The Little Drummer Boy

6 08 2008

I met up with a friend last night who’s leaving Singapore in 11 days to pursue a long-time dream: to perfect the art of rhythmically banging a set of nicely lacquered wooden cylinders bound with tightly wound skins using a pair of sticks in the most complex manner possible. Once in a while he also involves metal plates in the process. And yes, there are educational certifications for this kind of thing.

I would never have thought he’d be able to transcend into jazz drumming. When I first met him, he was an overzealous punk drummer who couldn’t keep time (though to his benefit, he was usually only off a split second). That being said, we had a lot of fun in our day, and still do. We were close enough friends for my mother to think at one point we were bisexual lovers, and I still sometimes wonder if I should have cleared that up properly with my mother.

Today, he’s grown into a fine, dread-locked young man who unfortunately will not be filling the void of talented local drummers here, and only because he’s flying to New York.

The reason why it’s important for me to mention him today is because, as with most friends that go overseas either to study, work or find a girlfriend, I don’t really know if I’ll ever see him again. The thing I find increasingly fascinating about Singapore is that it somewhat reflects that old Hotel California cliche: when you start thinking for yourself, you realise you’ve checked in, but you’ll always want to leave (cue guitar solo).

I had the same feeling when my wife (before she was my wife) left for Canada. It helped that I had gotten over my fear of computers and ICQ was in its prime during that period, but when someone in your life, whether it be someone close or just a mere acquaintance, decides to partake in a semi-permanent life in a land far, far away (herein defined as anything that takes more than 4 hours to get to by plane), there’s always a niggling feeling in you that they might actually not think of coming home at all, ever.

It’s almost like someone is dying, except you’ll probably still get to talk on MSN Messenger once in a while after the person goes.

My wife also mentioned last night that going overseas for an extended period of time can really change a person. She says when one makes that step into the big world and starts to discover what it is really like, one of two things can happen; you either get into the swing of things and assimilate into a new lifestyle that is required of your environment, or you get culture shock and lock yourself up in your room. Either way, you become cynical, jaded, and lose that childlike innocence that everybody likes about you. I’m not sure if that’s gonna happen to this guy, but these days, I’m not sure about a lot of things. I’m cynical that way.

That being said, he is already making changes to his persona in preparation for the Big Apple. He’s got dental work done, and contact lenses; after all, jazz drummers from New York don’t wear braces, and all that flaying around with sticks and metal plates means spectacles are also out of the question. He’s never thought of using, much less buying, a laptop, and last night he asked for advice on buying a Mac, which he somewhat regretted after remembering what I wrote about the topic of advice. And in the days of the little drummer boy and me in school, I’d almost always pay for his lunch because he was mostly broke. Last night he paid for dinner.

I never like admitting I fear change, but I do feel another chapter of my life being relegated into the already-read pages of a book I won’t get a chance to read again.

There is probably a chance we’ll meet again. He still owes me a copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy Omnibus I lent him in school, not to mention a bunch of CDs I’ve long since forgotten about.

And I want to believe we’ll meet again.


Friends Will Be Friends II: Attack Of The Wedding Planner

14 07 2008

We had a meeting of the groomsmen and bridesmaids (we shall call them collectively brothers and sisters as they should be termed in most Asian societies) last night. I was expecting it to be a gathering of friends like any get-together we would hold. It turned out to be a life-changing event that showed me not only the kind of people we were calling friends, but what kind of person I turned out to be.

I have to write this carefully, as the situation last night demands delicate care in the use of words for its description.

The people who attended yesterday’s gathering of souls have all had some kind of history with my wife and I, one way or another.

Eddie (you see him in the comments section every once in a while making jokes about my genitals), who left the party before the meaty part of the night began, is a childhood friend who happened to meet my wife years later as students in the same design class.

Michelle (another comments regular) is my wife’s classmate from polytechnic, and was also waiting tables with me at my sister’s very Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge-ish, quite defunct EMOH cafe in my late teen years.

And then there’s Lydia, another school friend of both Eddie and my wife, whom I had become acquainted with when my wife and I were asked to help out in her actual-day wedding photography.

Terence is a secondary school friend I recently came back into contact with through Eddie, and is currently (together with his wife and infant son) charting out a new friendship with my wife and I as the new parental guidance expert to our upcoming family nucleus and resident beer buddy.

Finally there’s my unofficial best man Mark and her best girl Zee. Our relationship with Mark is shit-complicated, and will probably deserve a blog post of its own, while Zee is the girl who doesn’t mind all that complication and takes all the shit we collectively dish out with a smile and a beer.

For the most part, fate had brought all of us together. It was even evident in the beginning of the gathering, when, after my wife, Mark and I picked Zee up from her aunt’s place, Mark insisted he needed to get some food for the party and we went to the neighbourhood night bazaar before heading back to our place. Eddie’s phone was dead for some reason and he couldn’t be contacted at all, so imagine my surprise when we were walking on our way to the night bazaar and Eddie walked right past my wife’s line of sight looking like a lost puppy with a small paper bag of his contribution to the pot-luck event. A few minutes later, my wife, on a whim, called Lydia and found out she was just in the the immediate vicinity as well, and 15 minutes later, all 6 of us were wishing my wife drove a bigger car.

To top that off, when we all reached the apartment, Michelle and Ken had just arrived and were wondering why no one was answering the door. After letting everyone in and trying my best to get everyone comfy, I headed back out and caught Terence driving in just in time with drinks and 2 packets of ice, wife and kid in tow. You could not get timing more accurate than last night if you were choreographing the National Day Parade.

Through the night, Michelle had been scarily forthcoming throughout the night, which was to be expected to some extent, seeing as she worked as a wedding planner in one of Singapore’s more prominent agencies. Her invaluable experience in the matter of wedding affairs proved extremely enlightening to all of us in the course of our discussions, though at some points it got my wife and I thinking, what did we get ourselves into? What is she going to do to us if we forget something? Is she going to knife me if I get it wrong on the wedding day? And exactly how much did she have to drink so far?

Then, in between discussing the actual day’s schedule, the silly things we’re thinking of doing, and whether there was any more beer in the fridge, the subject of the actual-day photography had come up. While we have asked another friend some time beforehand about helping us with the photo-taking, dealing with said friend has turned out to be a chain of frustrations and disappointments, a bit of which was vented in my previous Friendly Fire post. It turned out that getting a photographer was more of a problem than my wife and I had anticipated, but it wasn’t made so apparent as it was last night.

We had originally planned to use only 2 DSLRs throughout the event, with friends and family helping out with their own digital cameras and nothing more, and consolidating the whole night’s photography into one big day-long photo shoot. Lydia was kind enough to volunteer without hesitation to help us in the area as a returning of the favour we did her on her wedding day., and she seemed a good choice too, having some design background in her education. However, having described the atmosphere of the restaurant we were having our wedding dinner in as “cozy and romantic”, to say the least, Michelle’s very clever boyfriend Ken (who was largely just there for the food, both in preparing it and consuming it) noted, “Don’t you need a good flashgun if you’re going to do any photography in the restaurant?”

Ken, with that one sentence coming out of your otherwise very quiet mouth, whatever transpired after that is now all on you, man.

A sudden mood of drunken thoughtfulness coupled with scarily adamant eyes-on-the-ceiling seriousness (forgive me, it is the only way I know how to describe it) washed over Michelle’s face as she sat contemplating what her boyfriend had said. And then suddenly she sat up in her chair and slurred with a strangely firm tone of voice, “Can I request something? Can the bride-to-be and groom-to-be leave the room? I need to talk to the rest of us about… something.”

We left the table, shuffled in the study and closed the door. As Michelle discussed what was undoubtedly a sinister plan to knife us while we weren’t looking, I asked my wife, “What have we gotten ourselves into?”

My wife very calmly said, “Well, Michelle is an authority in the matter of weddings. She is a wedding planner at the end of the day.”

“She’s taking this wedding thing a bit too seriously though. Are you scared of her?”

“Yes. But that’s the Michelle I know, and I expected nothing less, because she will give her all to her friends when they need her.”

“How much has she had to drink?”

Our little dialogue was interrupted when Michelle called out to tell us we could come out now. My wife rejoined the table, but I detoured into the master bedroom toilet to seek solace on my ivory throne as times like these demand, regain my composure, and, uh, do other things.

When I finally re-emerged, the table quietened down. I was expecting something bad. In my experience of people quietening down when I joined in, it usually meant I was in a shitload of trouble and anyone who instigated conversation with me would be implicated in my crime.

Michelle began by saying, “I have a proposal.”

For a moment I thought she was going to ask Ken to marry her.

But she continued, “The reason why I asked you to leave the table was because after what Ken said about the flashgun, it got me to thinking that you guys are really going to need a pro photographer. Based on my experience in hiring friends, there will always be complications because friends don’t necessarily know what are the more important pictures that have to be taken that day.” She spoke briefly of a previous wedding day where a hired male friend was taking photographs of interesting women instead of the happy couple of the day (that story did not end well), and then continued, “So I talked with the rest of the guys here, and we have all agreed, as a wedding gift to you, we will help you hire a photographer for your wedding day.”

There was a long pause. my wife and I looked at the anticipating expressions of everyone around the table, expecting our response. We were both stunned; in a few minutes my wife would be touched to tears by the offer, but for the longest time I couldn’t find the words to say. Needless to say, I added to the tension on the table with my non-response, because I was not known to be one at a loss for words in any occasion other than when I was stuffing my mouth with food. As much as I was wondering what the hell Michelle was thinking when she requested time away from the hosts of the party to speak with the host’s guetss, now everyone was thinking what the hell I was thinking when I finally heard of the proposal.

I finally broke. “In my 30 years of life, this has never happened to me before. I would never have imagined my wife and I would have with us, a group of friends as giving as the ones seated at my table right now.”

And that was all I could say. The rest of the night, I remained stunned, confused, guilty, happy, sad, deeply appreciative and completely undeserving of the company we were keeping this night.

Stunned because I never knew I had friends this good.

Confused because I wondered where the hell they came from, and why the hell they came to my wife and I.

Guilty because I had preconceptions of my own guests and had only realised how wrong I am as a person to think people were going to knife me when all they wanted was to give me the best day of my life by giving me the best night of my life.

Happy because the people who were there for us last night, were there for us last night.

Sad because the people whom we thought would be there for us, weren’t.

Deeply appreciative because… oh, you get it.

And writing this, I realise the one situation where such a mish-mash of seemingly contradicting emotions will come together and give you, among other things, a thoroughly sleepless night.


To be continued…

Friends Will Be Friends… or will they?

29 06 2008

My social life is nothing to brag about. In the history of my social life, there have been 4 kinds of people; friends (the people who actually do think of me once in a while), enemies (the people who will have nothing to do with me, or whom I will have nothing to do with), acquaintances (the people who couldn’t really care less), and family (the people that have no choice in the matter).

Also in the history of my social life, I have had to make quite a few tough decisions. We’ve all heard of breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, but has anyone ever broken up with a friend?

It’s a rare occurrence, but it does happen. I happen to see it on TV a lot, but in real life, most people just drift away, regardless of whether they are best friends or mere acquaintances (the latter seemingly more prone to drifting than the former, but all are just as susceptible).

I live by a set of principles presented to me at different points in my adult life, and thankfully, I am careful enough with who I call “friend” to not have to engage these principles often. But situations do arise nonetheless:-

  1. A friend does not stand another friend up (in local terms, we call it “let go my aeroplane”, for some godforsaken reason). It shows one is being taken for granted, and a friendship like that will not hold up under fire. once, twice, three times, five times, I would go, “Right, OK.” But if, of all the 50-100 times that a date and time has been set for lunch meetings, friendly gatherings, or even sit-downs for coffee, if you can only make good a meeting twice in the course of a 3 1/2 year friendship, please don’t blame me for giving up on you.
  2. A friend does not insult another friend (nor the people revolving around that friend, for that matter). This one, though, is quite subjective. I have laughed at people, and people have laughed at me, so surely I can take a lot of shit (I write a blog that’s enrolled in, for crying out loud). But here’s a tip for anyone reading this who’s a friend, courtesy of one ex-friend of mine that, earlier this year, broke this very rule (I could only take so much from that one, and I realised after our last meeting why I hadn’t called him for 2 whole years); don’t overdo the name-calling (pig-brain, jerk, stupid), and never, ever, joke about my decision to marry, much less make fun of my wife’s integrity in choosing me.
  3. A friend does not use his personal problems as an excuse to vent, snap at, or ill-treat other friends. As much as I would like to think I am close friends with someone, and as much as I would like to think I understand someone, I cannot claim to completely know what that someone is going through despite my own experiences, and hence will not tolerate being treated like an emotional punching bag when something untoward happens to this someone else. I can be there for you to share your problems, dish out advice, offer what I can as a friend. But if I am met with disdain, impatience, or even anger for something I didn’t even do to you, evidently you don’t require me as a friend, and so I will offer what I can as a friend; an end to this friendship, because you couldn’t care less.

As difficult as it is for me to call friends friends, the friends that I’ve called friends made it easy (except, of course, for situations 1, 2 and 3 above). These are the people who know and love me for who I am, and don’t mind me for all the shit I bring along with me. Most importantly, I am their friend as well. They have my utmost gratitude for being there for me, my sincere apologies for the inconveniences I have caused them, and any body part they require that will not cause permanent damage to my health (a helping hand, a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, etc.).

And in the future of my social circle, I hope to never create any more new principles against friendships. But some things, as with life and death and many many other things in between, are inevitable.