the backstage epiphany

where reality is so subjective it's entirely optional

Category Archives: Colloquies

And then there were Nine

Me: Did Jessie get her tattoos here or did she get them all in Australia?
She got them in Australia. Why?
I want to get new ones, so I’m on the hunt for a good artist. I didn’t like the one who did my last tattoo.
What! Why do you want new ones now?
Because I have 7, and my dad says to round them up to 8 because 7 is a bad number for Chinese. And I can’t decide between two new designs so I figured I’d get both and finish off with 9 tattoos. Do you know if 9 is a good number for Chinese?
I think 9 symbolizes completeness.
Oh really? You see — maybe my luck will change once I stop carrying around 7 with me!

It had been a while, longer than I realized, since I last felt it — that urge to get a new tattoo. Looking at my tattoos about 2 weeks ago, I realized I missed the adrenaline rush, the unforgiving screech of the needle, and the excruciating, yet intoxicating pain. And then I realized that I missed all that because I had relapsed into my pain-for-pain pattern, a pattern I haven’t gone through in more than two and a half years, since I got my last tattoo.

So I made an appointment with Julian Oh of Blackcat Tattoo Studio, who had been recommended to me some time ago, to have two new designs stabbed into me this past weekend. I’m not sure if it was because the foot is a much more sensitive part of the body or because I had forgotten how much the process hours, but the pain was blinding. Most of the time I was either sore from sitting with my leg up and foot twisted, or fighting the urge to twitch and kick, so much so that the next tattoo barely hurt in comparison.

I must admit that not since Kate Hellenbrand did my very first tattoo back in 2005 have I met an artist whose work I actually really liked — until now. Julian was extremely patient and allowed me to shift positions and stretch my leg when it was stiff and cramping, and he was nice enough not to tell me I was twitching and close to kicking him in the face. And so, besides being extremely effective in distracting me from all the things I’ve been ceaselessly worrying about over the past couple of weeks, these are the results of my 4-hour session with him:

It may be safe to say my tattoo-acquiring days are really at an end, because I’m of a certain age now and trying to embark on a career that involves people too young to be exposed to things such as tattoos and piercings. And even though I got most of my tattoos for a less-than-conventional reason, each experience was no less unique than the other, and if I could do it all over again, I would.

And here is the final tally of my tattoos, in chronological order:


The forbidden job

Becca: Apparently people are in trouble for discussing boob jobs on TV3.
Me: What!
Becca: Boob jobs are ‘a trivial issue which violates a woman’s dignity’. Not to mention they’re haram (forbidden). “The show’s official Facebook fan page also received criticism from female viewers who said they felt uncomfortable with the issue being talked about openly. It was also embarrassing to women, they said. They objected to the use of models, who were fully attired but the cameras had focused on their chests to visualise the topic being discussed.” Are you sure you want to join this religion? Oh dear…
Me: The religion doesn’t make the person. It’s the crazy ones who give the religion a bad rep.
Becca: Agreed… But unfortunately in this country the religion is controlled by the crazy ones. And the normal ones are prosecutable for being normal.
Me: Well, fortunately I do not need a boob job. But unless someone of another religion who actually wants me comes along, I’m happy to be left with the current prospects. I mean, look… Good Christian Gregory Chang didn’t want me.
Becca: That sounds very bad, yet funny.

You have to hand it to Becca. She looks out for me where nobody else thinks to look.

One word, too many meanings

To love or be in love?

Now that is the question. It is a question I have never stopped asking, from the time I was old enough to realize there was a difference between the two expressions.

Over the past 11 years, I have had conversations with several members of the opposite end of the chromosomal spectrum that have gone along one of several veins (in chronological order, based on my age and the level at which my understanding of the expressions was):

Him: I love you.
Me: Really? How do you know?
Him: (mild profanity in native tongue) I don’t know; I just do!

Him: I love you.
Me: Really? In what way?
Him: (pause) Well… that way, I guess.

Him: I love you.
Me: You love me or you’re in love with me?
Him: Ahhh…. it’s the same thing!

Him: I’m in love with you.
Why? You barely know me.
Him: (silence)

It’s an issue I’ve always broached from time to time with the men in my life because (a) men seem to feel things like love differently, (b) men can sometimes be remarkably like women when it comes to feeling things like love, and (c) men so rarely think about things like love that every once in a while it’s good to get the wheels up there going, a realization I had after my most recent attempt to ask this question (“I can’t think about things like that, baby! Go do your research on someone else!”). The more coherent — though questionable — response I managed to coax out a little while later was: “I guess if you’re in love with someone it means you feel more for them. When things start to go bad then it becomes just love.”

Aside from giving my relationship the shelf life of a dairy product (“When things start to go bad”), this statement also gave me the chills. Is that really all it comes down to? I wondered. Is that the easiest way for me to know when he’s in love with me and when he loves me? And then the even more terrifying question wormed its way into my head: When he says he loves me now, which one does he really mean? Coming from someone whose philosophy on love seems to be as simple as “I love you, you love me, so let’s just get on with it,” I had to wonder if there was more behind his breakdown of the expressions.

There is no doubt that most relationships start off with both parties unable to get enough of each other; the ‘honeymoon phase’, its tacky name is. But if after a year, two years, or even five years, they still feel exactly the same way about each other, is that just a prolonged honeymoon phase (also possibly known as denial) or an extraordinary kind of passion that only a fortunate few get to experience? And if the passion or honeymoon phase wears off, does that mean they don’t feel the same way anymore and the shelf life is suddenly diminished, or have they just settled into a comfortable arrangement where, as long as each makes sure the other doesn’t die in their sleep and the sex is still decent, they’re happy enough to just love each other?

I somehow believe that it is possible to love someone and be in love at the same time. But if there are others who believe that one has to overrule the other, then where is the relationship headed? It seems that in this day and age where the partners are taken on as easily as florists and paperboys, the simple act of love is both too much and yet not enough anymore. And I am still no closer to getting the answer I’ve searched so long for.

So it is a question I will never stop asking.

Spell it, don’t quell it

“I had an email from someone this week that read, “Da ut ov 2day are really annoying me!” Ut? I had to say this 20 times before I understood it. Youth has now become ut. Haven’t we taken enough from them – now we have to take their letters?” – Shazia Mirza

Me: Why are you living with people still?
Julian: Coz I like living with ppl. Didn’t u know I dun really like being alone? Pretty sure u knew that.
Me: Not liking to be alone is one thing. Not liking to share a bathroom and living space is another. I thought most adults like their own space.
Julian: The property market in Syd(ney) is insane. N I’m not willing to fork out dat much cash to live alone.
Me: Fair enough. I think I’m too much of a hermit.
Julian: Well, wouldn’t it b easier to just rent a room from someone if u want to b a hermit? So much hassle if your name is on d lease n all d bills.
Me: My name was on the lease and all the bills for 4 years…
Julian: U rented a place for 4 years?!! I’ve moved about 3 times in d last 4 years! Look who’s d hermit now. Lol
Me: I rented 2 places in 4 years, but I lived alone in both places. And moving a lot makes you a nomad, not a hermit.
Julian: Hahaahh. Yes Ms Foo. Once again I stand corrected. Dun think I’ve ever met anyone who is so uncompromising with d English language.
Me: You wouldn’t compromise on your Chinese, would you?
Julian: I meant u never let a mistake go uncorrected. N has anyone ever notice that u never EVER use “chat” language. No brb’s, no lol’s, no smiley face. Always prim n proper good ‘ol fashioned English. I think if u were an english teacher, ur kids would either have perfect English or they’d just quit d language.
Me: I do use brb, like when I have to rush off to a meeting or the bathroom.
Julian: But dats driven by productivity, not laziness or just pure slack. Which all we other mere mortals r guilty of.

In my defense, I only became a spelling and grammar Nazi two years ago; prior to that I only watched out for my own writing and didn’t let others’ bother me too much. It started out as a mere idiosyncrasy when I first got to know Greg and corrected some of his mistakes, then it became a habit when I was studying Linguistics in college and undergoing my TEFL training in Boston, and now it has become something of a sixth sense because of my job. That I only correct the people I care about is a sign of self-restraint from correcting every other mistake I see or hear around me.

My stand on not using the ‘chat language’ has remained unchanged ever since I learnt to use IRC and ICQ some 12 years ago: English, and every other language, for that matter, should be written and spelt the way God — or at least the dictionary — intended.

In an age where texting, Instant Messaging and emailing have become so much more dominant than writing letters by hand, I suppose it would be inevitable that people would become more inclined to use such abbreviations. But when they start sending text messages that look like this: “Hi, I ope you av a gr8 day. Call me La8tr,” it’s difficult not to feel something very like contempt because something, somewhere, has gone wrong. On one hand, the sender was simply texting the way they speak (dropping the voiceless fricative [h] is a common phenomenon in British English), and on the other, they were just plain lazy. In that message, 10 characters are actually spaces, so at different points during the construction of the other measly 34 characters, the sender simply could not bear the task of keying in a few extra characters to make themselves more coherent and less juvenile. What’s worse is when such messages are sent via email; if you have time to sit at a computer, wait for pages to load due to an abysmal Internet connection, and type on a full keyboard, you have time to type out a intelligible email message.

It’s not that I don’t condone the use of the ‘chat language’; God knows I would eventually have had to get used to seeing it the way I had to get used to the fact that Malaysians will insist on using the horrifically redundant ‘double-confirm’. I just don’t believe in using abbreviations like ‘LOL’ and ‘TTYL’ because ‘hahaha’ and just plain ‘later’ make more sense to me. I do, however, use ‘BRB’ because under normal circumstances I would say, “I’ll be right back,” and I switch to the abbreviation when I have only just enough time to do so because I have to run to a meeting or my bladder refuses to be still.

I suppose we all have our own ways of being lazy. Some will type, “Itz rainin and jam so we r goin 2 be la8. Sorrie!” I’ll just go, “Rain. Jam. Fuck.”

And, for all its intents and purposes, I hate the word ‘chat’.

Separate togetherness

Carrie: What do you want?
Big: I don’t know. Let’s save an hour. Why don’t you just tell me what I want?
No, really, in your mind, what is the ideal living situation for two people in a relationship?
Big: Exactly what we have.
Carrie: And what is that?
Big: I have my place, you have yours. We’re together when we want to be, we’re apart when we want to be.
Like Woody and Mia.
Big: Before Soon-Yi.
Carrie’s voice-over: Ever since Woody Allen described waving to Mia Farrow across the Park, single men in Manhattan have yearned for that kind of separate togetherness. I felt like the last dinosaur. Was I the one who needed to adapt? Was my view of a relationship extinct?

I’ve deduced from this that I’m at a crossroads between being T-Rex and Woody Allen. Or Mia Farrow.

Not for the claustrophobic

Becca: Guess what?
Me: (struggling out of stupor) Oh dear, what?
Becca: Jeremy knows you! And he knows Afham too!
Me: What? How?
Becca: You know last night I told you our plans to go to Rootz were scrapped because we had to go to Phuture? Turns out we were going to Phuture to meet your friend, that Shaun Leong!
Me: (now fully awake) What? How does he know Shaun?
Becca: I don’t know! When I met him I said, “I’ve heard of you, from Sandra and Afham,” and then Jeremy pounces on and goes, “Wait, how do you know Afham?” And I said, “His girlfriend is my best friend!” And then he asked, “What’s his girlfriend’s name?” And I said, “Sandra,” and he goes, “Sandra what?” and I said, “Sandra Foo.” And he said, “Wait, isn’t that a Chinese name? I’ve met her. Afham’s girlfriend doesn’t look Chinese.”
Me: Are you sure he meant me, and not some other girl from Afham’s patchwork quilt of relationships past?
Becca: Well, look, you don’t look Chinese when you have a full face on, so I’m sure he meant you. Either that, or he met some other girl on a night when you weren’t out with Fham, but let’s not be pessimistic.
Me: But when I told him you were coming to Rootz but then switched to Phuture, I mentioned you were going with Jeremy, there appeared to be no ringing of bells.
Becca: To be fair, it’s quite a common name. Plus he said that he’s known Fham for ‘years’, so they must know each other quite well, even if one doesn’t quite remember the other.
Me: Wow. Wow. First Yu Tim, and then Paul Poh, and now Jeremy Chan. Our worlds have collided, which means they’ve become too, too small. This is very bad.
Becca: I know. The world is not safe anymore.

This is one of the reasons I didn’t want to come back to this country. In the U.S. I would have been safely living in obscurity, meeting new people wherever I went without running the risk of bumping into people from the past. But if you live in Kuala Lumpur and have even some semblance of a social life, chances are the circles you run in will contain people that you knew from years ago and are now frantically trying to forget. In the (almost) ten months that I’ve been in this relationship, I’ve reconciled with people I haven’t seen in a good thirteen-odd years and felt somewhat glad that I’ve seen them again, met entirely new people altogether, discovered a few of them are related to some good friends I’ve had, and run into other people who know them whom I had, until then, successfully blocked out of my memory.

Afham thinks he probably knew the man in question from his Sunway College days. I suppose to find out now that someone my best friend sort-of dated back when she was seventeen also happens to know my boyfriend and appears to have met me before, despite my complete failure to recall ever having met him, probably shouldn’t have surprised me; if anything, it only makes me look bad for the measly amount of attention I pay to others around me.

Race, relationship, reflexology

Last night Afham and I tried foot reflexology for the very first time in my life. I’ve always loved a good massage, but I used to think that foot reflexology would be redundant if I’m already getting a full body massage, and Afham’s tendency to be ticklish below the knee made him apprehensive about getting a foot massage. However, after spending the last few weekends going out on both Friday and Saturday nights, and feeling the snowball effect from wearing 4-inch heels every single day, I decided it was time to give foot reflexology a try. And despite his misgivings, Afham was willing to try it as well.

So after dinner last night, we made a wild stab at one of the numerous foot reflexology and massage outlets in Sunway Damansara and got an hour’s foot and shoulder massages. It was, by far, the most effective, and the most painful massage I’ve ever had, and this is coming from someone who has sat through seven tattoos and never told a masseuse to lighten the pressure. It was all right up until the masseuse started kneading my heels and calves, which hurt so badly that even the cheesy Taiwanese Human Tetris game show on TV could not distract me; next to me, Afham was cringing and huffing in the chair next to me as he was torn between pain and ticklishness, but could not tell the masseuse to let up because they were both Chinese nationals.

It was this that led to a conversation — in Mandarin — I would normally never have, much less with anyone I’ve just met:

Masseuse 1: Miss, why can’t he speak Chinese?
Me: Because he’s not Chinese.
Masseuse 1:
Oh, then what is he?
Me: He’s Malay.
Masseuse 1: Oh… But he can still watch that Chinese show and laugh?
Me: It looks funny enough to him, I suppose. But he can understand a litte bit of Chinese.
Masseuse 2: Waaah, but he’s very fair! And so good-looking. He doesn’t look Malay at all!
Masseuse 1: Is he your boyfriend?
Me: Yes.
Masseuse 1: But are you Chinese?
Me: Yes, I am.
Masseuse 2: Oh, really? You don’t look very Chinese. So if you marry him, you will have to convert, right?
Me: Oh, we don’t talk about that!
Masseuse 2: Why? You must talk about it. You are old enough to get married already!
Masseuse 1: And if you marry him and he wants to take another wife, would you be able to accept it?
Me: Um… I guess not.

From that conversation, I deduced that:

  1. My boyfriend apparently does not look Malay to anyone who isn’t Malay;
  2. Even without makeup on, I don’t look Chinese enough to be recognized as one, even by fellow Chinese (nationals, at that);
  3. Our religious differences, and my refusal to address them are apparently two things that have come to be of concern to everyone except myself; and
  4. As soon as one is old enough to be married — which, these days, can be anywhere from the age of 10, or whenever increasingly early puberty strikes — every relationship is automatically inducted into the Marriage Potential List.

And after all that, we took one of the center’s business cards before we left. I suppose now that the masseuses have satisfied their curiosity over our races, religions and relationship, a more peaceful session wouldn’t be too far off.

Fighting the System

It had been a good day so far: I was up fairly early, a result of having consumed alcohol the night before, and was able to dash out to 1Utama to pick up the dress I had put on hold at Topshop before going to Bangsar Shopping Center for my manicure. Traffic was smooth, the single greatest advantage of living in a city which is subjected to large-scale exoduses during the festive seasons, and I didn’t have to prowl the parking aisles for too long before I was able to find a spot.

And then, as I made my way through Sri Hartamas towards Bangsar, wondering quite accurately if the speed traps that highway is so famous for would be set today, the eve of Chinese New Year, I was waved to pull over at the side of the highway, where several policemen were running the roaring trade they are so well-known for, especially during the festive seasons. So, knowing I had been going well over the speed limit, I pulled over, driver’s license already in hand, hoping I wouldn’t be held up too long as I was fifteen minutes away from my appointment.

Cop 1: Miss, you Chinese?
Me: Yes.
Cop 1: Oh… gong xi fa cai (Happy New Year), ya…
Me: Thank you.
Cop 2: You want pay saman (summons) RM300?
Me: (horrified at the amount) Now?
Cop 2: You want settle now?
Me: Well… no, because I don’t have cash. Just give me the ticket.
Cop 1: How much cash you have?
Me: None. I don’t carry cash.
Cop 1: Cash don’t have?
Me: No. Nobody’s stupid enough to carry cash these days. I only have my debit card.
Cop 1: Oh… Miss, are you stewardess?
Me: (highly indignant at the insulting stereotype) No, I do P.R.!
Cop 1: Mana you kerja (Where do you work)?
Me: Bank. Now, can you please just give me the ticket? I have to go.
Cop 2: OK, OK, we send saman to your house.

Obviously, I had been lying through my teeth when I insisted I hadn’t any cash on me, because that is part of their roaring trade: forcing bribes out of people who don’t want to be slapped with a speeding ticket and a hefty fine. But I refused to give them the satisfaction of getting what they set up the speed trap for and perpetuate the blatant, shameless corruption that goes on in this cursed country, even if I had to swallow the violent urge to say, “I’m not about to bribe you, if that’s what you’re asking.”

On another note, I realized the most effective way to get the cops off your back in this country is to speak English, and only English, to them. Their completely inability to converse in English cripples their intention of being intimidating, and they realize fairly quickly that it would be easier to extort money out of someone else who will speak their language.

And maybe someone else stupid enough to work with the System.