you here for the book talk? This way, please."

I've come to expect some sort of audience at book talks, so you could imagine my shock and dismay to find less than ten people in the Booker Room today: Sharon Bakar, feng shui expert and new author Jason Fong and his two guests, Julie of MPH (the enthusiastic young lady) and myself. A far far cry from the rock-concert crowd during the last Authors' Hi-Tea.

I guess keywords like "book" and "feng shui" aren't exactly crowd-pullers.

Sharon invited me in, and did a double-take when she realised who I was. I was introduced as a friend and blogger. It's an honour to be called a friend, but I didn't really feel like a blogger today. It's like being at a press conference where you're the only journalist.

The show, however, went on.

Fong answered many of Sharon's questions on the science of geomancy, which he backed up with scientific facts. Some of the revelations included the role of running water and granite in causing cancer and other maladies, plus the secret to "Mr Genting" Lim Goh Tong's wealth. We also found out just how difficult it was for the author to take pictures for his book; there was some mention of battling bad weather and traipsing around rooftops for the perfect shot.

Lillian Too, the self-proclaimed Queen of Afflictions was also mentioned, albeit in a less flattering manner. One of Fong's guests - a colleague and traditional feng shui practitioner - dismissed the famously prescribed placings of statuettes, wind chimes and ornaments for more luck and money. "Those things don't work," he scoffed, "and your house will end up looking like an animal farm." We laughed.

I am skeptical of the whole feng shui thing, but never in doubt of the psychological impact it has to those who believe it - something agreed upon to some extent by the rest of the assembly. The talk adjourned about an hour later, after a presentation by Fong's colleague about how the sixty-four transformations of the ba gua - the foundation of the I Jing (Book of Changes) - came about.

After the guests left, there was some talk about another banned-books controversy. The Internal Security Ministry is offended because these books feature bearded men who claim G*d talks to them. I suppose I couldn't fault the Ministry for enforcing such rigid standards (the people there have bills to pay, too), but if that's the case they should also pull publications featuring Nik Aziz Nik Mat, Abubakar Bashir, Osama bin Laden, and to a lesser extent, Pat Robertson, Shoko Asahara and George W Bush.

Then again, what do I know, anyway?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Never Felt Safer, Part II

I don't know which revelation about this is the most unsettling:

  • People are surfing the Internet for threats at the Internal Security Ministry.
  • Untried, naive and gullible country bumpkins are probably surfing the Internet for threats at the Internal Security Ministry.
  • The possibility of untried, naive and gullible country bumpkins being employed at the Internal Security Ministry.
  • Surfing the Internet (during office hours) is considered a legitimate full-time job at the Internal Security Ministry.

Oh yeah. I feel, like, really safe.

On the other hand, that sounds like a plum job. I wonder if they're hiring.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Never Felt Safer

Ah, nothing warms the cockles, mussels and oysters of your heart than the knowledge that you can count on our beloved government to take drastic action against depraved homicidal lawbreakers.

Like begging depraved homicidal lawbreakers to release their captives and repent for fear of the collective fury of over twenty million indignant souls. Or installing more electronic eyes as deterrents.

Wow, like, I feel safe already.

If such "drastic" measures actually work, there wouldn't be any depraved homicidal lawbreakers, lecherous kleptomaniacal charlatans or depraved suicidal speed-limit-breakers to begin with. It just goes to show just how much (or how little) criminals think of our authorities - or our anger at their hijinks.

But I just have to wonder: What manner of madness or cunning could compel men to sink to such unfathomable depths? Where and when did all this begin?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Not Really All-Malaysia, But Close

Although I first heard about the gathering from Suanie, I thought it strange that she only stayed there briefly. I guess all the outings and partying during the year-end must have worn her out. Glad I didn't buy any beer.

Why The Gardens at Mid Valley, of all places, the high-end-brand museum disguised as a shopping mall?

I eventually decided to ponder over other important things, like what to have for lunch - and boy, I could use a coffee.

I became evasive at the registration desk; after two-and-a-half years I was still skittish over my blog's flimsy privacy. I retreated to the counter and said hi to Yvonne. I also bumped into Peter Tan (actually, it was the other way around), who told me of Suanie's absence. He was there with long-time friend Wuan, whom he recently married.

All the usual suspects were glaringly absent from the meet. Fresh or unheard-of names were the order of the day. There were, however, some familiar faces.

First was Albert, who is rarely seen without a camera. And there were a lot of cameras there that morning. It's like a press conference where the journalists interview each other. The spectacle did freak out a few shoppers, who gawked and stared as they walked past.

Then there was April Yim, the statuesque Amazon who designs her own trinkets and contributes greatly to Yvonne's fundraising drives. She shared a table with Yvonne, Yvonne's new friend Fiona, and Raj "the Stud", whose enthusiasm and gregariousness bespoke of his experience in PR and event management. Raj had heaps of ideas for the organiser's All-Malaysia Info web site.

Cordelia (Yvonne's other friend) and husband turned up as well. She remembers me as the Big Squid. "I can never remember your real name," she admitted, "because it's so ordinary. Your nickname's more interesting." She also chided my refusal to sign up with Facebook.

Another surprise was the presence of Kurt Low. There was also Skyler, along with Shaz and the Kellster, who were also at the Burger King meet in 2006.

Due to crowd-fatigue, I didn't speak much to most of the attendees, and had to decline Yvonne's invitation to lunch. "Anti-social," she teased. I gave a mental shrug, realising at last why she preferred smaller meetings. What can I say? Some crust was left after this old loaf of bread was trimmed.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Year-End Travails of 2007

My summary of year-end misadventures is delayed because of an after-vacation hangover, so I'm ringing in the new year with it.

Friday, 21 December 2007
Fetched FunnyBunny from the office, only to have her drag me shuffling and grumbling (as opposed to kicking and screaming, because I know I won't win) to the nearest cinema to catch Enchanted.

Kudos to Disney for this Bollywood-esque hit - and I suggest they keep their cel animation workshops for future projects. On the other hand, the saccharine sweetness made me cringe for about fifteen minutes of the flick. And who would believe in house-cleaning cockroaches?! Rendered in excruciatingly realistic detail. Eww.

There was also supper at Cineleisure's Kopi Oh! Café. Their Signature Rice, Special Sandwich and coffee are great after-movie munchies.

Monday, 24 December 2007
I hadn't planned to be at the Christmas Eve Party at the House with the Koi Pond, but a call from WildGuy changed my mind. Much hilarity ensued when I arrived in time for the Not-So-Secret Santa event. Some of the gifts included a bachelor's "survival kit", chocolates, a do-it-yourself seafood soup (complete with a real fish and a recipe) and a packet of dried meat. The non-halal gift was being passed around like a gangbang flick's leading lady; I was surprised the contents hadn't disintegrated when the fanfare ended.

The Snark Hunter was surprised to know I still remembered him from the 2005 PPS bash. "That was two-and-a-half years ago!" he marvelled. I didn't think it was that long ago.

Ever the consummate firestarter, WildGuy suggested baiting curious police officers with magic words like "Reformasi", "Hindraf" and a number of very un-PC, anti-establishment slogans (I probably should add that he has a very warped sense of humour). And the cops actually came; raucous revelries in the past had earned the Koi Pond House a certain eminence among local law enforcement. The police soon left though, thanks to KY's diplomatic skills (and probably the sheer number of camera/phones in the crowd).

I also saw my favourite Bandit Queen smoking a cigarette. They sure grow up real fast these days. Her response? "F*** you." As I was saying... .

Weekend, 29 to 30 December 2007
A Malaccan road trip! An important milestone in my life as I packed up for a two-day, one night stop at the historic state.

While the neighbourhood I stayed at had that enthralling old-world charm (with the Cheng Hoon Teng temple and Kapitan Kling mosque within walking distance), my fears of encountering a garish low-budget theme park of a tourist destination were realised when I laid eyes on the Stadhuys and Christ Church. Rickshaws posed serious traffic hazards with their supersonic horns, concealed boom-boxes and carnival-parade fixtures. Hawkers peddling souvenirs, knick-knacks, clothes and drinks were everywhere. An old cannon on the grounds was turned into a garbage can.

Jonker Walk has morphed into a less-modern Petaling Street. Virtually every stall and shoplot offered the "best" chicken rice balls, durian cendol, pineapple tarts and authentic Peranakan cuisine. Every cup of coffee I had had less kick and character than the average Malaysian soccer player. Attempts to find the best of the "best" failed - abysmally. And all I got out of it was a lousy fridge magnet.

The quaint Limau-Limau Café was a nice spot, but if they lowered their prices I could've tried at least three of their drinks. The dragonfruit lassi was flatter than Kate Moss and probably not the best item to measure the strength of their other concoctions.

A visit to the Portuguese settlement was equally disappointing, particularly the devil curry (more like devil's advocate curry). The crowds and smoke from the chilli-coated baked fish evoked memories of the recent Hindraf rally. The only memorable food I tried was a fried vege-roll from a mobile popiah seller (who also sold fresh ones) and some wantan noodles at a tiny shop.

The mediocrity! The kitsch! It burns, it burns!

The final irony of the trip: KOed by nasi lemak, my first taste of real Malaysian flavours upon my return.

Monday, 31 December 2007
New Year Eve dinner at FunnyBunny's pad, where the landlord prepared a sumptuous feast for us and his friends. Witnessed a mini-display of fireworks nearby and stayed till 5am to watch a hilariously entertaining mahjong game.

The marinated, baked chicken wings were a winner, not to mention the mashed potatoes. The landlord should set up shop - maybe at Malacca's Jonker Street. That'll add some character - and more importantly, flavour - to the place.