Go with a smile!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Steph Micayle

We’re coming to the end of the third year of the New Normal. (Assuming that year 0 is GE 2011). I haven’t really been following the news ever since the shock WP win in the PE by-election, because I’m away and I have my business to take care of. But this video that has been making the rounds recently gave me something to think about. The headline pissed me off: why I’m not proud to be a Singaporean. I couldn’t really articulate what’s so wrong about that statement. Of course she knows that the statement is clickbait. She knows that a lot of people will talk about her, although I’m sure that the sheer scale is a bit of a surprise.

I couldn’t stand that angmor accent and the vain pottiness, and the cleavage. But I carried on looking at the video because you know, she has a really fine pair of bazongas and medical research shows that looking at boobs everyday can improve your health. She says that Singaporeans are small minded and not creative. She says that the government is repressive and does not always tell the truth in the media reports. So after 10+ minutes of feasting my eyes on the exquisite shape of her tits, I’ve come to think hard about this.

I actually don’t disagree with her point about Singaporeans lacking creativity. I don’t disagree with the small-mindedness and the government censorship. When I was her age, I was ranting about the same things that she was ranting about. I suppose I’m disappointed for two reasons:

First, I was disappointed that I had ranted about these things 20 years ago, and it doesn’t seem to be very different. Maybe we have made baby steps. When GCT took over LKY in 1990 there was a mood that things were going to be different, that it would be a kinder, gentler era. In some ways it was, but the rate of change left much to be desired. It was a more creative, more open era, but still short of what could have been achieved. And in many respects, things went backwards during the Goh Chok Tong era.

Second, and these comments are directed at Steph Micayle, or whatever the fuck she wants to call herself on youtube. All these problems about Singapore do not really build up to your conclusion. OK, I’m constantly aware that in Singapore I’m surrounded on all sides by people who are not really creative. But it has never stopped me from being creative. I have always been one of the most creative people in my circle, and I’m quite happy for it to stay that way. I don’t have a problem that I can say distressing and shocking things to my friends and family and have them burst out laughing. It’s not a problem because this vacuum of creativity is exactly that thing that creates a niche for my own creativity. A truly creative person will not look at the lack of creativity around him and see a problem. It is at worst a problem that creativity itself can solve, and even better, it gives him plenty of material to work with.

Which brings me to the next point. Why are you not proud about Singapore, especially if you are an artist? Of all the qualities of an artist, I regard patriotism to be one of the most important thing. Because the nation is your canvas. It is your material, and the source of your inspiration. You will be writing about people around you. You will be telling people stories of your life. You will derive your own personal identity from the nation. In the words of the dearly departed Lou Reed, “anybody who ever played a part would not turn around and hate it”.

In his classic book “Imagined communities” Benedict Anderson paralleled the rise of nations in the 19th century to the rise of the novel as an art form. The structure of a novel creates the context for us to think about the nation. As a rendering of the world around you, albeit a very specific part, rooted in time and context. Just like the nation, just like the people around you. While it is possible to disregard your immediate circumstances and your surroundings in the pursuit of your art, it is nearly impossible. It is like saying goodbye to Mother Earth. Mother Earth is the source of everything.

Even the dissidents love their country to such a great extent. Take somebody like Alfian for example. No matter how bitchy he is about the ruling party, I don’t doubt that he’s a patriot. I don’t doubt that there’s a lot about Singapore that he loves, and it comes through in his writing. And even a band like Humpback Oak, one of Singapore’s favourite alternative bands. Yes, the music sounds somewhat like REM or American Music Club. Yes, it’s very 90s alternatives. But the lyrics are about Singaporean themes – claustrophobia, anxiety, loss of freedom. You’re not supposed to like everything about Singapore. But if you don’t identify with being a Singaporean, you’re not really being true to yourself. And you can’t really be a real artist if you’re not true to yourself. You might come up with some pretty plastic shiny bauble, you might be the unprecedented first Singaporean in the finals of some K pop competition I have never ever heard about but you will never be something that has a real soul.

And most recently and most importantly – Anthony Chen with his prize winning movie “Ilo Ilo” painted a not flawless portrait of Singapore, but one with great love and tenderness. He’s gotten far enough to reverse decades of our government trying to nuke the arts scene.

I don’t disguise my Singaporean-ness in America. I try not to rub their nose in it (not always successful I’m afraid) but I’m not going to hide the Singaporean-ness in me just because. Sometimes they don’t know or understand what it’s about, or they don’t care. There is always this response to it: I DON’T GIVE A FUCK. I try to pick up Americanisms but I can’t unlearn my Singaporeanness, because it keeps me rooted.

At the same time, though, the first time around when I was in the states, in Snowy Hill, I had maybe read too much anti-imperialist, anti-American propaganda. I probably had a huge chip on my shoulder when it came to mainstream American culture, the loudness, the gaudiness, the in-your-face-ness, the crassness. But later on when I learnt to love it, I saw the good things about it – it’s also pretty warm and fluffy – sorda. So in a certain way, I was like a citizen of the US, and I had to, if not become an outright patriot, learn to make peace with it. Not being able to do so was one of my biggest mistakes in Snowy Hill, and one that I tried to overcome in the intervening years I spent in Singapore.

But that aside - what a lovely pair of boobs* you have!

* sorry dear if you want to be respected as more than just a sex object you have to earn it.


Sunday, January 05, 2014

A Police Affair

I live in a nice neighbourhood. It’s not exactly my kind of neighbourhood because there’s a stretch where there are a lot of bars, and there are wild parties there every weekend (and sometimes when it’s not a weekend). But it’s considered a nice neighbourhood in Mexico. But it’s also not exactly not my kind of neighbourhood. I used to really dislike the frat houses back in Snowy Hill but I’m starting to discover, there is a bit of a frat boy in me.

Anyway, the point is that I’m rooming with an old lady who I met off craigslist. I call her cougar landlady as a joke (she’s never made a pass at me, but I wonder sometimes). She’s also a little stretched financially. I don’t exactly know, but people who have to take two jobs and work 7 days a week are probably overstretched. I don’t know why she chose to live in my neighbourhood, but she seems to like it here. But it’s a bitch to get the internet. She wouldn’t subscribe to the internet, as far as I know. My other choice of a place to live, which had slightly lower rent was another place in not such a great neighbourhood, but it was a really nice house and it had internet, a printer, and a nice big room. So obviously I made a tradeoff there.

Anyway, because of my lack of internet, I’ve often had to go to the University of Mexico and enjoy their facilities. It’s 45 minutes by bus each way – I neglect to drive because it’s uphill and it consumes a lot of fuel. At home, we’re mooching a neighbour’s wireless, with their tacit consent. But I don’t want to be doing heavy stuff like stream video or surf porn. So if I had to do heavy stuff like preparing auctions, shopping, attending massive open online courses or whatever, I had to go to the University of Mexico.

On new year’s eve, I had this crazy idea that I was going to pass it in the master’s lab, which I still have access to. I think they give students access to the facilities for 1 more year after graduation, which is only fair – out of state tuition is a real pain! So I brought some food, I brought a can of beer. I know that’s illegal but I liked being naughty.

As was the case when I took that bus trip up to the University of Mexico, I called up my sister, and we talked for a while. And then I got off the bus and got off the phone from her, and when I was in the master’s lab, I continued talking to her. In a twist that would be ironic in hindsight, we discussed alcoholism and delirious tremens. I said that it was funny that alcohol was a health drink in small amounts, and probably even worse than heroin in large amounts.

Now the master’s lab was empty, of course, because the university had shut down for one week, other than essential services. I wasn’t going to expect anybody to be around. Near the end of the conversation, I went to the graduate student’s lab (using my ID of course) and then found some forks and spoons. I thought, OK, now I’ll heat up my meal. And then I did something spectacularly stupid. I walked out of the master’s lab without my ID.

That was the third time that I had locked myself out of something in little more than three years. First was my van in Singapore, then was my dorm, which was incidentally just a stone’s throw away from the computer science building, and now it was the master’s lab.

At least I still had my phone in my hand. Just like when I was locked out of my dorm. I think being distracted by a phone conversation is very hazardous to your health.

I was thinking about how I was going to get out of this mess. I had intended to stay overnight, so I didn’t have a way to get back home until morning. This was winter, so I wasn’t going out into the cold – once I left the building, I wouldn’t be able to get back in. And I would be walking away from the laptop which I had locked in the lab. So I had nothing, no graduate student’s lounge, no computer lab, no internet, no way home, no laptop, just a motherfucking phone in my hand. Maybe I could wait for the custodian to come? Yes, I’ve pulled an all-nighter in that room before so I know that a custodian comes in at 6-7 in the morning to empty the trash. Well, no. The department was shut down for the winter, and nobody would ever visit the building other than a graduate student or two who would be striving to meet some deadlines, or who would probably want to avoid all the parties out there by pretending there wasn’t anything else out there other than your fucking thesis. Did I want to wait until daybreak before a grad student turned up?

So one thing I thought of doing was just to send an innocuous message to one or two people I sorda knew who were still in Mexico. I didn’t say “help help I’m in this idiotic situation”, oh no. I just wanted to see if they were out partying past midnight, and if they wouldn’t mind swinging by to rescue me from my self-inflicted mess. No dice. Nobody that I texted would text back until the next morning.

So I had to get the last resort, which was to call up the fucking University of Mexico police. I called up my sis again and asked for the phone number, and then I dialed the help desk and waited for the guy to come. I was sorda reluctant to take this step, because I was in the purgatory state of “you’re not a student anymore but there’s a time lag before we deactivate your card”. Because if I messed up and they cut away my access, I would lose a semi-nice place to hang out, with free wireless, and full and unrestricted use of a printer. There was another threat about that too but it didn’t cross my mind until later.

So there was this guy, he came by. As usual, he was overweight, and bulging. No wonder they call them pigs in this country. He was just like giving me a long lecture which was very annoying. He said, do you have ID? I said no, if I had ID I wouldn’t be stuck in this bloody mess. Then he saw it, and he drew a breath. Perched on the table, next to my student ID, was that empty can of beer. He said, why are you drinking in here?

But let’s begin at the beginning. He said he was going to charge me for opening the door. I was like, charge me money or charge me in court? And then he said, you took me from my beat, and I could be out there saving some life right now, and you took me away from that work because of some frivolous thing. I was thinking, yeh, with that wonderful physical specimen of yours, fatass! Then he asked me if that was my can of beer. Since this was late and I couldn’t think very quickly, I just admitted that it was mine, because I didn’t want to lie to a cop. Later on it occurred to me that it was a lie that I could have gotten away with, that somebody using the lab before me left it there. But well too late for that.

So he was explaining to me that a “public place” means anywhere other than a restaurant licensed to serve alcoholic beverages, and your own home. Even this fucking room that I could not enter without his help was a “public place”. And then he told me about meeting a guy who was so out of it while he was drunk that his pants were dropping off. Well that’s impressive but earlier on my sister told me an even more harrowing story about delirious tremens. But I didn’t answer him, I just looked at him blankly and gamely tried to feign an interested expression while not hiding the fact that I was feigning it.

Because police officers on the beat are lonely people. Nobody listens to them. People don’t think that they’re here to protect them against public nuisances. Most people think they are the public nuisance. He just needs to rant. And I could tell that he probably decided not to charge (as in file charges, not write me a bill) me for that open container but in exchange I had to listen to his long rant. Then I said, officer, this is not a keg, this is not a six pack, this is a can. It is a very modest amount of alcohol and doesn’t lead to anything. (Actually it probably contributed to me making an extremely tragic mistake but anyway… ) And what he said about dragging him away from his sacred duties – well the University of Mexico is probably one of the most policeable campuses you will find. The people there are very well behaved, orderly. Very few louts. You ought to be thankful I’m here to save you from your boredom. And tonight there may be a few parties, but since this is also winter break, only a few of them are actually on campus.

He said that this was a field interview, that means it was a questioning not taking place in a police station. Well that was probably exciting, because I was in semi-trouble. All my years in school, and I hadn’t managed one visit to the principal’s office. Finally I was a lawbreaker!

Later on, it occurred to me that it wasn’t a trivial thing for him to be saving my ass. I would really have been screwed if he didn’t turn up. But he probably knew that because I told him that I was going to stay until daybreak, which was 3-4 more hours away. But now somebody else in the computer science department would know that this creepy sieteocho guy spent the wee hours of New Year’s Day hauled up in a computer lab, and that didn’t appeal to me. Maybe they would find out that I downloaded some porn. But if the police officer had anything to be upset about, it would probably be because he had to say that his first call of 2014 was the dreaded “help me I’m locked out” which is most probably the least glamorous part of his duties.

And if I were honest with myself, I knew that I deserved a kick in the ass. Or maybe this was a sign telling me that I probably had better things to do with my life than to be cooped up mooching wireless from a university I was supposed to be graduating from.

Well that’s a question that I could be pondering about in 2014. My birthday is near the new year since I’m a Capricorn. So twice over this is the turn of a year for me. I’ve managed to supposedly escape from a supposedly dead end existence. But now that I’m in a new country, and now that my boss is even talking about procuring me a green card, it seems like there are a lot of possibilities. So what the fuck am I going to do about that? Or maybe I could just have a quiet boring life. OK, Capricorns are supposed to have a special talent for enduring boring shit but life is probably not supposed to be that boring. I don’t know.