349. Instagram / Alcoholics Anonymous

A little more than a week ago, I got myself an Instagram account. Because we all need to stay updated on the most current trends in social networking in order to avoid looking like a total dork.

Creating my account, I was chagrined to find that my default username “zhenyee” has been taken. Signing up instead as “zhenyee.jo”, I silently swore eternal vengeance upon whomsoever stole my screen name. I managed to get the account up and running, followed a whole bunch of people, considered following some cute girls outside my social circles as well but ultimately deciding against it, and then I stared at the screen, waiting for something interesting to happen.

Nothing did.

I should post a picture, I thought. But post a picture of what?

With a growing realization that my life isn’t, by a long shot, interesting enough to be documented in photos, in a last ditch attempt to avoid looking like a total dork I took a picture of my workstation with all that snazzy symmetry everyone seems to be all about these days. I uploaded it with a caption, and a bunch of people “liked” it.

Nice.

Now what?

And that was when I realized that I had experienced almost everything Instagram had to offer me. Also, that no matter how hard I try, I will always and forever be a total dork.

(the sooner we all just accept who we are, the better. No one ever said that who you are is popular or cool)

I have since uploaded a couple more pictures, all of which got a couple of likes each. Again: I’m coming to the realization that my life isn’t interesting enough to be documented in photos. Whoever started following me in hopes of getting interesting updates are in for a big letdown.

I’m not sure if it’s just me getting old, but even after a little over a week, I still don’t see the point in it. You post some pictures, you get some likes, you like other people’s pictures… And then what?

Earlier this evening I went out for supper with a dear friend of mine who had come back from Melbourne for a short break. Somehow the topic veered to Instagram. He told me about how in order to get likes, you need to just like everyone else’s photos, and they will like yours in return.

It’s like the golden rule, but with photos. Who knew that the ultimate lesson in getting along with others would be finally taught through a photo-sharing site?

I also realized something else: Instagram is just like Alcoholics Anonymous.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, you join them, you tell them your story, and at the end, everyone gives you a round of applause. In return, when someone else tells their story, no matter how corny it is, you applaud them as well.

On Instagram, you join them, you share your photos, and everyone gives you a “like”. In return, when someone else posts their photo, no matter how corny it is, you give them a “like” as well.

And there we go.

Even after this startling realization, the question that again came to me was “But why?”. Which was when I realized that my priorities are so different from the average Instagrammer that I cannot even empathize with their value system.

And I realized that I am already a complete dork, even with Instagram.

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340. My Favorite Places On The Internet

(I had a 0.3 second hesitation while typing the title, deciding whether to type “favorite” or “favourite”. Evidently, I have chosen to go full ‘Murican. This is what 5 years of American education has done to me)

Today I’ll take a break from my rants, updates on my life, stories that I’m writing, and talking about writing in general. Today I’m going to talk about the best (or within the Top 10 list, at least) thing in our lives: the internet.

I access the internet mainly from my laptop, a 5-year old Acer Aspire 4810T. I bought it for its 8-hour battery life, which serviced me well for a little more than 2 years before it gave up and gave out, and I found the cost of replacing it too expensive. It lags when I play videos; these days, it lags when I open a word document; but it has access to the internet. I’m happy.

My default browser is Mozilla Firefox. I’m not sure why. On any other machine, I’ll use Google Chrome, but on my laptop, I exclusively use Firefox.

The best thing about Firefox is how it has a drop-down list of my favorite sites, unlike the pesky grid view that Chrome has (though Firefox has been trying to emulate Chrome’s formula in its recent updates). Over time, I’ve built up a mental hierarchy of sites:

Facebook should always come first. Again, I’m not sure why, but it just feels right that way. It’s right on top of the list; and if anything else is on top, there’s something wrong with my internet browsing habits. I move to rectify it immediately.

Twitter is second. As you can see, I’m a high social person, evident in my use and abuse of social media sites.

(yeah, right)

Third is 9gag. It’s a place filled with immature idiots, but from time to time, a particularly intriguing post shows up. Most of the time, it’s just an easy way to burn half an hour away.

Somewhere beneath this holy trinity is IMDB. I’ve only began using Metacritic earlier this year to get a more holistic view on current movies, but there’s just something about IMDB that feels right for looking up movies. Besides, I’m also used to the format in which it presents information, so I go back and forth between these two sites when checking out movies new and old.

There’s also YouTube, which is seeing less use these days as I’m getting more busy with work and writing (funny how they both begin with “w”). I subscribe to a handful of blokes, but the channels whose videos I catch without fail are: nigahiga, MinutePhysics, and Vsauce.

I also have TvTropes in there. It’s like 9gag, but for stuff I’m actually interested in, and with less idiotic people roaming around.

I’ve only discovered the wonders of reddit a couple of weeks ago when I was bored at work, and I didn’t want to read another word of The Hobbit. Earlier tonight, around 11.30P.M. or so, I thought to give it a shot and check out what subreddits there are.

It’s now 2A.M. and I’m still there.

Help.

334. Running

A brief history of me running:

I’m 7 years old, walking up to my grandparents’ place (this was before my paternal grandmother passed away). The house is a 7-minute walk from where I live, and we’ve done this many times before. Dad is not too far behind me. I skip along merrily towards the house, and that’s when I hear the rattle of chains, a feral barking, and I see a dog bolting for me.

I ran like hell.

I’m 11 years old, and it’s P.E. lesson on a weekday morning. I had some coconut biscuits for breakfast, and I can feel the weight of it in my belly, the taste of it at the back of my throat. Our class teacher, who, by default, was also our P.E. teacher, had us do a lap around the school field (400m) after some warm-ups. Then we get into pairs to play some badminton.

I hold up the shuttlecock, ready to serve, and my arms drop by my side. My class teacher looks at me, confused – until I turn to one side and throw up my breakfast on the trimmed green grass of the school field.

I’m 14 years old, and the school has decided to hold a “jogathon”, which is like a marathon, but much shorter. Our trail takes us through the local park, and I had a deal with a friend that we’ll just walk along at a brisk pace for the whole trail. My friend, sure of his capabilities of running the whole trail without stopping, left me behind. I pound my legs hard against the asphalt to try and keep up, and the strength in my legs give up while going down a hill about 3/4 of the way through.

It was a long while before I got up and dragged myself through the last quarter.

I’m 18 and straight out of National Service, intent on getting fit once and for all. I wake up at 7 in the morning, while the sun is still brightening up the sky in pink and purple hues, and I do 20 laps around the local playground. I feel the fire in my lungs, the mercury in my legs, the sweat like a crown of glory that I wear over my brow.

On the journey downhill, back to my house, I have to stop and lean against a pole. The burning feeling in my chest feels vaguely familiar. I then turn around and heave the apple I had for breakfast into the drain.

I’m 23 and my mom has bought a condominium unit. Since the utilities are being paid for, it makes sense for me to make use of the gym, even if we’re not living there. I become quite fascinated with the treadmill, and set it to “burn calories” mode for 5 minutes. By the time I stagger off the machine, my legs feel like jelly.

But at least I didn’t throw up. Or I didn’t until the month after.

I’m 23, and I’m back on the treadmill for the 4th month and counting now. I hit “quick start”, because “burn calories” take too much time to get started. I run – not 5 minutes, not 15 minutes, but 30 freakin’ minutes – with 5-minute breaks in between each sprint – and for the first time, I think I may actually be able to run properly.

My legs are sore at the end of the day, and mostly feel like they’re in need of a good masseuse. But that’s okay.

That’s completely okay.

319. The Abusive Relationship I’m In: Curry And Me

When I got home from class yesterday, it was close to 3P.M., and I hadn’t had my lunch. Suppose I should have had it before I left for home, but I thought that I’ll visit the Chinese shop near my house for a simple plate of fried noodles.

Wonder upon wonders, the shop was closed. Hungry, I went home and found out that my brother was having lunch at the nearby Indian shop. No longer in the mood to drive out, I called him and asked him to bring home some rice with curry chicken.

It was everything I dreamed it would be. The salty, savory taste of the curry seeped into the rice, and it was fragrant and rich and satisfying. When I went to the gym some hours later, I even had the energy to run for 30 minutes.

(today the treadmill; tomorrow THE WORLD!)

It was a good day. I had dinner at home and retired to bed early, before midnight, because I intended to wake up at 7.30A.M. to do the essential breakfast-cooking and preparations for the new day at work.

I woke up at 7.30A.M. with a terrible pain in my stomach; a pain which persisted for the better parts of the day.

I was running off to use the toilet every half hour or so. And there was no helping the pain: no amount of fluids being flushed down my digestive tract or toast ingested or yoga therapy could soothe the pain. I’ll just be working on a piece of copy at my desk when the pain would just hit all of a sudden, and the next moment I’m already bent over with my hands pressed into my belly.

Why do you do this to me, curry? Why?

(why do the things we love hurt us the most? Why?)

This has happened before. The Chinese shop I was intending to go for fried noodles? They serve chicken curry too, but I’ve stopped eating the ones they sell for about 2 years now. Because every time I eat it, I invariably find myself waking up at 4A.M. with a pain in my guts like a demonic possession and bile in my throat like the time I watched Chucky for the first time.

(not that I know what an actual demonic possession feels like. I imagine it must be pretty close on the misery scale)

So now it seems that in the absence of the strong antagonist, my stomach has weakened and is now vulnerable to even the chicken curry from the Indian shop, where I have eaten happily and without problems hitherto (Except that time a couple of months ago when it left me bedridden). I am, however, not as eager to toughen up my stomach as I am with my character on Skyrim, and I do not think that agony is a fair price to pay in order to be able eat a very specific type of food.

And so, with a sigh, I now cross another item off the list of food that I can eat without feeling like I’m dying.

On the bright side, I can still have bacon.

285. Absolute Silence

The quietest place on earth is a little chamber in Orfield Laboratories in Minnesota. In there, it is said that you’ll begin to hear your own breathing, heartbeat, and the sound of blood coursing through your veins. The longest any living person has been in there was 45 minutes.

Sometimes I feel like I need to lock myself in there for a couple of hours if I’m to get anything done.

It’s the little things in life that grates me. Total power blackout all across the suburbs? No problem, I’ll find my way in the dark. Massive floods? Guess it’s a good time as any to practice swimming. Ran out of money in the middle of the month? Small problem, I’ll make it through somehow.

But if I’m stuck in a traffic jam because some jackass neglected to service his car and had it die on him in the middle of an already-congested 2-lane road? Or when autocorrect refuses to cooperate with me, and decides to give me everything but what I want to type? Or when my keys – that have never given me any problems in 5 years of using them – suddenly won’t turn in the lock?

That’s when I go full Hulk on everything in sight.

(“SMAAAASSSSHHHH!! –No, wait. I still need this. Too broke to get a new one”)

What tops the already-ridiculous things that annoys me, from experience, are human voices.

It can be anything, ranging from someone persistently throwing questions at me, or the talk show host on TV just doing his job. When I’m in an irritable mood, what you can count on to send me flying over the cliffs of unstoppable rage is the sound of another human being’s voice. Yes, even if they’re offering food.

(unless it’s bacon. No one can ever get mad at bacon)

It’s why I like working at night. When people are asleep, and there’s a full foot of concrete between us, chances are that they will not be disturbing me while I work. Why, some of my most productive moments and most ingenious lines were written between 2A.M. and 4A.M.

As I reflect, I think this is also a big part of why I’m loving my present workplace. The thing about that last place I worked at was that everyone was incessantly talking about something – be it the weather, the traffic, the food, or their freakin’ relatives. But in this nifty advertising agency, despite what one assumes an advertising agency must be like, when the people get to work, boy, they get to work. Their eyes are fixed to their screens, their hands glued to the mouse and keyboards before them, they have earphones in their ears, and they do their work until it becomes absolutely necessary to talk.

(now I’m wondering what the plural for “mouse” is, when it’s in the context of the computer hardware. Do we still call them “mice”? Or “mouses”, to mark a distinction?)

It sounds peculiar, but I like to feel like I have space – physical space – to think. And the thing about sounds is that they take up the space that I need for thoughts, and my thoughts end up tripping over, or stubbing its little toe against these other sounds.

But that’s part of life, isn’t it? Tripping over things and stubbing your little toe against them. It’s as much a part of the human experience as falling in love and enjoying good food. We need to learn how to work around the little inevitable ways the world conspires to annoy us.

Not that a little life lesson is going to stop me from trying to set up office in the quietest place on earth.

281. Frozen Fingers

I’m not good with the cold.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t like the blistering heat as much as the next person, and I do enjoy a little chill in the wind. But when the cold starts getting under my skin and into my bones, that’s where I draw the line.

The air-cond in my room hasn’t been switched on in years now. Only two or three years ago, when one particular Sunday afternoon’s heat became too much to stand, did I turn the ancient machine on. What came out was first a splutter of dust, but it still worked anyhow.

(and that’s a miracle if I’ve ever seen one)

It’s just my misfortune that the rest of the world has a much better tolerance of the cold than I do.

I recall numerous, numerous times out with a group of friends, when they would begin to complain about how hot it was, and I’d just remark that the weather – far from hot – was actually quite pleasantly warm. These comments are usually brushed aside.

(one must be prepared to be brushed aside when disagreeing with others. This, however, has nothing to do with whether the one disagreeing is right or wrong or completely off the rocker)

It’s probably the sole reason why my brother doesn’t want to share a room with me anymore. I just can’t sleep with the air-cond. It’s okay for the first couple of hours, but then the chill starts to invade my body started with the feet and hands, piercing through the blanket. Then my nose gets stuck, and then I get the sniffles, and then I wake up feeling miserable.

It’s also my misfortune that the church to which I belong is likely the coldest church in the Klang Valley. Even dressed in a full suit, it’s a struggle every Sunday morning against hypothermia.

(I jest, but there is truth in every hyperbole)

Now I am seated at my place at work, my fingers slowing down as the minutes pass, the cold paralyzingly my muscles, clogging up the nerves, numbing the receptors.

I really should get gloves.

249. Bro, Do You Even Lift?

I have been going to the gym a couple of times now.

(3, to be exact)

Backstory: a couple of years ago, my mom decided that the property business was a pretty good place to venture into with all the money she’d saved as a schoolteacher over the years, 2008 Financial Crisis notwithstanding. There were plans for a condominium development westwards of my housing area, right along the main road, and she thought that it was as good an investment opportunity as any. So she talked to the developers, heard about their plan, and got in on it.

Late last year, the construction was complete, and furnishing works began all over the place. The unit that my mom now owns has a few lights installed, but is otherwise bare. I’m not even sure if the bathroom works, but there’s definitely no hot water to speak of.

Since the keys have already been passed to the unit owners, my mom is now a legal tenant of the condominium – with access to all its amenities. On the 5th floor, there is a blank hall, a couple of multipurpose rooms, a playground, a swimming pool, and a gym.

I’ve never been much of a gym guy. Because I’ve always loved the great outdoors, the feel of the wind against my skin, the smell of mud and leaves in the air, the crunch of gravel beneath my foot… But mostly because I’m too broke to sign up for a gym membership.

(all the major segments in my life so far can be identified according to the things I was too broke for at that time)

So when the condominium was completed, and we the family got access to all of its facilities by extension, there was no reason to pass up on the free gym. Besides, I was growing fat from all the sitting down I was doing at work, and my thighs are always rubbing obscenely against each other when I walk.

I mean, get a room, you thighs.

(I live by this motto: cheap things no good, good things no cheap… But free things are always, always good)

My original intention was just to work the treadmill. But then my eyes caught the lifting machines, and I thought, eh, why not? I do push-ups all the time. This is no biggie.

It turns out that the absolute maximum I can lift, with all the strength of my pectorals, triceps, and biceps combined, is 40 kilograms. I’ve always wondered why people grunt when they lift, and now I understand.

Over the past 3 times I’ve been to the gym, I’ve had to rest my aching body for 3-4 days after each time. That’s just how out of shape I am. The maximum time I’ve clocked in on the treadmill so far is 15 minutes, but that’s walking at the average brisk speed of 3.5kmph.

(arguably, I have never been in shape)

Despite the burning pain all over my body, I have never felt more alive. You’ll think they’re joking when they say you feel more energetic after a workout. They’re lying, of course, but that only applies for the first 3 post-workout hours. To feel lousy for 3 hours to feel great for all the remaining hours in a day, though, I think that’s a pretty good trade.

When I wake up in the morning, I expect to be sore all over. Heck, I might even stumble my way down the stairs because I have no energy left in my legs.

But it’ll only be a matter of days before the sore goes away, and I find myself back in the gym.

(besides, it’s free!)