Fuzzy Logic

While chatting with my mum on what she got up to while I was away:

My mum: Daddy and me went to Chinatown for the first time.
Me: That’s nice, did you have fun?
My mum: Yes! I bought Alec some cute cat coasters for his new balcony table.
Me: MUM!!??! He’s a guy! And he doesn’t have or want a cat!
My mum: That’s exactly why he needs cat coasters.
Me: ……

Backs Up Backs Up Back Off The Wall

During previous exam study periods, my walls have been adorned with post-its bearing various motivational messages such as “A 2-1 IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH”, “YOU CAN’T WRITE ESSAYS ABOUT ____________ (whatever book I was absorbed in at the time) CAN YOU??” and “STOP PLAYING DOPE WARS”. They worked.

This time I wanted to quote Dizzee from Stand Up Tall, but then realized that my mum wouldn’t take too well to “Can’t run the marathon without training or stretch the arsehole without straining” whenever she comes to my laptop for her Solitaire fix.The poor woman already takes issue with the photos I paste on my desk wall (of my life in England):

My mum: From these photos it would look as if you’ve had strings of boyfriends!
Me: Mum, two of the men with me in those pictures are priests, and another one is the preserved corpse of Jeremy Bentham
My mum: That’s even worse!

¹ Upon graduation, I thought it was only polite to pose for a picture with the subject of my dissertation. (Jeremy Bentham, not his corpse.)

Mother Of All Guilt Trips

Michelle: Okay, so I’m going out for dinner, and probably to a club after that. It’s my friend’s birthday, so I guess I’ll be back pretty late.
Mum: Do you know, I watched that Missing show on TV yesterday, and it was about this girl your age who left home for work one day and never came back!
Michelle: What do you want me to do, never go out?
Mum: I’m just saying, if anything ever happens to you, I will curl up and die.
Michelle: You have two other children lah.
Mum: Did I ever tell you about my friend? She had three daughters. Then one of them died. Then another one got some intestinal problem and died. A year later, my friend found a lump in her breast. But because she had no will to live on, she refused to do anything about it, and she died too.
Michelle, throwing hands in air: STOP IT MUM!!

Clinging To Perspective

I’m back, vaguely unpacked, in the house my family moved to while I was away, sitting in my new room (the first time I’ve ever had a room to myself at home), typing this while my laptop receives broadband love vibes from the cable modem. We had barbecued stingray, chilli kangkong and crispy baby squid for dinner at my request. Recent events in my sister’s job have kept her working past 10 pm in the past few days, but she spent Sunday cleaning my room and preparing it for me to come home to. My mum is doing my laundry, and the “WELCOME HOME MICHY” banner they kept specially from last year is the first thing I see when I enter the room.

I can’t remember a more miserable 24 hours in my life than those I just went through, but I mustn’t forget that even in the gloom my blessings remain abundant.

Deafening Wuthering Heights

My sister and I have a number of rituals. One of them is singing raucously, and we specialize in Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Today she dug it out and we put it in the CD player and turned up the volume.

Our usual goal is total sonic annihilation – the faintest possibilities of finesse, restraint and singing in tune are violently discarded. All through those pretty cascading opening notes we’re grinning, bouncing on our toes, readying ourselves for that first onslaught of OUT ON THE WILEY! WINDY MOORS!


Trust me when I say it’s an experience I can’t quite evoke just by writing in all caps.

Singapore Art Museum

I don’t know if I’d rate the Singapore Art Museum particularly highly if I were a foreigner, because it would be full of names I’d never heard of. Even visiting it as a Singaporean, most names apart from Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen and Ng Eng Teng draw a blank with me. But I found myself enjoying the museum’s permanent collection more than the Rodin exhibition we’d primarily gone to see; perhaps I subconsciously prefer painting to sculpture, or modern over classical, or perhaps it was just the familiarity of paintings I’d seen before on previous visits to the museum – I don’t know. It’s three in the morning and stream-of-consciousness is about all I can manage.

I like this museum, always have. I like its retention of the simple beauty it must have had as a school, the spare elegance it still has as an art museum. Today the revelation hit me that my parents walked the same corridors I was walking down, in the days when it was St Joseph’s Institution and they were students there. They met and romanced here. It’s a beautiful place to be able to remember falling in love in, I think.

I was also struck by the thought that this awareness of a personal history can only happen for me in this country. As far as England is concerned, I didn’t exist before 1999.

Terrapin Therapy

“He’s lost all interest in sex,” my mother confided. Thank God she was talking about my terrapin, and I certainly assumed she was talking about his attitude towards my other terrapin.

She was describing the symptoms of his recent malaise to my cousin, who normally doctors humans, but who’d somehow been pressed into service so we could avoid paying yet another hefty vet bill to a vet who merely gave him multi-vitamin shots and a hygiene spray clearly labelled with “Do not use on iguanas and amphibians”. (I know terrapins are reptiles, but it was hardly encouraging.)

My sister walked in and declaimed “CAN YOU SAVE HIM???!!” My brother described the trends he’d been noticing in his (the terrapin’s) stool. My father sat on the couch and shook his head slowly.

Welcomed Home

I walked in the front door and was greeted by our traditional cheesy family banners for returning graduate children – 1ST CLASS MICHELLE! in the hall and WELCOME HOME MICHY! on the door of my room. The first ever banner in the tradition was made 13 years ago by my mother and I, for my sister. While we were making it we rearranged the letters of WELCOME HOME BETHY! to HELCOME BOM WEETHY! (I was 9 and found these things amusing), and ever since then I call her Weethy from time to time.

We went to one of my favourite restaurants on East Coast Road and the salt and pepper squid had fundamentally and disappointingly changed. I would have felt a bit stupid saying “wo3 de jiao1 yan2 sotong mei2 you3 jiao1 yan2!” (literal translation: My “add salt squid” had no added salt!) to the waitress so I contented myself with the Hainanese chicken rice, which was as good as it’s ever been.

Plans for this time at home are mostly unformed. There’s mum’s birthday to celebrate, a cousin’s wedding to attend and play the violin at, a national debating tournament to judge, a multitude of friends to catch up with, a neighbourhood to fall back in love with, a plethora of favourite foods to eat too much of (see below), a Great Singapore Sale to bankrupt myself at, a Singlish accent to enjoy using again.

Slightly less positive features about the next month and a half are that it’s too bloody hot, my eyes have already gone red (I’m having flashbacks to the horrible summer of ’99 where 4 eye doctors couldn’t do anything to lessen my misery), I was reminded right from entering Singapore by the unsmiling passport control officers that random politeness isn’t appreciated here (they were more interested in continuing their conversation in Malay than responding to my hellos or thank yous or even registering my existence beyond the fact that I was a recurring troublesome feature of their job), and I have to find a way of not missing Alec.

Michelle’s summer food list:

  • Alvin’s claypot oyster chicken (Parkway Parade food court)
  • Ocean Fish Head Curry (Ceylon Road)
  • Hainanese chicken rice (Ghim Moh hawker centre)
  • Murtabak
  • Chilli kangkung
  • Sambal everything
  • Small crispy fried squid
  • Barbecued stingray
  • Baby octopus
  • Satay
  • Lots of Mum’s dishes that I can’t name but describe as “that chicken in the gravy that stains everything yellow”
  • Bubble tea
  • Luan Qi Ba Zao (explained last summer, scroll down to NoBlogLove post #2)
  • Bee-Bee (does anyone else from Singapore love this, or even remember it? It’s still 10 cents – childhood price – it comes in a small orange packet with a picture of a sparsely-haired plump man savouring something that looks like a gigantic piece of Bee-Bee, and it’s only available from small provision shops and some kacang puteh stands including Orchard Cineplex. I can’t be the only person keeping its sales alive by buying crates of it once a year!)
  • Uncle Toby’s muesli bars
  • McFlurry’s with Oreos (London, get with the program already!)

When Family Car Games Attack

dooce.com is funny today, especially if you used to play that game.

Games in our family car included As The Car Rounded The Bend The Baby Sister Hurtled Through The Window! Oh Wait, No She Didn’t, Her Heroic Big Brother Saved Her. The two main players of this game were, unsurprisingly, my brother and myself, although given our considerably different sizes at the time (he’s 11 years older than me) he pretty much wrote the rules.

Dear Mama

My mother called me yesterday during her lunch break. She’d come across a cheap CD sale and was wondering whether I wanted anything. I got her to read out CD titles, and stopped her eagerly when she read “Outkast. With a K. Stankonia. I have no idea which is the artist and which is the album.”

Just to make sure, I got her to read out track names, so my fifty-nine-year-old mother was standing in this CD store reading “I’ll Call Before I Come” and “We Luv Deez Hoez” into the phone. I don’t think she quite knew what she was saying, but I hurriedly told her it was the right CD before she got to “Gangsta Shit“.