Sunday, 31 December 2006

Year-End Travails of 2006, Continued

It seems that my itinerary of year-end hijinks hasn't come to an end just yet.

Car Service Centre, Act I
What was supposed to be a routine car service became not-so routine when they found a failed brake fluid pump, along with worn brake pads and faulty windshield wipers. After more than a year, my piece of Pauper's Plastic made a return appearance. I needed liquid cash, and if my fate involved being entombed within the wreck of my car, it will not be my fault.

While waiting, another customer joined me in the waiting room. Without the buzz from my morning coffee, I revealed details about myself I'd usually keep from strangers (like, where I came from, my age, etc). When I told him I wasn't attached, he asked, "Are you, like, gay?"

Him being a stranger, I forgave him. Nobody challenges my sexuality and comes away unscathed.

"Come on, no shame to admit it if you are."

Man, was he pushing it. Is this how members of my community engage in conversation with people they'd just met? Forget 2007; if this persists there will not be a single good day - let alone a good year - to set foot in Malaysia.

Car Service Centre, Act II
Later, when I was alone, I read a copy of The Star. It was yesterday's, but I didn't mind. When I reached the Citizen's Blog section, I found that a few self-righteous individuals just painted over fifty-five million bloggers worldwide, including yours truly, with a really broad brush. So what if all we cared about was the speed of our Internet connection? You'd be mad too if you're not getting what you paid for, which was what many users of our glorified narrowband service had to deal with. And it's not as if we're totally immune to disaster.

I was relieved to be able to continue on to my destination: Bandar Utama. It was the first time I'd used the Damansara-Puchong Highway totally unsupervised. I reached there in no time, and I didn't even get lost.

Launch of Write Out Loud, Ikano Power Centre
I heard about another book launch, and was intrigued; among the names were faces I wanted to see (like Alexandra, whom I've heard about from Irene), so off I went. Again, I was early, and again, I forgot the details of the event. I had the date, time and general venue correct, but... where exactly was it? I connected the dots and headed to what was probably the largest in the chain of Popular bookstores in the country.

After the launch there was a short reading session involving some of the contributing authors, among whom were Her Majesty Boadicea, who'd read her contribution, an abstract piece of prose with a misleading title. She later cajoled me into buying a copy, effectively backing me up a wall. I'd just come from servicing my car; any purchase I'd make from that point onward required serious thinking.

In the end, there was just no denying Her Majesty's will.

Returning with my newly-purchased copy, I spied Irene, who had come to "surprise" Alexandra with her unscheduled presence. I chatted briefly with Ted Mahsun, and collected a few signatures. My request that Alexandra use that timelessly endearing line, "Thanks for buying the book, YOU CHEAP BASTARD!" was politely turned down. How disappointing.

A real surprise (not like Irene's) was the business card given out by Karen-Ann Theseira, captain of the Write Out Loud (formerly known as The Book Project) project. Turns out she has a day job. I did recall someone saying, "If you want to be a writer, get a job that doesn't involve writing."


Meatballs at IKEA Restaurant
The ladies were hungry, and there were plans to eat at the IKEA Restaurant. I gatecrashed the gathering in my typical fashion; I was hungry, too - and I had an unsatisfied curiosity about Swedish Meatballs. New tastes, and a chance to expand my social circle. "Killing two birds with one stone" should be in my résumé's Skills section.

Apart from Alexandra and Irene, there was Kat, also another of Irene's friends, and a friend of Kat's as well. Both have blogs, apparently, but I wasn't in the mood to ask for URLs then (I had meatballs in my head). We did have an interesting conversation, where Kat's friend, Z (wonder if he knows V?), demonstrated an unusual level of maturity and intelligence.

Where did I go wrong when I was growing up?

From Alexandra, I learned about an old schoolmate from my days at Penang Free School. She didn't say anything about a funeral, so I assumed that he must still be alive. The guy was a regular at the school's Chess Club, which I joined only to pad my school testimonial. I'd sign the attendance form and let him or some other club member whup my ass in less than fifteen moves, before leaving for my Malay language tuition class. Besides, I had no patience for the game.

This year's going to end on a peaceful note for me. See you all next year.

Thursday, 28 December 2006

Like Rain On Your Wedding Day

The buzzword of the day is SLOW, with varying numbers of Ws, depending on the levels of stress, boredom, or an unhealthy mix of both. It's half-past midnight, and the local blogosphere is absolutely buzzing with busybodies who are having better luck updating their blogs than I.

While fifty or so Malaysian bloggers sing "The Internet is Slow-Wow-Wow-Wow-Wow", I'm stuck here waiting in vain for the Blogger home page to load.


If ExaBytes came out with a special Quake-Proof Web Hosting Package for bloggers, they might see lines longer than those formed for the PlayStation 3.

Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Taiwan Quake Boosts Productivity

Malaysia was effectively cut off from the rest of cyberspace when the latest Taiwan quake shook some undersea cables to bits. Sites hosted within the country are unaffected by the interruption.

The local ISPs are downplaying the severity of the outage by claiming that reductions of connection speed, rather that total inaccessibility, is to be expected for the next several days while the damage is being repaired. Mostly true, of course, but speeds are so slow while accessing overseas sites it might as well be inaccessible.

Meanwhile, millions of office drones all over the country (including yours truly) have no choice but to work more, now that many of the latest on-line soccer/golf/basketball scores, news sites, forums, blogs and gossip columns are temporarily unavailable.

Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Year-End Travails of 2006

Last weekend was spent hopping between a well-read, intellectual, boozing, fun-loving crowd to a wild, hardcore-partying, boozing fun-loving crowd.

My first Readings session saw the launch of Project Elarti, a magazine by the boys of Neohikayat. I was among the earliest arrivals, besides Sharon Bakar and Nicholas. Other highlights of the event included Sharon's forgetfulness, an incident with a recalcitrant wine cork, and my first glimpse of a blook.

The crowd was smart, open and unafraid of the new and unexplored, not to mention much more cosmopolitan, with more Malays and Caucasians. The atmosphere was not unlike that of a penny university where intellectuals gathered to talk shop, split hairs or gossip over a warm cuppa. Frankly, I felt intimidated.

I was very much afraid of yawning or falling asleep during the readings; most of them read their own pieces. Original works. No cop-outs reciting Hemingway, Burns or Tennyson here. Fortunately, I stayed relatively awake during the whole session, which was interrupted by the muezzin from a nearby mosque.

Sorry about the wine bottle, Sharon. I'll practise.

KY's Christmas Eve Party
There was a surprise at the party: the attendance of ex-colleague WildGuy. At a birthday party last year, I found out the KY and WildGuy worked at KLCC, and assumed they'd eventually bump into each other. They did and are practically best friends now.

WildGuy hasn't changed; he's very much that pumped, angry, unrestrained, sexist, misogynistic, ultra-macho xenophobe he was a couple of years ago (still the same bundle of fun). I missed his frank and unvarnished assessments about everything, including myself. I also discovered that his angst remains at the same level, sober or otherwise.

Overall the party atmosphere was quite muted (but still intoxicating), at least up till the Secret Santa session; Fireangel, the Spice of Every Party was elsewhere that night. Though I knew why I couldn't drink, the word "allergy" disappeared from my vocabulary that evening, which was how I ended up being force-fed alcohol from a communal Grail. I also tore my knuckles open bashing the punching bag that hung in KY's kitchen (with some encouragement from WildGuy.

I made it home safe. Thankfully, there wasn't a single police roadblock.

Friday, 22 December 2006

Getting Wet in Johor

It was shades of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in our own backyard as Johor saw flood waters at levels never seen since half a century ago. Damage estimates and death tolls will inevitably rise like the waters, as the next few days of news will testify.

True to form, the politicians scapegoated Mother Nature, vainly hoping it would cover up deficiencies in the flood control and rescue capabilities (like the time they blamed a "squall line" with equally vain hopes, and also to imply a certain amount of sophistication on their part). When shown the offensive article, a colleague (whose hometown is in Muar), shook her head and sighed, "They'll say just about anything right now."

Of course they would. Why should that surprise me?

If I were to see signs in this tragedy, they would all bear the same message: being a "pivotal" part of your country doesn't mean you don't have to get your feet wet.

Tackling Tennyson - Sort Of

Encouraged by some regulars of Readings@Seksan's, I wrote about my impressions about this poem by Tennyson for a local poets' community blog. I didn't feel confident at first, but when told to "write my impressions about a poem of your choosing", it became easier.

Charge of the Light Brigade
first published in Puisi-poesy, 22 December 2006

A slip of the keyboard gave away my fondness for narrative poems, which included Robert Browning's Pied Piper of Hamelin, and Tennyson's Charge of The Light Brigade.

Charge was a bit more memorable because it commemorates an event that took place in one of the many battles fought during the Crimean War. From the moment I learned to read, I found fact more fascinating than fiction. This was evident in the number of encyclopaedias at home, one of which mentioned the infamous charge ("...the 600-odd riders charged towards the wrong guns!").

I first Tennyson's "account" of the charge during secondary school; the poem was part of a comprehension exercise. I vaguely remember flipping through all my English books looking for poetry and excerpts from books, more out of boredom than anything else; it was the only subject I excelled in without having to study. But I digress.

So, what was the Charge?

In the 19th century, an alliance of British, French and Turkish soldiers faced off the Russians in the Crimean War. The battle which saw Tennyson's Charge was to prevent the port of Balaclava, the British supply base, from falling into Russian hands. At one point during the battle, Russian soldiers managed to overrun a position manned by some Turks and made off with a small cache of British cannons. The Light Brigade, a detachment of lightly armed cavalry, was sent to retrieve the hardware.

However, the army commander who gave the order forgot to take the terrain into account. While he could follow the thieving Russians from his vantage point high above the battlefield, that path was not visible to the Light Brigade. They ended up charging into a narrow valley bristling with a live battery of guns manned by the Russian Don Cossacks. The army commander could only watch as the cavalry rode towards their doom.

Fortunately for the Light Brigade, all wasn't lost. The Don Cossacks, caught off-guard by the cavalry's reckless manoeuvre, didn't score as many kills as they should have. Unable to retrieve the stolen guns, the Light Brigade had to make do with the Don Cossacks.

While the Charge completely freaked out the Russians, it was less well-received at home. The usual finger-pointing and drama took place over who was to blame. It's all depressing when you realise all this hasn't changed much after two centuries. Nobody chose to fault the soldiers, who were eulogised by press and poet alike.

Warfare has since evolved, but the factors that made the Charge possible still haunts today's armies. When it eventually ends, who will pay homage to the US' Noble Three Thousand (and Counting)?

Friday, 15 December 2006

Some Water Cooler Conversation

"What? No way!" exclaimed the Tall Dude with Glasses at the office pantry's doorway. I'd just come back from lunch and was about to make some coffee-flavoured beverage.

"Yes, there's a tiny ring on the cap to help you pull it out to expose the hole," explains Tea Lady. From what I could see, Tall Dude and his ilk had no idea that there's a cap on the water cooler bottle that has to be removed before it's installed. That didn't surprise me.

"Whoa! Like, totally news, man!" he said, moving a stray strand of hair back into place. "We just plunk the whole bottle in there!"

I believed him, because there was evidence of that. Outside the pantry laid the said bottle. The removable cap had caved into the hole where the tube's supposed to go. Sometimes we get bottles that are sealed with plastic labels with more visible tabs, but they just ignore the obvious and puncture the seal anyway - before "plunking" it in. I wonder if they do that in "real life" as well.

"Well," said Tea Lady, "now that you know, don't do it again."

"Okay," said Tall Dude.

I entered the pantry a moment later. "What a frog-in-a-well," I cracked, probably within earshot of Tall Dude. Not that I care, anyway. Besides, I have almost seven years of experience in the office. Even so, one would be able to do the right thing with a bit of exploration. Specimens like Tall Dude are everywhere nowadays, no thanks to the education system.

"He's not the only one," Tea Lady told me. "The people upstairs do the same thing." A brief stop "upstairs" later in the day confirmed it. Where's the creativity, the constructive daring in today's youth? It makes one despair.

"Maybe we should have a water cooler usage seminar or something," I mused, half-serious about the notion. Other seminars worth conducting would include essentials like writing (with pen and paper), interpersonal social skills (without cellphones and the Internet), proper washroom habits, anger management, along with sex and driver's ed. And yes, respect for public property.

Tea Lady brushed it aside. "No, that's not necessary. But it does get frustrating when things get broken. They (presumably Accounts or Purchasing) get testy when requests come in. It's getting harder to get things fixed now."

I agreed. Since the building's administration left, faulty wiring, air-conditioning and water supply became bigger problems than they used to. "Why don't we record Tall Dude's statement and send it to them?" I suggested earnestly. "It'll make things easier, I'm sure."

Tea Lady balked. "That's not necessary, either. But thanks for the suggestion."

"No charge."

Monday, 4 December 2006

Why, It's My First Book Launch Too

As a spectator, that is.

The book launch went well; more so for me because I set out to 1Utama earlier than usual. I arrived around noon, so I killed some time at the Crossfire Arcade.

At the fifth level parking lot, I watched with incredulity at the two cars parked on a designated roadway, blocking my route. Two irate guards were already there, radioing for backup, which arrived not long afterwards. I watched with satisfaction as the guards transformed the plot of concrete into a secure RM50 VIP parking spot, complete with locks (wheel clamps). When a bunch of flummoxed youngsters found their car firmly clamped to the concrete my joy for the day was complete. They learned a valuable lesson.

Yvonne had returned from Los Angeles after a successful tumour-removal and brainstem implant surgery, and was officially launching her first book. It would've been a shame to miss it. Not only is she an author, celebrity and friend, she's also the local blogosphere's first bionic woman. I was disappointed with the low turnout among the local blogging celebs, but Kenny Sia more than compensated for it. His presence there was a surprise. Suanie and Jack were also present (and I neglected the Hoegaarden!).

After fixing a few glitches with the mini-amplifier, the launch was underway. Yvonne talked about herself and the story of how she finally got published, taking sips of water every five minutes or so (a side-effect of the surgery, a theory she later confirmed). A short Q&A session followed. Most of the questions were fielded by an elderly Caucasian man with neat handwriting.

I now have a signed copy of the book, which I finished within an hour. There wasn't much volume, but Yvonne's message was conveyed in a concise, direct manner, a blessing for people with short attention spans. "I'm Not Sick, Just a Bit Unwell" may sound cliché, but it's a nice, uplifting read. More proof that good things don't need to look big.