Any Time Now…

31 10 2008

My wife’s been feeling a little under the weather lately. I figure it’s third trimester jitters, which should be normal. The truth is, we’re expecting Xander to pop out anytime between now and December (though frankly, December might be a better time). He’s been getting rougher in my wife’s womb too. It used to be little bumps here and there, but now her reactions and my own personal experiences feeling Xander’s full-bodied elbowing, kicking, somersaulting and frequent Hadouken practice sessions in her womb with my hand are making me wonder if Tae Bo is ingrained into a foetus’ instincts.

***

There’s been a lot of news and opinions about how the economy is doing and how best to approach it, varying from spending all the money you got in order to keep the economy running to start planning and saving as much financial reserves as you can possibkly get your hands on in order to weather the upcoming storm.

I’ve been told by my family I’ll be getting my own rescue package for my birthday to help me alleviate my debts. As much as I welcome the gesture, I also realise financial management is not a lesson to be taken lightly, but if handouts were readily available, it may not serve to teach anyone anything but the easiest way out and why it probably won’t work; when I was 16 years old, my dad signed me up for a supplementary credit card. when I was 16 years old and 6 months, he canceled it.

I’ve since signed up credit cards of my own, but of course, with a family of my own, the lessons that come with earning and spending have hit much closer to the heart (and the backside, where I usually put my wallet). My family has my interests at heart when they find out about my financial situation and offer their help, but I’ve told them all, “Sure, I’ll be more than happy to take your money, what what do you think I will learn out of it?”

Since I got married, I find myself having to work harder to prove to people that I’m not this kid that gets into financial trouble and has to get his family to bail him out, even though my first 20 years of life I’ve been trying to prove the exact opposite. I’m coming to realise though, that I’m trying to prove I’m financially stable to myself more than anyone else.

Damn recession isn’t making things easier though. Even if my paycheck’s still coming in and my expenses have been consistent, the daily headlines are making people really nervous, because nobody at my level, the level of the layman, knows what’s going to happen. My only hope is that Xander and my wife live through their days with me comfortably despite all of this.

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Buy One Get One Free – An Ode To My Love

25 10 2008

I’ve always thought my wife was a beautiful woman, and not without good reason. She’s had her fair share of suitors in her heydays (the way tention this post is going, I would say she’s still in her heydays), and has even gotten into trouble a few times with friends whose boyfriends inadvertently stray their attention to her (including me).

I’m by no means the possessive type, so the times when I hear of her attracting attention from other men – especially now we’re married – becomes an amusing anecdote when I hear of it, and sometimes I even think of it as a compliment, both to her and to me. What’s really amazing to me about this ability of hers to draw attention from the opposite sex is that she’s still doing it now, while she’s 7 months pregnant.

So my wife was out with an old school friend in town for dinner last night, her hair down and dressed in a black satin A-line sleeveless number (that hid her maternal status quite well from quite a few angles) and a pair of bell-bottom Dorothy Perkins maternity jeans, she looked like a 7-month pregnant woman who was ready to enter Zouk on a Friday night – and would’ve gotten into the VIP entrance. When she came home from the nice Japanese dinner and catchup with her friend, she told me,  among other things, that midway through the night, she noticed a guy giving her glances and activating her GPS (Guy Predator Senses), much to her amusement. She also told me the guy was about to approach her, presumably to make contact, or ask for her number or something… until she turned a bit and Xander stopped him short.

I laughed after hearing what happened, and told her, “If the guy actually did manage to make contact with you, he’d have gotten a Buy-One-Get-One-Free promo!”

***

People do say when you’re pregnant with a boy, you become what my sister would call “a stray cat” – an unkempt mother-to-be with straggly hair, eye-bags the size of roasted chestnuts, skin drier than an air-sealed packet of dried cuttlefish and water retention on the ankles akin to braised pig’s trotters. But everyone around us has evaluated my wife at one point or another during this period, and she has not lost any of her allure (though she did disclaim that said Guy Predator above probably wouldn’t want to see her in the morning).

It’s times like this that make me wonder: how did I get so lucky and manage to get someone like my wife to marry me? When I first met this woman, four words immediately came to mind – out of my league. I was also dating at the time (her best friend too, no less), so I didn’t delve further into the matter. but in the years that followed, she became a friend, and then she became a good friend, and then she became a best friend, and a large part of those years she wasn’t even in the same country as I was. But the relationship remained platonic for a long time, our lives barely intertwining and our paths barely crossed. When she came back to Singapore, though, was when I started considering the possibility of us becoming an item. Funnily enough, we only really started going out as a couple with a couple fight. That one moment in time, when we got pissed with each other, was the moment I thought to myself, this one’s gonna be different.

And here we are, a boy in a man’s body, married to his best friend, who just so happens to be a beauty with brains, complete with a bun in the oven (that’s almost done baking). I really couldn’t ask for more.





Bangkok Taxis – A Love Hate Relationship

22 10 2008

My hatred of taxis in general began in Bangkok years ago when I was just a noob expat in an exotic Asian country looking to experience localised culture in its many forms.

The first thing you are almost always greeted with (and most of the time by choice) the moment you step out are the Bangkok taxis. From the Don Muang Airport days, these taxis have hounded tourists like brazen hooligans hoping to make a quick buck by selling fake Rolexes, only to jib you of double what you normally pay once you get on their less-than-hygienic smelling metal boxes on wheels by refusing to turn on their meters. Even today, with the Thai airport authority introducing restrictions to the standsards of taxis allowed to pick up tourist fares, you’ll still hear not-too-distant cries from the offending taxi drivers trying to pick up naive tourists that will think nothing of a 400 baht cab fare when their journey should costs just 250 baht. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; don’t get me started on how they rig their meters to jump faster or territorial mafia cab gangs that pay protection money to Thai police for sovereignty over certain areas.

But there is another side to this story, as there are always other sides of truth to seemingly ridiculous, unfair or even criminal practices.

My wife and I just recently found out through a BK article about the plight of taxi drivers in Thailand. Their daily expenditure for renting a cab and buying gas comes up up to over 1700 baht, and they have to contend with 60,000 other cab drivers in the streets for fares (which, if you’ve ever been to Bangkok, may seem like a supply-far-exceeds-demand market from our point of view, but from theirs is akin to striking a small lottery each time they pick up a fare), not to mention their fare structure hasn’t changed up until recently for the past 15 years, and even then most cabbies are too poor to get their meter readers upgraded (the cost of upgrading their meter machines is 1500 baht).

I personally have had numerous bad experiences with Bangkok cabbies wanting to take me for a ride (I even nearly got into a fistfight with one for taking almost 2 hours to get to the airport and insisting on keeping the change one time). It was not until this trip that what a friend once said to me truly made sense in the world of public transport touting.

In an outing to Chatuchak market, he said once after seeing some Singaporeans haggling with a shopkeeper, “People shouldn’t insist in bargaining down to the last baht with the sellers?  the 10 baht you’re trying to save is just 40 cents (or about a quarter in US dollars) to the 2 meals that they can get?”

We’ve also been conditioned by our more educated Thai friends that taxi drivers who charge flat rates are in fact dealing illegally and should not be supported by any means. Although I largely agree, reading about their plight, as well as considering the plights of all those people trying to earn a living by selling their wares at ridiculously cheap prices by our standards, has got me thinking otherwise.

I had a slightly deeper understanding of the Thai political situation and the whole reason why the Thai civilians were protesting in the first place. The issue is somewhat reflective of the general Bangkokian middle class vs. taxi drivers story. Effectively the university students and middle-class working population are for developing Thailand into something other than its third-world standing today, while the poorer rest of the nation is just trying to survive in a country that essentially is doing well enough already as an  agricultural exporter – One wants to oust the say of the other in the hopes of a better future while the other just wants to survive. No one’s wrong, but then in a so-called democratic society where the majority should speak louder but the minority thinks it knows better, who’s right?





Welcome to Economy Class

21 10 2008

We begin our journey into Bangkok thinking ourselves as prepared as we would ever be as seasoned travleres through this route. Because my wife was pregnant, I checked in via web through the airline website to get bulkhead seats so she would have enough legroom to stretch out and Xander wouldn’t complain too much on the flight (via excessive movement which tends to make my wife feel queasy).

What I didn’t take into account was the fact that though we had enough room in front of us, we didn’t have enough room at the sides. Bad enough economy class seats ensure only the most economical use of space (our seats fit our butts with no room to spare to even remove the in-flight entertainment remote from our seats while sitting down); we also got two bonus XX-large passengers as our seat partners (we were sandwiched in between on a four-seat row). My wife had the better end of our seat selection; the man next to her couldn’t have been more than 100 kilograms. I, however, managed to score Jabba the Hutt on my side, a middle-aged European juggernaut the size of a 2-seater Smartcar, but not nearly half as stylish.

My wife suspected Jabba had popped a sleeping pill, as he had conked out almost immediately after sitting down, which caused a few problems for me. For one, he was overflowing onto my seat arm, where my meal tray was stored. I managed to dig it out after a while, but then while putting it back, i had to push hard against my very large friend’s kidney to lift the flap up, then push even harder to fold the try back into the arm, which would have been embarrassing or even offensive had the guy woken up.

Yep. He didn’t wake up. Not a stir.

The other issue, was, of course, elbow space. Our quietly-snoring-away human mini-planet had managed to defy the physics of human anatomy by fitting into an economy seat, but by doing so, had forced all his flubber up above the confined space between his armrests, thus encroaching his newly created super-sized lovehandles beyond the confines of the economy-class seat that he paid for. So I had nowhere else to go but into the arms of my pregnant beloved, which isn’t wholly a bad thing if you can live with a perpetual day-long cramp on your left side from leaning away from someone’s overtly massive, saturated butter rosti-induced love handles for 2 hours.

***

Our flight back was slightly more bearable. This time round, I managed to get bulkhead seats on the right side, which meant no neighbours to our left and right. Just a mostly empty aisle on my side (other than the food and drink trolley traipsing up and down a couple of times), and my wife’s window seat (sitting next to the sky; how much more space can one ask for?)

Again, what we didn’t account for this time round, was the neighbours behind us. Two Singaporean ladies (I suspect mother and daughter, though both looked like they were in the throes of menopause) were seated behind us, and halfway through the flight, my wife pointed out to me a naked foot resting quite comfortably on her armrest. She says, “Every trip, without fail, I have to get my elbow smeared into a naked foot during a flight. Without fail!”

I offered to chide the woman on her behalf, but being the nice person she is (hmm), she decided not to pursue the matter, and cleverly shoved her pillow in between the offending foot and her elbow so ne’er the twain shall meet.

On the upside, the foot did look quite well pedicured.

Sure it’s economy class. you probably don’t expect service fit for a king in economy class (the wonderfully shit service in our particular airline is worthy of a post of its own), but to experience bad passengers is a whole new can of worms.





Xander’s First Photos/Videos (in IMAX 4D)

14 10 2008
Xander's First Photos

Not even born yet, but already he knows how to do kawaii poses complete with V-signs plugged in his ear.

Ah, technology. So advanced that 3 dimensions are no longer enough. It used to be 2 dimensions are all you’ve got when it comes to looking at your child before it makes its debut into the world from its mother’s womb. Add another dimension and a 3D ultrasound scan will yield the images you see above, and then you add yet another dimension and call it a 4D scan just to make it sound like paying S$250 for it is justified (actually the 4th dimension is movement; I’ve got videos that show him fluffing his pillow and digging his nose in his sleep too).

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. Say hello to Xander. See the way he’s waving back at you like a superstar, eyes closed and nose turned up like he’s just nonchalantly acknowledging your presence with a flick of his pudgy little fingers? That’s my boy…

As I mentioned, I got videos too, but after describing it the way I did, putting the video on will just seem a little contradictory (he’s just sleeping, and his hand isn’t even facing palm out, which just goes to show a little imagination can go a long way).

And as usual, the doctors and technician never cease to be fascinated by my boy’s fast-growing genitalia. Our ultrasound technician showed us this wonderfully indecipherable prepubescent porn picture confirming Xander’s status as a miniature manly male man complete with man-thing (which I have explained graphically in red and green circles).

Balls to you! (Proudly brought to you by Thomson Medical Centre)

Balls to you! (Proudly brought to you by Thomson Medical Centre)

Personally, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a boy, girl or other, particularly after the world around us found out. In fact, reactions around us upon hearing that it is a boy made my wife and I wonder why everyone thought it would be more of a good thing.

We’ve gotten responses like, “Great! Now the carrying on the family name is out of the way…” and “Wah, so lucky! First time is boy already…” and “Boy ah? Your parents must be pleased.” My wife has always responded to these comments with, “Actually, it doesn’t really matter to us if it’s a boy or girl,” which will lead to one of two outcomes: awkward silence, or change of subject.

The truth is, it should no longer matter. Having a kid of any sex will be fun in its own way. With boys, you probably get to play a little rougher, get a little more exercise (with all the running around chasing him), and potentially less problems with the opposite sex (a misnomer by all counts, but worth looking into as a valid theory for another time, possibly the next blog post). With girls, you get to play dress-up more (80% of the retail market is built to cater for girls), life tends to be more peaceful, and they tend to be more loving too.

So as far as we’re conderned, gender bias shouldn’t ever be an issue; we’re dealt with the cards that we’re dealt with, we’re gonna play those cards as best as we bloody well can. My only real concern here is not how my child will fulfill my expectations, but how I’m going to do as a father, and it’s going to be a concern for me from when Xander’s born until the day I die.

That being said, I know we’re lucky. People can try for years and years and still get nada, and here we are, a boy on the way after just thinking about trying for a kid. There’s a lot of “what ifs” that can be raised if Xander turned out to be Xandra, but at the end of the day, they’re just “what ifs”. The questions that present themselves through reality are what’s really gonna screw with us now.





The Reprieve

8 10 2008

Finally we’re on our way.

Our leave has been approved, the tickets are booked, our hotel room is reserved, the relevant authorities have been informed… we’re going on our first vacation as a family (Xander included).

There are worries of course. My wife said last night we are apt to do things unconventionally, and to take a flight when she’s 27 weeks into her pregnancy might seem a little risque. We have been assured by our ob/gyn that travelling will be perfectly fine during this time; we just need a letter endorsed by the doctor that the wife is good to go. But then there are other things to consider.

For one, there’s probably going to be a lot of walking involved. I’m contemplating bringing a foldable stool along and stopping every 500 metres for her to catch her breath en route to wherever it is we’re going.

Someone also told me about in-flight radiation. I may need to wrap my wife’s belly in aluminum foil before we get on the plane.

Food may or may not be a problem. We’ve always been akin to the street-side food there, but at this point, we’re not sure if exposing Xander to the beauty of haphazard cooking is such a good idea.

But despite all these concerns, I think the most important thing on our minds right now is that we’re going on vacation. A proper, full-fledged vacation to another country where we don’t have to deal with the bureaucracies of daytime Singapore life. Sure it’s just 4 days and 5 nights; that’s why this time, we got to make it count.

Hopefully Xander doesn’t decide he likes the place too much and decide to pop out for a good look, otherwise we’re gonna have a hell of a time doing paperwork at immigration.





Is It Hard To Run a Comics Shop?

2 10 2008

Someone asked me that on MSN today after I posted up a status message sayign I was thinking of starting one,and it got me thinking.

I had a 4- or 5-year run collecting American comic books back in my secondary school days. Eddie, Terence, Raffles (whom I just recently got re-acquainted with just before my big wedding bash) and I would hop down to any one of the few comics shops strewn around the island on any given school day (particularly Thursdays when new shipments would arrive) and spend hours ogling at the pristine comic artwork, very adult storylines and general colourfulness of the X-Men, Batmen, Supermen, Spider-Men, or Whatever-Else-You-Got-Men that covered the shelves of the comic shop. Some of us even had membership cards to almost all the comics shops that were running at the time, and always we felt like we were trading in stock rather than just comics whenever we were holding a fragile copy of our favourite hero’s stories in our hands.

We learnt about polybags, acid free boards, holding the comic book by its spine so it doesn’t crease or roll when you read it; we admired Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola, and Todd McFarlane, who were comic book art gods to us, in a time when they were just breaking out. It was a golden age for us, even though the golden age was gone a long time ago for the industry.

Recently the old gang gathered for another beer session, and we talked about getting our collections together to sell on eBay. I offered to do inventory if they were willing to cart their comics over to my place. Though our hearts were in it initially, it was decided that our collections meant more to us than just commodity stock, and the idea was shelved for a better time, but I decided to evaluate my own collection and collected all 250 books from my sister’s old house to bring back to my own home.

It had been 13 years since I last saw these books, and I admit guilt for not taking better care of my stuff. After cataloging everything with a comic book inventory software I found on the web, I found out most of my books had doubled in cover price over the last 15 years. (Okay, hold yor horses there. Most of these books have a cover price of US$1 to US$3, so really, it’s not very much to speak of.) A few of them would even have hit over US$100 in valuation if I had taken care of them properly (though in my teenage years, I would probably have found it hard to afford renting a vacuum chamber with de-humidifiers and other preservation devices for my collection).

It got me thinking though; if I went out and started a comics shop of my own, would I do better than I am doing now? Would I be happier? Would there be a market for one more, where the market is over-saturated with Japanese manga translated in Chinese or English, but only the very streetsmart would know where true-blue DC, Marvel, Dark Horse and Image comics are sold? Would it be worth it, since this isn’t America, and there isn’t any place where you could get CGC grading of your comics done?

One day, I might just try and find out. Until then, there is an extremely high likelihood of me picking up where I left off 13 years ago; there goes my son’s child development account fund.