Sunday, 23 December 2007

An Average Random Friday

"I hear that East and West Germany are now joined. Is that good news or bad news?" That was the rather unexpected question that my German friend M was asked on Friday morning.

About an hour earlier we had set out on the Tiger food trail. This is a day-long do-it-yourself tour of Singapore that takes you to some of the best hawker food stalls in the island. Each stop comes with a recommended dish or two which go down very nicely with Tiger beer.

We'd been off to a strong start at a stall called Epok Epok. They sold us some really good sardine pastry and absolutely outstanding kueh (a kind of Malay sweet). We were not bothered at all by the dirty looks we got from a couple of schoolgirls. They obviously disapproved of the idea of able-bodied men drinking beer at 11 am on a weekday. We obviously were loving the fact that we could.

No matter. We were on a mission. We were not to be deterred even by finding that the next stop, the delightfully named Skylab stall, was closed for lunch. (Yes, a food stall that was closed for lunch.) That meant we couldn't get any prawn vadai, so we had carrot cake instead. And Tiger beer.

That's when the stranger from the next table started chatting us up. After complaining about the high taxes on beer, he informed us that had paid his dues to Singapore by doing his manadatory 2-year stint in the army. Then, after being reassured that the reunification of Germany was good news, he turned to a topic closer to his heart.

"Is it true", he asked interestedly, "that there are some beaches in Germany where you can only go nude?"

He then told us that he intended to go to Germany for a holiday one day. I wonder why.

And so it went. Roast duck noodles and Tiger beer. Grilled tofu and cuttlefish and Tiger beer. Then, as the sun was setting, came the high point of the day: oyster omelette with the most wonderfully tangy tamarind-and-chilli dipping sauce. The oysters were fresh and juicy, the omelette was fried in generous amounts of oil, and the sauce was to die for.

It was so good that we decided we neded a break from all the eating. We took a couple of hours to recuperate at a wine bar. Then it was time to hit the final stop of the food trail. Good thing too, because by this time I was hungry again! So my supper of barbecued stingray went down very nicely indeed.

Satisfied by a good day's work feeding our baser appetites, we decided it was time we did something more intellectual. So we went to the National Museum where I remembered they were running an exhibition of Greek sculpture from the Louvre. Of course by this time the exhibition was closed for the day. But that was fine, since we really only wanted to go the museum bar anyway.

One drink and many photographs later it was clear that it was time to add a different flavour to the evening. So we made our final stop at Club Momo, a club that for some reason draws an almost entirely Chinese clientele and can usually be counted on to be interesting. I was not disappointed.

The entertainment for the night was a Thai band. Who sang only in Thai. And who did their stage banter entirely in Thai. In the middle they broke out into a sort of skit, for which one of the band members pretended to be pregnant. But I could not really tell what the skit was about because ... it was entirely in Thai.

I love this city!

Monday, 17 December 2007

BabyLegs: $12 + shipping. Salvation: priceless.

When I'm in a mall I expect to spend a couple of mindless hours walking between racks of merchandise and stuffed wallets. So on Sunday I was pleasantly surprised by an educational experience. In a store selling stuff for kids I saw a flyer that educated me on the dangers of Gapiosis.

You may unfurrow your brows now; I will explain all. Gapiosis is the space between the top of a baby's socks and the bottom of its pants. Bad enough in ordinary circumstances, it gets accentuated if you are callous enough to carry your baby in your arms. Horror of horrors, Gapiosis condemns the unprotected baby to contact with air!

That's right folks, this is the same air that is unfit for fish to live in, that can slowly and inexorably transform a fresh pizza into a two-week-old lump of moldy green culture. Imagine what it can do to a sweet, delicate baby's shins!

Thankfully, help is at hand in the form of BabyLegs, striped leggings last worn by Jane Fonda in fitness videos in the 1980s.

But now that our children are protected against gapiosis, you have to wonder what other dangers lurk. For instance, how will we defend our young against the dangers of tubercolourosis? No, no, not tubercolosis; we have vaccines for that. I'm talking about tuberCOLOURosis. This is the less well-known affliction wherein children who eat too many carrots turn orange.

And who will guard the generation of tomorrow against the depredations of cheeking pox? (You haven't heard of cheeking pox? This is when swarms of well-meaning but otherwise daft adults grab a baby by both cheeks and shake its face hard while pretending to lisp.)

While diplomats from the world over are jawing at each other over climate change in Bali, the next generation of mankind lies in its collective cradle under the shadow of these and other perils. Will we realize our danger in time? Will the BabyLegs corporation succeed in their heroic struggle to rescue our future?

Or will our race die out in an epidemic of shivering legs, orange tans and saggy jowls?

Only time will tell.

Monday, 10 December 2007

The Golden Years

I've been moaning softly to myself for the past few weeks that I'm losing my reading habit. I've bought many books and then not read them. Perhaps it was for the best. I was idling a little while ago and on a whim pulled out a book that I had bought a couple of years ago; today was a very good day to open it for the first time.

Woman's Best Friend is a collection of writing by women about their dogs.
Pam Houston's foreword reminded me of the lessons we learn from our dogs: "... that if your paws are too big to fit in your ears, you have to get someone else to do the scratching, and that if you want your hand to be licked you might have to put it under somebody's nose ... that sitting in the grass together doing nothing isn't really doing nothing at all, and that sometimes, even if you haven't acted perfectly, the good thing happens anyway."

I'm not sure that makes any sense to anyone who has not had a dog. But it reminded me why the best part of the weekend that just went by was not the partying (and there was a lot of partying). It wasn't the sleeping in (although there was a lot of sleep to catch up on). It was the Sunday morning hour I spent slowly brushing my dog Phoebe as she lay patiently with her head resting against my knee.

It's been slowly creeping up on us that she is growing older. She is six years old, her muzzle is more white than brown, and it is very probable that she has lived more years than she has left. And those years have not always been kind. From the time she was four months old she has carried a limp in her hind legs that surgery could not cure. It has slowly grown worse over the years.

Not that it's taken away her spirit. She sometimes makes a pretence of being all ladylike. It helps that she has coal-black eyes under improbably pretty blonde eyelashes. She can sit patiently for hours while you trace a finger gently between her ears. But then something clicks in her canine brain and she leaps up in a flurry of activity, ready to wrestle with you for possession of her favorite toy, a stuffed dolphin.

She is on her second dolphin now. This one is pink, much more suited to her (usually) feminine demeanor than the steel-grey one that she had earlier. Not that her feminity is much in evidence when she is in the mood for tug-of-war. She comes at you with the dolphin's tail clamped in her jaws and her tail marking time as it wags maniacally behind her furry brown bum. At that moment you know that you are expected to grab onto the dolphin's nose and hang on for dear life. There have been times during these games when I've had to let go or I'd get my hand yanked out of my wrist along with the disputed dolphin.

Phoebe gets along famously with her vet. With total disdain for behavioural stereotypes she charges into his office as soon as the door is open. After years of regular injections she has her routine down pat. She goes straight for the weighing scale so that we can make sure her weight is under control and not putting undue strain on her delicate hips. Then, while she waits her turn to go into the treatment room, she asserts her authority over the rest of the gathered creatures in the waiting room. She scrutinizes each new patient as it trots in and makes sure they know that she is the senior personage in the premises. Any challenge is dismissed with a peremptory bark.

The vet's eyes always light up when he sees her. "She may not be the best-looking dog in Singapore," he told us once, "but she is certainly the best natured."

Fiddlesticks! She is too the most gorgeous dog in the island!

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Where's Your Half of the $100 Bill?

Sometimes you just have to wonder about consultants. Over the past few months I've worked on two projects with consultants that were hired by the company I work for. During that time it became pretty clear that consulting is mostly about having a client ask you a question, asking the client what they think is the answer to their own question, and then playing that answer right back. While distorting it just enough to turn a right answer into a wrong one.

Yes, it's been frustrating. And like all frustrating experiences it's also been hilarious. Earlier this week, for instance, I was informed that I am now a Change Agent. This was revealed to me during the course of a POW! workshop. Don't ask me what POW! means. If I tell you I will have to shoot you.

What I can tell you is what it means to be a change agent. Mostly it means that you sit in an uncomfortable chair in a freezing room for two days, while surfing the net on your cellphone under a desk. And it means gnashing your teeth when you run out of Oreos before lunchtime. And it means suppressing giggles when people around you argue passionately about whether or not to start calling a marketing plan "building blocks". It's like being back in kindergarten. You spend all day shut up in a room and contemplating cookies and building blocks when you'd really rather be outside twiddling your toes in the grass.

Of course there is a bright side to being an agent. For instance I can now go to office wearing a trenchcoat and trilby hat. I can spend the day hiding coded messages in the flowerpot near the coffee machine. And I can sneak up behind colleagues I dislike and garrote them with an Ethernet cable.

Mind you, there are dangers too. The Enemies of Change and Progress are everywhere. Saboteurs lurk in wait of an opportunity to perpetuate the status quo. But so far they have been unable to catch me off guard. Today I spent the day sitting in front of a giant window. It was dark and rainy outside, so the window acted like a mirror. When people tried to catch me unawares by approaching me from behind I could see their reflection long before they came close enough to initiate hand-to-hand combat. Noone could catch me off guard, and in the end the forces of freedom prevailed over the axis of evil.

Tomorrow in office I will start feeding bits of disinformation to the people I suspect of involvement in the resistance. I will then watch in meetings to see how this disinformation seeps through the organization. This way I will unearth the hidden networks of spies and renegades. Then I will unmask them and hold them to account for their evil deeds.

I must stop writing now. I have a feeling I am being watched.