Sense and Sensitivity

26 07 2008

I write this today to remind myself to watch it.

There are certain situations that occur as one trudges along this journey we call life that demands a certain amount of consciousness for others. Simple things, like apologising when you accidentally bump into someone while walking, thanking someone when he offers you something, or giving your seat to those who need it more, these are the moments that slip by just as easily as, if not more easily than, acting upon them.

These are the exact moments that I always find myself missing. And they further amplify my guilt, not to mention the displeasure of those involved, when those involved are the closest people to me.

i constantly remind people that we do not live alone. With the 4 billion people in this world, not to mention today’s social connectivity with these same 4 billion through the advent of the mobile phone, television, Internet, satellite technology, you just have to be careful whose toes you step on. Ironically, these same social tools which we can use to learn to live with each other, are the things we have grown to take for granted, just as we grow to take for granted the people who are most important to us in the best of times.

I have seen myself become one of those idiots that have not done my due diligence in the service of those around me. And my crimes are many.

My wife has seen and felt on numerous occasions how I let my guard down and manifested my insensitivity to her needs, and i have in turn witnessed and bore the full strength of her ire in all these events. She has also reminded me countless times of the many situations where I should have thought of her family and friends before myself, from missing the opportunity to offer the slightest gestures of courtesy to manifesting unnecessary displeasure over serious misunderstandings that should have been avoided at all costs. I won’t even start about my own family; for the amount of injustices I have brought on them, I may as well be disowned.

But I don’t do all this on purpose. God, who does? I have only this to say about myself, and it by no means helps my case in any way. I get caught up by the things that are on my plate at any given moment, and when a situation where another person or a group of people require my attention, the priorities I set for myself at that moment get in the way of doing what’s really right.

And what’s really right? That’s the one question I’m still learning to answer. It is also where the word “sense” comes into play, something I also find myself severely lacking at the best of times. As the youngest of 4 children (spoilt rotten and forgiven more often for mistakes than I deserve), and the least accomplished of my siblings and even my peers (having earned a diploma a full 8 years later than everybody else in the world, in a discipline I’m not even utilising in my current career), it seems easy to use my life as an excuse for my actions. But to be where I am today, there is no excuse.

i write this as a reminder to myself, and for people to remind me, of the person I am. As for an answer, or a solution? I don’t know. I guess I’m still trying to find one, trying to learn. Just as I know I’m probably going to be trying for the rest of my life.

Time and time again, I disappoint. When will I ever learn?





Friends Will Be Friends IV: The Flower of Amsterdam

25 07 2008

With reference to Parts I and II

Lydia (or more endearingly Bobo in some circles, though she has since renounced the nickname) was, and still is, more than a friend to my wife. They had met in a polytechnic orientation camp; Lydia was a freshie, and my wife was one of the group leaders. In a rouse to get closer to the freshies, my wife had masqueraded as one of them and sat next to Lydia, who immediately hit it off with her and became fast friends, before my wife was ratted out by a clueless lecturer who asked her why she wasn’t in class.

Lydia’s mother had always regarded my wife as her own daughter, and had told her that “Fate brought the two of you together, and nothing can ever tear you apart. You are as good as a daughter to me, and I know you will take care of my daughter like she was your own sister as well.”

I first met Lydia 6 years back when I was just starting to date my wife and heard a friend of hers needed help with her actual day wedding photography. Being a fresh boyfriend only too ready to impress, I only too readily agreed to assist her in helping out a friend I hardly knew.

Lydia’s wedding day was to eventually cause a 5-year-old bad impression on me.

After the wedding, I sent some videos of Lydia’s happy day to a guy I knew who did post production work to compile into a DVD for Lydia. I remembered pulling a few big favours to ensure Lydia got the DVD done properly, but what I forgot was to get the DVD done promptly. I received a call from Lydia about a week or two after, which was when the whole trouble started.

I was first struck by the odd tone of voice Lydia used to ask me if the DVD was ready. It was not, and I was then summarily reprimanded over the phone for taking too long for so simple a task. I listened to her rants, thinking to myself, “What the hell…? I thought I was doing you a favour!” My conversation with Lydia only lasted a couple of minutes, after which I reached a point where the only thing I could do was pass the phone to my wife before I said something really bad and things really got out of hand.

For the next five years, I tried to avoid meeting with her as much as I could, which was not entirely difficult, for she had married a Dutch citizen, and was moving to Amsterdam before the year was out. When we did meet, I was less than polite, and often my wife would just decide not to bring me along to any get-togethers of any sort that involved her presence.

And thus the story went, unresolved differences collecting dust on a shelf for five years without a second thought. Until Sunday night two weeks ago.

**********

Lydia had returned from Amsterdam a couple of months earlier, among other reasons, to be with her her mother, who was due for neurosurgery earlier this month to remove a tumour in her brain. She called my wife a while after she had somewhat settled down, and heard of our plans for the wedding. Eventually she was able to put aside the more pressing affair of her mother’s condition to agree to be one of my wife’s sisters for the wedding.

In the course of the discussions with Lydia on Sunday night’s “brothers and sisters” meeting, my wife had asked Lydia, “You’re here for your mother, you should be concentrating on staying with her instead of messaing around with us.” To which Lydia replied, “Your wedding is only one day. For the things you did for me for my wedding, this is the least that I could do.”

Lydia had, in fact, volunteered to do our actual day photography, upon hearing of our troubles getting our other friend to commit to the job and his non-appearance at the gathering that night.

After 5 years, when I first saw Lydia again on Sunday night, the bite of that telephone conversation was still raw in my mind. I had not expected anything more than the fun and games a sister would have on the hapless groom the morning when he would have to try to fetch the bride out of her parents’ domain. When my wife told me about her volunteering her services, I wondered if I was wrong about her.

And then Michelle came up with her proposal. Michelle’s idea was to get Lydia to supplement the professional photographer’s work with the cameras we had, and the fact that she was such a close friend would mean the quality of her photos would by no means be any less than the most heartfelt work a photographer of any calibre could offer to a friend. I lost all notion of my grudge against her when I saw her eagerness and readiness to help out a friend without a second thought.

Later, as I was sharing a smoke with her in my balcony, I told her one of the main reasons why it took so long for me to consent to Michelle’s suggestion to hire a photographer was because of her. I told her my grievances against her the last 5 years and how that suddenly went down the balcony drain that very moment, retelling the story of what had happened that fateful phone call five years ago, how I had thought of her at the time all the way till that moment, and asked for her forgiveness.

The flower of Amsterdam and the Ah Huay of my wife’s social life gave me an endearingly blank stare. She hd absolutely no idea what the hell I was talking about.

So five years ago, I didn’t think I deserved getting scolded from someone I barely knew for doing her a favour without asking for anything in return. This night, I didn’t think I deserved her return of the same favour. And then in a moment of rare honesty between two almost complete strangers that could have turned into a Hallmark moment of forgiveness and grace, she tells me she didn’t even know I was pissed with her all this time. Hmm.

Obviously we’re all okay now. I’m still recovering from the soreness of my slapping myself in the forehead for realising how stupid I was the last 5 years.





The Wedding Post Mortem – I’m Gonna Miss Being a Kid (Part 2)

23 07 2008

Welcome to Part 2, the sombre side of things. For those of you who just joined us, you might want to take a look at Part 1, though it isn’t entirely necessary.

The experience of a wedding is not for the faint-hearted. Fun as my wedding celebrations process was, the amount of planning in the areas of logistics, organisation, planning and finance is enough to make a grown man cry and his wife-to-be scream. Did it happen to us? Hoo yeah. But that’s where your friends come in. If you’re not the very social type and don’t have people around you that you can properly trust and that isn’t family, your wedding planning is gonna be a damn lonely affair. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have a small group of our own personal heroes that made the things we hoped could happen, happen.

That being said, I would encourage any couple who is legalising their union to please hold a wedding. Hold a big, expensive one, with a lot of stuff in it, all them bells ‘n’ whistles. Do it in a good restaurant with good food and responsible managers. And invite a minimum of 200 people. And get as many friends involved as possible. And think up the wackiest possible things to do to entertain your guests.

It might end up being fun, or it may not. But whichever way it goes, and no matter how many words I put into this blog to explain my experience and how it affects me, you just got to do it to yourself, because it’s going to be a fucking wake-up call.

**********

It was our wedding planning that redefined (or “undefined”) my thinking of what friendship means. Right up to this point, I thought the people I call friends, the people I don’t call friends, and the people I stopped calling friends, was pretty well-defined in my spectrum. Looking at what our friends had done for me to make this wedding happen made me see my social circle in an entirely different light. The friends we had with us that night were friends that give without a second thought. The friends my wife and I were that night were friends in need. And the ones I blamed for not being there for me the night the wedding planner attacked were more in need of friends than I was in need of them.

It is not easy to come to this point, where one stops laying blame and starts empathising. I can only say, now that I’ve seen a friend in need from my own experience, that laying blame is the stuff that breaks relationships, tears families apart, creates crimes, starts wars. So, don’t.

**********

The wedding dinner itself also proved an eye-opener for me. We had only wanted to provide some form of entertainment to an otherwise frivolous, somewhat inane event that involved two people that most of the event’s attendees didn’t even know. We wanted to do a show, to keep people involved as an audience, and to keep us involved as a couple, to our family, our family’s family, and everyone’s friends. What we didn’t anticipate was their response to us, and more importantly, their response to each other, when something as tiny as a skip during a march-in, or as simple as a rickshaw, could get people talking… to each other.

I personally know of relatives and relatives once, twice, three times a-removed, who have never spoken to us or each other for years and years (be it for loss of contact, grudges, family feuds or court cases), who, by some miracle, came together into one small little restaurant of 26 tables to witness the union of a couple, only to find themselves in a reunion of relationships. People who came to our wedding curious, expectant, trepid, bored even, ended up laughing, dancing, cheering, clapping, completely immersing themselves in the moment… all because our invitation card stated rather subtly, “Dress Code: 1930’s Shanghai Glamour”, and my wife’s sister decided on a whim to include a rickshaw she could rent from a props warehouse in the People’s Association.

Proof that making your wedding different can make a difference to people’s lives, even if it’s just for a little while.

**********

The biggest wake-up call of all, was the dinner bill. Not something I didn’t expect, but it really doesn’t hit you until your restaurant manager actually gives you that check with a smile.

In my entire life, I have never had to pay so much money upfront on a single event, until last Sunday. It hit me that the days of my youth, where my supply of spending money seemed constant and never-ending, where things I couldn’t pay for I could still bank on the next month, came to a head with this one celebration. Faced with a 5-digit bill to pay, no wallet (left it in my hotel room), and a bunch of people impatiently waiting for me to attend to their sabotage session involving that infamous “5-course wine, chillied peanuts and a raw egg in a cup”, my immediate thought was one my parents, all my sisters and my own wife had tried to tell me all my years of knowing them: “Don’t anyhow spend anymore.”

Many would think the angpow money would take care of most, if not all, of it. Some might even think they could profit from it, but it still doesn’t take away the fact that you just contributed a big fat fucking wad of money into the F&B industry. It doesn’t take away the fact that in a society such as Singapore, in an economy as inflated as we are today, in a nation where a car costs about twice as much to own because the government takes half of what you pay for it, as a middle-income earner in an island full of middle-income earners, you probably can’t afford the inital expenses of your own wedding and have to ask your family to help.

Thanks to my wedding, I am now as thrifty as an old lady in a one-room flat who keeps everything she can lay her hands on because “they all cost money”. More importantly, thanks to my wedding, “family” has taken top spot in my spending priorities; “gadgets” and “guitars” has been relegated to an obscure corner of Lim Chu Kang.

I am really gonna miss being a kid.





The Wedding Post Mortem – I’m Gonna Miss Being a Kid (Part 1)

23 07 2008

For those who were there, you know how awesome it was. For those who weren’t. you don’t know what you missed.

(This blog will eventually be updated with pictures of the day, so keep your eye on it.)

The morning was encouraging; we both dressed in our most Chinese nines, much to the awe and amazement of our respective relatives. The tea ceremony in both houses was an unusually happy event, but it was the night that brought the stars in everyone’s eyes.

People started streaming in as early as 6.45pm, an extremely uncharacteristic time for wedding guests to appear in a culturally confused Asia-based island where fashionably late means 2 hours later (Hock Peng, you got a mention! You’re famous on the Internet now!). Dressed in the same ma gua (complete with that big red ribbon rose hung on the chest area) and a $2 Sinatra-esque hat, I greeted the guests in one by one, then two by thre, then five by eight, then one too many. Our reception girls had a hard time keeping up, and our dads were no help either. I have personally never seen my dad such a nervous wreck (if you remembered, he should be quite the opposite, though with his health right now, it’s somewhat understandable).

And then came the grand entrance. I needed four of my best guys to keep everything safe as we turned the house upside down with me pulling my wife into the restaurant well into the entrance and right in front of our table of friends with a never-seen-the-streets-since-1830 rickshaw, beautifully wedding-fied by my wife’s second sister and her very-good-with-his-hands husband. Dancing to the tune of Shanghai Tan, we rounded the restaurant, through the bar, and finally landed up at the VIP table at the front of a restaurant, where we sat down to the first course of our feast to the music of the beautiful shanghai jazz band playing behind us.

Oh, perfection. Whoever said perfection was boring had no idea what the hell they were talking about. Eat those words, detractor; I hope they taste as good as the salted egg shrimp.

Our second march-in saw my wife in a beautiful light bronze evening gown which awed everyone so much they all had to step on it, and me with a tailcoat reminiscent of Sting’s beautiful Calvin Klein nuptial number sans jailbird inners, a white scarf and that same hat, keeping in tradition to the look of the decade. Marching in to the tune of Chachambo was more challenging than I thought, as I had to both guide my wife through the excited little patter of 100 pairs of high heel shoes whilst entertaining my brood of relatives with dance steps not conceived since the grand old days of William Hung. The 3 obligatory yam sengs were surprisingly lively, when my mum’s old neighbour whom we had not seen in years added to the spirit of the occasion by providing the longest toast possibly both sides of the family had ever heard.

The end was no less endearing, when bride and groom stood with our respective parents in the entrance bidding farewell to all our relatives, friends, uh-I-don’t-know-you-but-I’m-going-to-pretend-I-dos and other whozats (Thank you for coming! … whozat? Oh thank you! …whozat?). If I had any doubts that the night was going in an awkward direction, they were all erased with all the pats in the back and the “you win, nobody can beat that rickshaw” my wife and I received.

I ended the night with a wine glass filled with red wine mixed with remains of the last five courses and a raw egg, courtesy of the best friends a couple can ever have. And for the first time since we started wondering what vehicle we should use for our first march-in more than a year ago, a great big weight was lifted from my shoulders, and not a little relief washed over my wife’s very tired self (she braved a cough, running nose and possible fever found to be inconclusive due to a broken thermometer to make the night happen for the both of us).

If you’re wondering about where I lost my childhood in this, look out for Part 2, coming to a 1930’s themed Shanghai restaurant near you.





The Day Before The First Day Of The Rest Of Our Lives

20 07 2008

It is a little known fact that the days preceding a wedding are in fact some of the most stressful days a couple can experience.

Little known because the wedding day itself is supposed to be such a beautiful affair that no one would imagine, much less speak of, anything untoward that had happened in the process of planning such an important day. Indeed, in most situations that have to do with weddings, such things are blasphemy to the ears of any who are involved.

Which is why there has been, and probably will not be, any mention of anything that has happened in the days of when this blog was left neglected.

Probably.

A good friend has told me though. that at the end of the day, it must be understood that no matter what the circumstances that has led to any wedding ceremony to come to term, whether it be politically inclined, a show for the relatives, a couple’s idea of a good time (well, it would probably seem like a good idea at the time; wait till you actually do it), or any other reason one may conceive of, the wedding is, at its core, about the two people getting married in the first place.

Weddings are a shoutout of the union of 2 people to as many people the happily marrying couple can get together (or afford to get together). The number of people involved in both its preparation and attendance demands that its process be a grand one, no matter how simple it is. But most importantly, it has to be perfect. This is, after all, the first day of the rest of the happy couple’s lives. It has to start right. It has to start perfect.

One problem though. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime affair, how the hell do you make sure it’s perfect? Isn’t perfection one of those things you only get right through practice?

No, let’s not go there. I’m not planning to do this again, for a large variety of reasons.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’re gonna get married, the wedding is one of those things that rank right up there in the list of top trials and tribulations a couple can experience when embarking on their journey together. Although its emphasis may have dwindled amongst the more modern thinking ones out there who don’t have to prove anything to anyone, it is nonetheless the one moment in your lives that will make or break you as a couple. For the most part, people who go through it reportedly survive it well, but of course, being a process that is largely only mentioned when it is successful and happy, few barely hear of (or even mention if only out of respect for the usually former couple) weddings that fail miserably.

One can probably tell by now my feet are somewhat in need of warming.

Do not, however, think that I am now regretting any part of this marriage, or this wedding that’s gonna happen in another 4 hours. My wife is the best thing that has happened in my life, and will continue to be for the rest of our lives, and I hope to be the best thing that has happened to her for the rest of her life. I only wish to express in my usual long-winded blubbering manner that I hope for the love of all that exists in this universe that everything will be fine, because if anything at all goes wrong, I am going to be training very hard to contort my leg in such a way that it is able to position itself successfully in front of my ass for frequent kicking of myself.

I will no doubt find in the following hours a growing feeling that this is the worst possible time to suffer from insomnia.





Friends Will Be Friends III: Mark and Zee’s “Masters of the Ceremony” Script

15 07 2008

Intro to second march-in

*Begin*

(Mic popping)

Mark: … uh, tsk, tsk. Check Check. Hullo?

Zee: Dearie, mic is on. No need to test already.

Mark: Oh. Ahem. Uh… (shuffling of script paper)… OK.  Ladies and gentlemen, aunties and uncles, family and friends.

Zee: 各位乡亲父老,亲戚朋友。

Mark: What about aunties and uncles?

Zee: Covered already. 乡亲 and 亲戚 basically means everyone.

Mark: No 阿姨阿叔 or something like that?

Zee: Nope. Already covered.

Mark: Oh. Uh… (looks at paper again)… OK. Thank you all for coming today. My name is Mark…

Zee: 谢谢大家的捧场。我叫诗倩。

Mark: I have a strange history with the bride and groom…

Zee: Mark!

Mark: What? I do! Anyway, Winston said it’s okay to talk about it.

Zee: 你长话短说可以吗?

Mark: (To the audience) We’re getting married too, next year…

Zee: Mark!

Mark: Okay, okay. Anyway, I used to date the bride, and I used to date Winston’s ex, who also used to be the bride’s best friend, and now we’re drinking buddies…

Zee: 我们今晚庆祝满源和丽莎的婚姻…

Mark: That’s not what I said… and Winston hates using his Chinese name in public…

Zee: 为什么?他老婆觉得可爱就可以了。 (To the audience) 对不起各位,我的未婚夫今晚喝的有点多…

Mark: I’m not drunk! I haven’t had anything to drink! I just wanted to say how much better the bride’s done since she’s with Winston now and not me…

Zee: 你是说我选你是选错了吗?

Mark: What? No! Oh sh… no… I’m the right guy! You chose right! I’m a great guy! Baby, I’m the best man here!

Zee: …

Mark: Okay, that was lame. Uh, let’s welcome the happy couple out on stage again…

Zee: 各位观众,我们现在请新郎与新娘出场!(off mic to Mark) You’re sleeping in the toilet tonight.

Mark: … aw, come on… Yuki* breathes really heavily and I have asthma…

*End*

To the best of my ability, this is Mark and Zee as I have encountered in our various drinking sessions. Of course, this is very much a TV-friendly version, for the truth about Mark and Zee, you’ll probably need to read this blog instead. Oh, and call them out for a beer if you can find the time.

*Yuki is a West Highland Terrier that Mark and Zee recently acquired. Coincidentally, the dog also has asthma, along with an incontinence problem and some other strangely human issues which makes him rather endearing in a very sadistic sort of way.





90% Human.

14 07 2008

My wife and I were told while doing our ultrasound scan today that the unidentifiable little blot on the screen that is supposed to be between the legs of our unborn child has a 60% chance of being male genitals. There was also a 30% chance that it was just the umbilical cord.

The umbilical cord happens to be pretty long in baby terms. If there’s a 60% chance that it’s not the umbilical cord, does that mean my kid is gonna be hung like he’s got a snake in his diapers?

Oh wait a minute. If it was just the umbilical cord, it could just be a girl. So if there’s 60% chance that it’s a boy, and 30% chance it could be a girl, WHAT THE HELL DOES THE 10% REPRESENT?!

My wife figures our firstborn could very well be a hamster.