261. Dusk In Shanghai

This is bullshit.

I came here for coffee, but I’m not sitting with a pot of tea in front of me. They put the teabag outside the pot. It’s a considerate gesture, I supposed. But really, what kind of barbaric race adds their teabag to hot water instead of the other way around? Do you want boiled leaf juice? Because that’s how you get boiled leaf juice. Not tea.

A track plays over the sound system. New Orleans jazz from the 60s, by the sounds of it.

“Baby, baby, I love you,” the man sings over the rhythmic thump of the double-bass and the steady chirp of the hi-hat. A trumpet does a little solo interlude when the chorus is finished.

The air smells of old wood and tobacco smoke. In the corner, two men sit at a table walking while the third, a lady in a pink dress, feigns interest with a smile two inches too wide and a laugh that is rough around the edges.

(“Baby, baby, I love you,” the singer in the track comes back for a triumphant reprise after the trumpet solo is done)

The earl grey tea tastes too strongly of citrus. The intensity is almost chemical. One of the men goes to the next table to answer a phone call. He takes the opportunity to light a cigarette.

“If I know you, you’re something like a killer,” the girl in front of me says. She’s a sweet young thing in what I learned was called a cheongsam. Her raven-black hair is done up in a bun at the back of her head, with what looks like long chopsticks, or thick incense rods, stuck through it. Her lipstick is red – not like blood, more like neon lights – against her pale skin, and mascara outlines her slanted eyes. She had went ahead and sat herself down in front of me, even after I said she can’t.

“Wrong person,” I say. I take another sip of the earl grey. The man returns after his call-slash-cigarette break, and he calls for the bill. A petite waitress in a silk buttoned-up blouse struts over with the bill on a small wooden tray.

The song changes to a burlesque number. The girl in front of me notices the change, and she smiles. It’s not a good kind of smile.

“All I Do Is Dream Of You,” she says. “You’ve heard of that one?”

“Ma’am,” I say, “What do you want with me.”

She laughs. It’s a good-natured, hearty one. “I try to talk business, you blow me off. I try to make conversation, you tell me to get to the point. What would you like me to do?”

“Leave me alone.”

Even that was bullshit. Because an hour and two drinks later, I’m screwing her in a dingy old motel room with sheets that feel and smell like they need to be sterilized, not washed. Her mouth tastes like cherries, and her skin is sticky all over with sweat.

I must have fallen asleep after that. When I wake up, she is gone, leaving my mouth tasting like the bottom of a birdcage. There is aching in my groin that I try to ignore.

The bathroom light is a pale yellow. I’ve seen that color before on the face of a dead man. I turn on the tap and douse my face with cold water. When I look up into the mirror, instead of my reflection, I saw words written on it. There were three Chinese characters written vertically, and beside it, horizontally, the Chinese characters were helpfully anglicized for me:

Zong Li Xi.

And beside the sink, a little red silk pouch. I pull the thing open and find two slabs of jade, both the color of milky, cloudy emerald. They were perfectly circular with a square hole in the middle, and flanking each side of the square hole were more Chinese characters.

I clean the lipstick mark off the mirror with a towel. Not the most elegant way of leaving a message, but it did the job. I bring the towel with me when I go out and drop it into the laundry chute. Behind me, there’s a giggling couple who go into the room I was just in. Management will receive a complaint about the messy sheets real soon. Or maybe they won’t.

Either way, I had a job to do.

260. A Voice In The Wind

So I got carried away and went and completed Pewdiepie’s series of The Last Of Us videos. It’s 2A.M. and I don’t have any ideas for a blog post, and I sure as hell ain’t staying up just to get this done. Not after I’ve been hacking away at writing work all day long, and also at A Song For The Rain earlier tonight, before succumbing to the temptation of YouTube.

As I was writing today’s 2,000 words for A Song For The Rain, there came a part where I realized I could lift an entire chapter from version 1.0 into version 2.0, and all it took was minor edits to make the scene work. Trouble was, as I waded through the words leading up to that scene in version 1.0, I couldn’t help but feel a little sense of loss, looking at the words I’ve invested into the scenes that won’t make it anymore into the final cut.

(unless I create version 3.0, that is. But let’s hope it doesn’t come to that)

I have no idea yet how much of version 1.0 will make it into version 2.0. But chances are: very little, except for isolated scenes and characterizations. What follows is one of my favorite moments from version 1.0, which I’m sure will crop up again in version 2.0, if a little bit different. This is the part where May, our 18-year old heroine, treks up a jungle and into a clearing, where she’s supposed to meet “a friend”, who turns out to be an enormous tiger.

This is how it goes:

Something rose from the water, and it was terrifyingly large. May saw what looked like a painted face with whiskers, and a jaw that bared yellowed saber-like teeth. Water rolled off its orange-and-black fur, and a tail swished behind it, reaching the top of the waterfall. May wondered how could something so large fit inside the pool, which in itself was already pretty big, and thought that she might pass out.

The enormous tiger looked straight at May, its eyes a blazing golden color framed in black-and-white rings. It was almost hypnotic. May couldn’t move if she wanted to.

In one step, the beast closed the distance between them, and it lowered itself so its chin touched the ground. May saw giant claws, obsidian black, barely retracted in its paws. The tip of the creature’s claws, May was sure, were sharp enough to tear her apart if they simply scraped at her skin. A giant pink tongue escaped its mouth and licked its face. The tongue was as big as her whole body.

This was the Tyger. May was sure of it. Its stripes, though she couldn’t see it, were perfectly symmetrical. This was the creature of legends. It might have once been worshipped as a god. It might still be.

“And who might you be?” the Tyger said, its voice smooth like velvet and strong like thunder.

“Um. Hi,” May said, surprised to even find that her voice was working. “I’m May.”

“May,” the Tyger pondered. “May, the month after April and before June; or May, to ask for permission? Or might it be May that means Beauty in the Chinese language?”

“I… I’ve never asked,” she admitted. “It’s just a name, and it happens to be mine. So… just ‘May’, I guess.”

For the rest of the 98,800 words, you’ll just have to buy the novel when it comes out.

Whenever that may be.

259. Procrastination

(if you’ve got work problems / I feel sorry for you son / Coz I’ve got 99 deadlines / And I won’t meet one)

I have been sitting in front of my laptop, just outside the office, for the better part of the afternoon now. There are articles to be written, materials to be edited, work to be done, and I cannot bring myself to do any of it.

I’d like to blame the gloomy weather. Or my itchy eyes. Or that I didn’t have my cup (or flask) of earl grey tea today. But we all know what’s up, don’t we? We all know who’s the real culprit here. There is no one to blame but…

The little imp named Procrastination. It’s been buzzing around my head all afternoon, and it refuses to let me get any work done.

Curse you, Procrastination.

(having written up to this point, I decided to reward myself by browsing through memes and rage comics for 10 minutes)

There’s no way around it. As much as we’d like to be productive and free of distraction all day long so we can get things done, we won’t. We never will. For all have sinned and fallen short of maximum efficiency. We strive daily towards the goal that is the day in which all work shall be done, but somewhere along the lines, most of us just go, “Ah, screw this,” and start watching Let’s Play videos on YouTube.

(coincidentally, I’m on Part 12 of Pewdiepie’s playthrough of The Last Of Us. Coincidentally, I say!)

I’m sure there is some sort of scientific explanation behind why we procrastinate. I’ve read somewhere (I think it was the beautifully-titled space called You Are Not So Smart) that the reason why we keep pushing things for Future-Us to do is because we like to idealize the future.

See, the future is where dreams come true. The future is where the conditions are perfect: there is no lag, there is no mental block, there is no itch in your eye, and there is no sudden urge to clean up your desk. Even when it’s not perfect, the future is always a much better time to work than the present. When the future rolls around, we would have sorted out our present worries so that we can focus on the things that truly matter. Like work. Or having meetings. Or doing taxes.

But the future, like your soul mate, doesn’t come as perfectly as you see them in your mind’s eye. And, just like the love of your life, it comes with its own baggage. Boy, you think your present worries are a lot to handle? If you don’t sort them out now, the future’s going to unload them onto your face, whether you like it or not.

Think of it like exercising. (God knows it’s one of the major things we procrastinate on.) You do today’s share of eating, and you decide that you’re feeling all sorts of drowsy, so gym can wait until tomorrow, when you don’t. But today’s calories aren’t going anywhere. And if you skip tomorrow’s gym session, tomorrow’s calories aren’t disappearing with the gym session either.

So the calories pile up. Like your worries. And your fats. And pretty soon, you’re swamped in every way imaginable, and you wonder how did you get yourself into this fine mess.

So here’s a friendly reminder from me, both for you and for myself: do Future-You a favor and get your shit sorted out.

Because not even Future-You deserves to deal with the stuff you won’t deal with.

258. A Sense Of Humor

Being funny is like being confident: if you have to try, you’re not.

(the same it is with a lot of other things: being sexy, being chill, being clever, being savvy… yep)

(also, pop songwriters take note: this is how you do similes)

An important part about being a writer – nay, an important part about being a human being – is in having a sense of humor. It’s a great, versatile thing. Like sugar. It helps to lighten the mood, it helps to connect people, it can turn a frown upside-down, and it can get you out of many a sticky situation.

A little bit like telling stories, except classier.

(if there are aliens reading this in an attempt to understand human culture, I accept donations in cash, preferably in US Dollars)

Jokes don’t get the recognition they deserve. Anyone who has tried to tell a joke would understand how difficult it is to get it right: the timing, the tone, the rhythm… There’s a good reason why we flock around people who makes us laugh. The Shawshank Redemption can boast all it wants about being everyone’s all-time favorite movie, Breaking Bad can go on about how groundbreaking and unflinchingly visceral it is; but given a choice, everyone would choose to watch that new Jim Carrey movie or The Big Bang Theory first.

I don’t care what Abraham Maslow says. I believe jokes, like stories, belong right on the base tier of the hierarchy of needs, along food and shelter. We need them to survive. We literally require them in order to face the drag that is daily life. Take jokes and stories out of the equation, and I guarantee mass suicides all around the world. We’re just not programmed to function without them.

(and now for a naturalist fallacy argument: Did you know that chimps gather around to tell jokes to each other? See – even nature confirms it!)

But being funny, like being confident, seems at times to be a gift rather than a skill. I don’t doubt that. There are just people who are inherently funny; and people who just project that aura of confidence wherever they go. The same it is with charisma. While the rest of us are struggling to keep up by learning the techniques, they just go on and make it look so easy. It’s almost like they’re taunting us.

But here’s what I know about being funny: it comes out of you naturally. If you have to stop and think about it, you’re either doing it as a living, or you’re not doing it right. See, being funny is a primal thing, and 90% of the time, it’s all about the timing. An art form, basically. Overthink it, you run right into the centipede’s dilemma and fudge up the whole delivery. You just need to go with the flow. You need to feel the moment. And if you find yourself thinking whether it’s a good idea to say it or not, most of the time, it’s not. Don’t.

Ultimately, I think we have a responsibility to talk about things that makes us laugh. Not things that we think might make other people laugh – but things that we ourselves find funny. Hey, it makes the world go round, okay? The world runs on laughter. And the conservation of angular momentum, but mostly laughter.

So please, by all means: make us laugh. Tell jokes.

Unless you suck at it. Then don’t.

257. Getting Hired

Today I went for 2 job interviews. During the 2nd one, I was tasked with producing 3 essays on 3 separate topics. The 1st essay I wrote, on how to run a successful company, came up to about 1,200 words. The 2nd essay, a discussion on the saying “money is the root of all evil”, came up to 600 words. Finally, for the 3rd one, about what books I would bring with me to a desert island, I wrote about 500 words before stopping.

All of these were written in the space of 2 hours, between 2.30P.M. and 4.30P.M. as part of an “English aptitude test:, because apparently being a published writer is no indicator of my abilities to write in the English language. But that’s fine. I can accept that. So the 2,300 words were written.

My only regret is not logging in on the office computer to post it up on this blog. Now it’s lost forever.

(unless they use it to print. In which case I’ll sue them for money, then post it up on this blog)

It seems that the more I experience getting hired, the less excited I get about job interviews. Why, I remember when I was 15, heading out to look for work: I was dressed in a long-sleeved white shirt, black slacks, with my hair combed back with gel as I went from door to door to advertise myself.

Today, I walked around in a long-sleeved white shirt, black pants, with my hair too short to require combing or gelling of any kind. How things stay the same the more they change.

I guess it’s one of those things. Like flying on a plane. Or having sex. It’s all exciting before you do it, maybe for the first couple of times, but after that it’s just something to get out of the way.

(this does not imply that I am getting any. I draw comparisons using only my database of super credible sources, e.g. Kenny Sia)

They’ll tell you a lot of things about how to prepare for job interviews: like what colors you should be wearing, how you should shake your interviewer’s hand, how you should phrase your question, and things to say to appear more professional or competent. I would know – I’ve read some of it. A couple of months ago, I even had to produce a script on the subject based on preexisting materials.

But let me tell you this: unless you’re severely socially impaired (that is, more than me), you can chuck most of these advice out the window. I mean, seriously. If you’re not capable of doing a job well, no amount of “I acknowledge that’s one of my weaknesses, but I’m willing to learn” is going to convince anyone to hire you. My advice: go do something, become passably good at it, and then go and look for a job.

I mean, what do you take your job interviewers for – idiots?

Be good at what you do. Be real. Be honest. Be you.

(unless you suck – in which case, go and make yourself better, then go back and try to score that job)

Getting hired doesn’t get any simpler than that.

256. Mental Short Circuit

You ever get one of those moments where you’re lying down, thinking about one thing, and all of a sudden you’re thinking about some old shit, and it messes you up really bad?

This is one of them.

It happens to me every once in a while. See, my immediate reaction to stress of any kind is usually to shut off and go to sleep. Most of the time, it doesn’t make things any better, but it does make me feel better – ergo, better prepared and equipped to tackle the problem. But sometimes, sleep can only worsen the problem. Maybe the item is due first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s something that only can be done within a certain time frame.

Whatever it is, the deadline is approaching, and it’s approaching fast.

(I admire the late Mr. Adams’ ability to relish the “whooshing sounds” that deadlines make as they fly by. It’s probably a skill that I should aspire to pick up along the way)

I’m not good with stress. It’s fair enough to say that, methinks.

Funny thing about me: I don’t usually get stressed about the big things. Failed a course? Retake the paper. Something’s on fire? Find water to douse it with. Car broke down? Find the nearest mechanic. The big obstacles are easy to handle because they’re obvious, and so are their solutions.

What I do get stressed about are stupid little things. Like when the key won’t turn properly in the keyhole. Or when the computer lags. Or when the phone runs out of battery all of a sudden, leaving me stranded in a crowded area with no cash to ride a taxi.

Or right now, when I need to write, but there are so many things calling for my attention that I cannot make my mind focus on any one of them. And if you’ve tried to write 3 essays at once before, you have an inkling of what I’m feeling right now. Before I can even properly think about how to write one of the essays, the other one pops into mind, calling – no, DEMANDING – for my attention.

They’re all urgent. They’re all important. More or less to the same degree and magnitude, too.

So what is there to do but to allow my brain to short circuit?

Here is the situation: I have an appointment at 11A.M. which I have to leave my place at 10A.M. for. I’ve been told that I should be bringing my résumé, a cover letter, and a portfolio of my work, all of which should be pretty damn epic, y’know, to reflect the damn epic nature of my writing.

Except sitting here with tired arms, tired eyes, and a brain that won’t work anymore, I don’t feel damn epic. I feel helpless. All I want to do is sleep.

Maybe I’ll try and take a hack at A Song For The Rain before giving in completely. I doubt it’ll come to anything, but never let it be said that I didn’t try.

As for work to be done, I think I’ll let tomorrow worry for itself.

255. Plot Twist!

Life is full of surprises, isn’t it?

Take today, for example. I woke up At 9.30A.M. after snoozing my alarm 5 times and lumbered downstairs, had some breakfast, drank a cup of hot milo, and sat myself down in front of my laptop, intending to get some writing done. By that time, I had about 1.5 hours until I had to go to church for music practice.

When after 30 minutes nothing was done, I shrugged and thought that a little sleep wouldn’t hurt. So I laid down on the couch and slept until 11.30A.M., then went off to church.

After music practice was a meeting over lunch, in which I ate a hearty Indian meal of rice, curry, fried fish, and fried chicken (I’m still convinced they come from fried eggs). My carecell leader stared at me as I ate the meal, and took the chance to remind me that I’m growing fat.

Well. Thanks for that.

So I said I’ll go to the gym after. Just then, it started to rain.

No worries, right? Gymming is an indoors kind of things. A little rain can’t stop anyone. I parked my car, went inside my house to change, and thought that a little sleep wouldn’t hurt. So I laid down on the couch to wait for the rain to ease up a little before I head off to the gym.

There I slept until 10P.M., when gunshots from the Hong Kong movie on TV woke me up.

I guess you could say that sleep is the bane of productivity. I don’t disagree. The good book says in Proverbs that he who loves sleep will come to poverty. But what’s a man expected to do when it’s raining so heavily outside, and the sky is so gloomy?

When I woke up, there was a notification on whatsapp from the church worship team coordinator, telling me that there has been a last-minute change in the Easter service program. So I’ll be leading worship on Easter morning as well.

All I could reply was “\o/”.

(“\o/” is the new “lol” – versatile for any situation. It can be taken to mean “yay!” or “well, what can you do?”, or even as far as “Praise the Lord!” or “whatever. whoopee-do”. Also, it looks like a “lol” with spread arms)

Life is full of surprises. Some of them more pleasant and welcome than others.

Earlier this week, a friend of mine bought a new smartphone at a bargain price. Unsure of what to do with his old iPhone 4, he decided to let me use it until I get my own.

I was perfectly happy with my Nokia, of course. But eh, free iPhone. Why not?

(that’s the Chinese in me talking. Remember the rule about cheap things no good, good things no cheap; but free things are always good)

And now I have been inducted into the smartphone family. I’ve disabled just about every unnecessary (as of yet) function on the phone, and I’ve downloaded a grand total of 2 apps for it. I think I’ll get into the mood of things in good time.

But for now, since I cannot go back to sleep, I think I’ll go do that writing I was supposed to do this morning.