Wednesday, December 31, 2008
You might have read that there is an increasing number of people putting up their nude/semi-nude pictures online for all to see. Well I am not a pioneer in this but I certainly have done this long before it became “fashionable”. There are two primarily-gay (official) nude beaches in Sydney namely Obelisk Beach and Lady Jane Beach. Ision was working on Christmas Day so I gathered a few of my friends who had no plans on that day as well to accompany me on my virgin-trip to the Lady Jane Beach.
And you know me right? Nude beach = perfect photo op. So with some of your imagination to complete the pictures, here you go.
So what do you think? I still got it right? Seeing that there is a direct bus from my place to that beach, I know I can be one with nature much more often from now on. The next step is simply to look for more naturist pals!
Happy New Year one and all!
Friday, December 19, 2008
You must be wondering why have I been absent from the blogosphere for so long. Well wonder no more because this post will illustrate why in detailed clarity, so read on…
We have officially moved into our new one-bedroom apartment on 22nd November 2008! THE NEXT PHASE has developed further towards my planned direction and everything seems so much more exciting and rosy now. But there is quite a bit to do as well.
I must admit I am a sensibly-materialistic person but when it comes to providing my partner and me with a high quality of life, I do not think that I should scrimp and save if I can afford it. We all save money so as to spend it at some point in time right? If I were straight and aspiring to be an HDB-dwelling breeder back in good old Singapore just like everyone else, I would be using a huge chunk of my savings for a flat (and a wedding as well as all the other rat-race breeder activities). As we are still renting, the amount we have spent is but a fraction of what the said breeder would have spent, not to mention the cost of breeding that we do not need to grow white hair and get out of shape over. So do you want to join my camp now and enjoy a higher level of disposable income?
One of my must-buy items is a full high-definition LCD TV of at least 42”. This is my self-set basic standard for home entertainment. I am still resistant to Blu-Ray at the moment and intend to give it some time to get more popular (in the footsteps of the original DVD). Without Blu-Ray, the only other way to experience full high-definitional visual orgasm is to play games on an Xbox 360 Pro game console. I actually have no preference between Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 but Ision is dead sure about the former so Xbox it will be. Well the TV has been bought (and I finally got to cross out a dream that started ever since the first obscenely-expensive plasma TV was put on sale) as well as a reasonable Yamaha sound system (2 tower front speakers, 2 tower surround speakers, a centre speaker, a sub-woofer and an 5.1 channel AV receiver). However gaming is not an absolute necessity and so prioritisation dictated the game console be bought only after the post-LCD-TV-purchase pay day. Of course I kept my promise to myself and now Ision and I are the proud owners of an Xbox 360 Pro console with 2 wireless controllers and a console-charging dock (plus the four free games that came with the package). And just like that, my LCD TV has buddied up and is no longer lonely (he was getting quite sick of the obsolete DVD recorder I brought from Singapore). I must admit the home entertainment system we now have is too sophisticated (size- and sound-wise) for now but I am also preparing for our eventual move to a bigger place.
Next on the essential items list is the fridge (because Ision and I are great fans of food and living without the electronic cooling box for even a few days would be torture). I originally wanted a super high-end one (metallic-coating, double-door with external ice- and water-dispensers) but got impeded by the lack of space in the kitchen. I thought to myself -- since I cannot buy the best, I will settle for a cheap but decent one. The newer fridge models are all bottom-mounted (ie. with the freezer at the bottom) because new refrigeration technologies no longer necessitate cold air to be driven only from top down anymore. I originally thought that the model we chose could be opened either from the left or right (I have always wanted a fridge like that) but I later realised (when it was delivered) that the configuration has been disappointingly pre-fixed. Nevertheless it is a good-sized model and since we will never have an expanding family, this fridge not only saves space but also money and energy.
Then comes the all-important couch, the largest piece of furniture in the living room (and so it must not go wrong!). Whenever I flip through furniture catalogues, I always find the sight of lounging on the love seat of a sofa so warm, cozy and inviting. And when I turn on the TV, I see couples in each other’s arms lying on the love seat (I guess this explains why it is called a “love seat”) and again -- warm, cozy and inviting. So it is a case of stop-drooling-and-get-yourself-one-too. However we need to buy one that can fits nicely into the not-so-big living room. It should preferably also be a sofa bed so that we can host visitors comfortably. Just when I thought I was on top of my grand plan, my worst fear came true -- our living room is not big enough for a love seat sofa bed (the bedroom is bigger than the living room and the bathroom is so much bigger than what I expected)! The painful decision was then to make do without a love seat (with just the sofa bed option). Actually the solution to this problem is to shop at real furniture outlets and not IKEA but since I am not about to burn a hole in my pocket (a.k.a. touch my fixed-term deposit), I guess this will do for now (until our next move to a bigger place). To be fair, there can be very good stuff at IKEA you know. I thought this would spell the end of the couch drama but a second trip to IKEA led us to a single seater plus a love seat option. Then it was crunch time (2-seater sofa bed without the love seat or a 1-seater non-sofa bed with a love seat) -- we decided to give up on the sofa bed option because we got this new place for ourselves, so that it will be a nice place for us to stay, not because of our need to host visitors even though we would really like to be able to do that. So all my family and friends, it seems that you would have to find your own accommodation when you come visit but I can still bring you around for sure (unless you are coming alone and do not mind crashing on the couch)! Unfortunately, a white fabric was chosen for the couch (a BIG regret) and as a result we had to buy throws to protect the fabric from dirt. And there ends the couch drama. Phew!
One might argue that a bed frame should also be high on the priority list but since we have an existing mattress, that had to wait initially (while we sleep on the mattress on the floor). I do not see a need to buy an expensive bed frame because most of the time in shops, the expensive ones are gi-normous which again is not one-room-apartment-friendly. That being said, I still have my requirements for a bed -- it has to have a proper head board and also be high enough. Ision dislikes head boards as he feels that it stains the wall when the former knocks into the latter (hmm… why so much knocking I wonder…) but I managed to “convince” him to have a bed with one. So in the end, we settled for a simple IKEA model (we need a king-sized one because Ision hates it when I toss and turn into his space at night and jut my elbow into him but again IKEA, being not the ideal furniture outlet to shop at does not have the lowly-demanded king-sized frames -- we could only have a queen-sized one in the end -- oh well, we just have to cuddle each other tighter!). We also threw in two bed-side tables with two drawers each to complete the bedroom ensemble. It was fortunate that there already were built-in wardrobes when we moved in and they offer lots of storage space.
By the way, my 42” LCD TV came with a free 26” LCD TV and my sound system came with a free DVD micro hi-fi -- all this free stuff could so add spice to our bedroom! The existing book shelf we have will now be in the kitchen between the living room and toilet. The altar table will now be our bedroom TV/sound system cabinet while we have a simple IKEA TV cabinet in the living room for my pride and joy. Although our new apartment has a lot of in-built storage spaces they are unexpectedly running out so we must be smart in our storage methods. Over several weeks, I gradually picked up more pieces and plonked them ornamentally around the house. I want our new place to be as cozy as possible as it is the place we will spend most of our time in. Also with a nice apartment, we can invite more people over for I have always preferred home parties to those outside where drunk, unruly and possibly homophobically-violent heteros abound.
Bit by bit, our furniture family grew bigger and bigger. In the toilet we added a 2-in-1 washing machine cum dryer (that is not cheap!), a magazine rack, a full-length mirror and an electronic scale with body fat, water and muscle mass analysis. We also got a dish-draining rack and a step-on-the-peddle-and-it-will-open waste basket (what is the proper name for it I wonder) for the kitchen. As for the living room, it is starting to look very good with a mini-running-water-fountain thingamajig, a nest of three coffee tables (very space-saving -- one of the three was later used by Ision's altar), and two laptop supports that put the “lap” back in “laptop” (as the user sits comfortably on the couch). Ision’s Guan Yin shrine is now in the living room and his altar has found a new abode in the bedroom. Of course a nice home cannot do without tea lights and there are many all over the place to add that cherry on the icing of the cake. Building a home together is a long(ish)-term process and over the next few weeks, we will beef up the apartment further with a spice rack for the kitchen, a living room rug and a bold piece of art for the living room wall. We might also get a painting for the bedroom, a living room floor lamp and small potted plants (if there is space for them). The bedroom could possibly house a tower fan too so that we can sleep more comfortably as summer sets in. Only after these additions will I deem our new place more or less complete. It is just too bad we do not have space for a proper dining table (right now the coffee tables will have to do). We have also decided to pass on the $5000+ latex mattress that Ision has long been eyeing on. But that gives us more things to look forward to when we undergo our next dwelling-upgrade, possibly something bought instead of rented. And yes, I will definitely post pictures (or maybe a video clip) of our truly-completed home when the time comes (a house-warming party will probably be thrown in as well). You can always come and visit if you cannot wait till then to see the apartment!
I kind of expected setting up our new home would be exciting but I never expected that anxiety, borderline panic and stress would jumble into such a frenzy right in my face as well. But still a sense of warmth presided over all other feelings because it is OUR home now. Most importantly, it is one dream off my checklist -- does this mean I need a replacement dream now?
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
But how the movies fared in the eyes of this critic is not the topic today. If you are an avid movie-goer like I am, you will notice that many movies nowadays revolve around the topic of terrorism and war. The concept of terrorism has been around for ages but it did not hit me (as well as a huge part of the world) till 9/11.
It was during my 6-month student exchange programme at University of New South Wales in Sydney when 9/11 happened. I was one of the few who had personal TVs in their hostel rooms. I think I was watching “The Simpsons” or some other early evening show when my goggle-boxical fix was interrupted by a special news bulletin. At first I felt a little strange and could not really believe my eyes as the scenes on TV were even more spectacular than a disaster movie. Then more and more people crammed into my room to watch as the events unfolded (2nd plane crash, 1st, 2nd tower collapse, etc). Slowly the gravity of the situation kicked in. My eyes stayed glued to the TV till the wee hours of the night and for weeks after that the news was my favourite TV show as it was filled with exciting 9/11 reports and the American war on terrorism.
I visited Ground Zero several times when I was working in New Jersey a few years after 9/11 and it did not do much for me then. It greeted me with a very touristy feeling and despite the crowds, the site gave me nothing other than coldness. Now 7 years have flown by and the world’s obsession of 9/11 has ebbed. I always feel that the true measure of when the world has gotten over a tragic international event is when Hollywood is allowed to make money out of it. And it has -- in buckets.
“Body of Lies” and “Eagle Eye” both played on terrorism albeit with a different type of enemy. I have also since 9/11 watched a lot of documentaries about 9/11 conspiracies and how companies profit from war with all of these shows lined with potent anti-Bush sentiments. Now that his terror regime is close to being over, the world can hopefully breathe a sigh of relief. Only when we cut out the fuel to a fire can it be put out totally and only then can lives affected by terrorism really start on their roads to normalcy.
Before you start to think of me as a political person, let me stop you because I am not but I did get stirred up by the media (a very powerful agent not to be underestimated) when I was living in the States during the 2004 election season. I even stayed through the night to watch the election coverage on TV which of course culminated in extremely disappointing results. Perhaps it was because for the first time, there was actual election competition that I could see with my own eyes and not only the show they call “election” put up by the Singapore media for its citizens.
This is one of the most insidious long-lasting side-effects of living in Singapore. It lulls you into thinking that everything is all right. The media is full of rosy nation-building reports on Singapore’s GDP growth, the new train line, some stupid campaigns and what have you. All reports of anything bad (eg. fatalities during army training, reasons for Mas Selamat’s escape, one of the most severe investment flops a.k.a. Suzhou Industrial Park, etc) are censored (I know this because I have friends working in the news office). The only bad reports that choke the TV screens and airwaves are from other countries (wars, famines, executions, terrorism, diseases, etc). The scary thing is that people living in Singapore do not realize this at all until they have moved out and seen the world. Maybe ignorance is bliss but I always want full knowledge and demand full disclosure because that is what I expect other people to want and demand from me as well. I can go on and on with this but I will reserve my salvos for a future post in which I will show you a video detailing the lies the Singapore government has fed its people over the years.
As you all know, I write my own songs and they are usually of boring themes like love and love and love (well you get the picture). But living in the States had created a heightened sense of anti-apathy towards world events and politics that finally had a chance to flourish out of the darkness of the Singapore sun. It was then when I started to write songs of a different nature. Songs about the world, gay activism, religion – things that basically will not sell in the market (well at least the Asian market) unless you are as famous as Elton John (or Jay Chou). I surprised myself at how well I could articulate thoughts and experiences that could not be further from my life of comfort and familiarity. Perhaps I am a natural-born artist (haha) but rather it was because I finally broke free of the chains wrapped around my brain that many Singaporeans drag along in their heads. Now that I am living out of Singapore permanently (and not just one and a half years like I was in the States), who knows how much of an activist will take control of me in the coming years. All I know is that I would rather this than suffocating in the mirky depths of we-are-number-one-in-the-world-and-we-do-not-need-to-improve-or-entertain-any-suggestions-or-advice hubris I was living in before.
Enough bitching from me for the day. Now I would like to share with you a song (in the form of a DIY-MTV, along with its lyrics and English translation) I wrote after the terrorist siege of School Number One in the town of Beslan in the Russian Federation when a group of armed rebels, demanding an end to the Second Chechen War, took more than 1,100 people (including some 777 children) hostage on 1st September 2004 for three days. The siege ended in heavy gunfire when Russian security forces stormed the building using tanks and heavy weapons. The tragic event ultimately killed at least 334 hostages, including 186 children with hundreds more wounded or reported missing.
Would I have written such a song if I were living in Singapore then? Most likely not. I am proud of this song because it showed me that I could still feel for others so different from myself, that I am not an apathetical zombie unaware of how hopelessly one could be incarcerated by his comfort zone.
So are you a zombie?
[A Mutated World]
The afternoon swings hear no laughter
There is not a single soul in the cafeteria
Innocence is lost on the young faces
As questions fill their heads
What happens after midnight at Cinderella’s ball?
Why are you crying teacher?
Who is this person beside me?
The eyes of childhood should never see this mutated world
How much blood must be spilt in order to trade war with peace?
How can they understand the complex concept of terrorism?
Do you think you will lose less than what you win this round?
The eyes of childhood should never see this mutated world
How much blood must be spilt in order to trade war with peace?
How can they understand the complex concept of terrorism?
Do you think you will lose less than what you win this round?
After the encounter of nightmare finally comes dawn
But fear still lingers in their tiny hearts
They are growing up in this world
How can you sleep at ease tonight?
The eyes of childhood should never see this mutated world
How much blood must be spilt in order to trade war with peace?
How can they understand the complex concept of terrorism?
Do you think you will lose less than what you win this round?
Sunday, November 9, 2008
But when it seemed that we had to continue living in that poorly-ventilated studio apartment for some time more, an innocent-looking apartment came up for inspection. Without much hope, we went for it and even lodged an application. I guess good things come to those who wait – the person who was offered that place originally did not pay the deposit in time and we simply swooped in to bag that 1-bedroom apartment! It is not all that bigger in terms of floor space compared to our current studio but it is much better ventilated and lit. It also has a lot of storage space and very high ceilings (which makes the whole place look more spacious than it is). All in all, it is like an immaculate piece of canvas finally ready for me to start painting one of the biggest and most important dreams of my life. And with my partner there beside me while I paint, what more could a man ask for in life? It is going to be such a great adventure sprucing the whole place up to perfection! Friends and family, when you come and visit next year, everything will be ready for your viewing and living pleasure!
With this piece of good news followed days of notably better mood. Ision and I are quibbling less and we are more loving towards one another as well. You see, when two people live in such close proximity day in and day out, all relationship experts would recommend the concept of “personal space”. Intensely dependent relationships burn out really fast and this can be prevented by both parties still being individuals despite being in a loving and committed relationship. I have left 29 years of my accumulated support system back in Singapore and I know that I must form new systems outside of Ision’s in order to adjust well into this new landscape, both space-wise and life-wise. My grand plan had “settling down” as top priority and so “making new friends” naturally took a backseat. But I failed to realise that part of settling down is actually making new friends and with that recent realisation, a new goal was set.
And everyone who knows me well will know that once I set myself a goal, I will go to the extreme to try to achieve it or at least give it a good kick-start. Some time back, I went online to source out Sydney gay support and social groups that I could dip my head into. I did not have to try very hard before managing to locate a few and then I started making contact (all within a single day) and attending their events over a few weeks. Here is a brief rundown of the events that I have attended thus far, the people I have met and my impression of everything.
Sydney Gay Freethinkers
At first I thought this was a religion-based group (or rather anti-religion-based) but it is actually a group of people getting together to discuss a wide range of issues aimed at promoting free-thinking (ie. outside the box). This is the first event that I have attended and it takes place every Monday evening at ACON (AIDS Council of New South Wales) near Oxford Street. I arrived very early and was a little worried that there was only going to be the four people that were present then. The run-down setting of that place (typical of AIDS centres) was not exactly that inviting as well but more people came in over time and at the end of the session, there were twelve of us. The demographic was 40 and above and I was the only young-ish person around (and the only Asian). To be honest, many of the attendees were quite scary to me in the beginning (appearance, dressing and mannerism) but as the discussions started, I felt much better as it was the environment that I love to be in – one of intellectual discourse.
We were each told to come up with topics to discuss and two of the suggested topics were selected in the end namely “if you have a choice to be gay or straight, what would you choose?” and “how did and will the Internet change the gay community?” with the former being my suggested topic. I felt invigorated to be sharing and articulating my arguments and thoughts in the strangely relaxing social environment. There was a coffee- and nibblies-break in the middle and we had to contribute a token amount for next week’s snacks. At the end of the night, some of them told me how they would love to see me in the group again (I guess many people might have historically just come and gone after a single session for various reasons) and I responded that I would be there next week. I am not sure if I have impressed them with my ideas and intelligence or because they sorely needed diversity in their group but nevertheless it was nice to feel wanted and welcomed. So I went home that night with one main lesson re-learnt, that is to never judge a book by its cover. Also the night affirmed my passion for intellectual discussions and most importantly gave me a social avenue to be with other people outside of my relationship. I genuinely felt more adjusted than before (simply after a night out socializing!) and this has made me become an advocate of “personal space” (as one of the more important elements in relationship-building).
Asian Project: Connect
This gathering takes place every first Thursday of the month and it aims at bringing Asians and non-Asian gays together to discuss general issues that concern the community. It takes place at exactly the same location as the Freethinkers gathering – that run-down and slightly depressing place.
I arrived much too early as usual and ended up waiting in the lobby with the others. I was expecting the group to consist of older folks like what I saw with the Freethinkers but I was pleasantly surprised. The demographic was generally 35 and below and there were people from Indonesia, Hong Kong, China, Brazil (!) and Japan. The facilitator was a confident, very presentable and friendly young Chinese undergraduate which in my opinion plays a very big part in the success or failure in such gatherings. The night started with a break-the-ice session of self-introduction and one-minute quick-fire one-on-one discussions on various topics with different people. That intro session was a little lame to me but an open mind is what you should bring along to such events, otherwise you will not enjoy yourself. The topic that night was “Am I Boyfriend Material?” and we had to first do a questionnaire on how we are as lovers which then led to a discussion of our answers. Typically talkative as I am, I found that I was sharing the most but I was also conscious that I must give others a chance to talk so I kept my silence when it was necessary. It was all pretty standard discussion and there was a break in the middle when we could mingle. I found everyone very approachable and that that there was a good mix (only 3 Caucasians though). I will most definitely go for this session repeatedly. There is another Asians-only session every third Thursday of the month called “Asian Tea Room”. Ision doesn’t like these exclusive sessions because he feels that the concept is too discriminatory. I actually fed this back to the facilitator and he said looking at it on the surface, it seems rather hypocritical indeed since ACON purports its anti-racism stance whilst in the same breath conducts Asians-only sessions. But he said Asians need their own space much like gays away from the heteros. Although I understood everything he said but I do not agree with him because I have not really felt discrimination as an Asian in a Western country (or maybe it has always been too subtle for me to pick up).
After the session, a portion of the group went to a nearby Thai restaurant where we socialised and mingled for a while longer. This really made me feel at home – it was as if I was back at those weekend gay gatherings all over again and it filled me with much-needed warmth and familiarity. It is just too bad that this does not occur more frequently. On the other hand, it gives me something to anticipate to so it is not all that bad. Throughout the session, I billed myself as a happily-attached person because it is typical that people attending such events are trying to use the opportunity to change their single status otherwise and from my experience that night, I think I am right to assume so. What that led to (rather unexpectedly) was them asking me to share tips and advice on relationships and this made me feel nice albeit a little anxious of the things that should come out of my mouth in future sessions. But rest assured that I will be there for every single one of them because it is the kind of environment that I sorely need.
Gay Nude Buddies
Yes, I am a nudist and in my opinion, there are many nudists out there, closetted or otherwise and unaware of nudist activities or otherwise. And the rest of the people are just looking at it with a closed or wrong mind and thus are not willing to participate. Someone in Singapore told me he was not a nudist because he has a sense of modesty. Embarrassed about his body? Maybe. Inferiority complex? Maybe. Other than that, I totally did not (and still do not) understand what he meant. Naturism has always been so natural (duh!) to me ever since I overcame my physical self-esteem issues and it is now so second-nature to me that I feel everyone in this world is or at least should be a naturist. Anyway this nudist group was one of the gay social groups I contacted and before registering me for the event, I had to give the organiser my particulars as well as a picture of myself – not unusual as he needed to know whether I was serious about it or not. By the way, these nudist gatherings are non-sexual at all and this needs to be stressed to the masses – a true naturist event is supposed to be non-sexual!
The event was a dance party in the outskirts of the city located in a rehearsal studio at the end of a dark street of an industrial part of the suburb (so you can understand why the walk from the train station was rather scary). But as soon as I entered the dim-lit room with disco lights and soft dance music, I knew I was going to be right at home. I am not sure if everyone liked the soft lighting – maybe they did not want to let others see their physical flaws so obviously but I would have preferred it to be brighter. So I started mingling and talking (all pretty much the standard small talk kind of thing) whilst all the time at the back of my mind I was wondering how there could be a dance party in that setting (with not many people, a poor sound system and not exactly dancey music). I would have enjoyed their previous gatherings more eg. dinner at a restaurant and outdoor activities. I guess I would have to wait till next month for a different event.
Then a discussion about size (of you know what!) started and five of us in a circle started sizing one another up. People started becoming tactile in their discussion and my tool was not spared (although I did not involve myself in any use of my sense of touch). As expected, I had the best body of that night so I must have created certain desires in people. Granted that it was a non-sexual occasion, men (gay or not) just cannot help it in such a situation especially when there will not be any molestation charges attached to the end of the deal (so common in the straight world – sad). Picture naked straight men in the locker room towel-whipping one another or straight football players giving each other encouraging pats on the butt or even in school/the army where a group of pranksters force-strip someone in the spirit of fun – it is just what sexual men do (no matter how non-sexual they are trying to appear or view the act as). It is just that whilst the men in the heterosexual domain have to hide this desire, the other half of the domain does not need to. Thank goodness for that! By the way, all of them in the circle had huge (uncut) endowments (even before they got into the “awoken” state) and it was all so beautiful. I had to control myself not to cop a feel and it was (pardon the pun) hard.
There was a couple there that night and they were quite into each other. I am sure they were the objects of envy of most of the people there (including me) not because they are attached but because both of them are nudists and can indulge in naturism together. It is very common that only one partner in a relationship is into it (this depressingly applies to fetishes too) and the person attending nudist events without his partner normally feels a little sad that his partner is not there with him and the one left at home cannot help but be a little jealous that his other half is naked with other men. Having a partner with the same interest eradicates these negative feelings and it makes things so much easier and better.
As the night progressed, the music became louder and people started dancing. Two people (not sure if they were in a relationship) broke from the rest and went to lie together in a corner whispering sweet nothings to one another (one of them was a very cute Asian). I had a game of pool, ate some snacks and had a drink. All this while I was taking quick glances at the clock like Cinderella because I had to leave in time to catch the last train home. That really sucked because I could not really enjoy myself as a result. When the clock struck 11.30, it was time for my exit. I bade farewell to the organiser and some of the others with the promise that I will attend the next event. And I most certainly will!
There, all my recent weeks of socialising summarized in a hopefully not-too-long post. Interesting? I will leave it up to you to decide but it sure beats not doing anything to make more friends. All it takes is the first step and then everything else will move into place. Life is seriously getting better for me now – maybe it is really true that life begins at 30!
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Maybe the project engineering (ie. what I am doing at work now) is getting the better of me but I sometimes see my life as a giant project schedule capable of being mapped out in a single Microsoft Access document. And as all projects go, there must be milestone checkpoints where you take stock of what you have achieved and how much of the entire project has progressed thus far. And for this project called "My Life" which I am the engineer of, I see a major checkpoint coming up soon.
The big three-O.
One by one, I have witnessed my friends go pass this checkpoint in the previous months and now it is my turn too. Different people attach various degrees of emotion to this number and from what you see on TV and in the movies, this usually is a mix between despair, panic and depression (albeit masked by comedy most of the time). For me, I feel that life actually starts after 30 but before 30, we must first plough through 0 to 29 and in case you are wondering what exactly I had to plough through, you are in luck.
0 - 13
Basically before puberty, life is nothing but a means for you to reach puberty. I feel that too many people place too much significance in a happy childhood. Granted that those formative years do have an impact on your future adult life but we should all move on from there and make the best out of what we had and came from. I did not exactly have the best of childhoods having not had a father since I was eight and up till today, I do feel one of the reasons I turned out gay was because of the cliché lack-of-father-figure reason (don't shoot me for that opinion). For years, I have gone through depression for not having a fathered childhood and beating myself up for it. But what is the point of blaming your history for your current inadequacies in life? I am gay and figured that the best way to live my life is to live it my own way with my own goals and my own dreams. My own project. And looking at life as an unfinished project gives you something to work towards to all the time.
13 - 18
Looking back at my adolescence, I see a jumbled mess of acne, poor dress sense, insecurity, childishness and ignorance all wrapped up in a sense of being lost and desperately seeking directions and belonging. I have always told my friends if the price of being young again is to live through life not knowing how to fit yourself in and failing to blend into the background despite your best efforts then I would rather not be young. All those years of looking at magazines of men in skimpy trunks and underwear, admiring the physique and musculature of post-pubescent boys not being able to attribute any grounding reason for that is just plain wrong (albeit being totally exciting at that time). Trying to constructively chip into conversations discussing women's body parts without knowing an iota of what I was saying is even more wrong. I even tried wooing a girl for goodness sake and that just goes to show how clueless and ill-equipped I was at dealing with life. Want me to relive that? That's a big fat no!
18 - 21
But we all have to be patient even when the time scale is as long as an entire life. And if you are patient enough, life will certainly reward you by being more interesting. I don't think I was all that patient (and I am still the same now) but life did get more interesting for me. What came next on the timeline were my days in the army. Although it was only two and a half years, the army deserved an entire phase of life linked to it. National Service is something you can only enjoy in retrospect -- I recall seeing it as a complete waste of time (being stuck in an utterly inefficient system that the government still wants to package as something exciting, worth doing and to be proud of). But now, I realize that those years really shaped a lot of my current views on life along with the methods to deal with it. Being in an artificially-constructed environment in which people from all walks of life are forced into yours accelerates growth much faster than most people can acknowledge it. In the army, I had a glimpse of how life really is and it was nothing like what I have been taught at all.
21 - 25
The next four years of my life came and went in a flash. It seemed like a lifetime then but it was essentially a speck in the hourglass. When I was in the university, the only friends I had were lecture notes, tutorial assignments, tests, term papers and exams. I did not learn much about life and to be honest, I actually lost a huge chunk of it. Being the control freak that I am, school was always a stressful thing for me because it was something with results I had complete control over. Striving for perfection when there was so much to do left me no time to live out what a lot of people view as the most valuable period of one's life (a.k.a the period of reckless youth). The worst thing is that I did not get the best possible results attainable having been pumping in effort worth so much more than what I aimed to achieve! That is a smudge in my Microsoft Access document that will remain forever to taunt me and to remind me that sometimes in life, instead of being able to reap what you sow, you get ripped off.
25 - 29
So I was fresh out of university and with the world being my oyster, it was a time to set goals and plot a path to them. These years of my life were spent looking for a good job ("good" here means something that I don't hate and pays enough to allow me to live the life I want to live), and ultimately a good man ("good" here means "final destination"). Of course there was the sexual experimentation of all sorts (within reasonable limits) typical of youngsters of that age (it might be a tad late to Gen-Z standards though) which I believed helped to crystallize my desire to settle down knowing that I have sufficiently played the field. This four-year journey took me to the States for a bit where I saw another part of the world that I realized I was entitled to choose to live in. I saw for the first time what was available out there beyond the huge and thick imprisoning bars of the ironically small red dot on the map. My life was injected with a lasting chemical, biological and psychological high that left an imprint on all the future goals that I was to set for myself. Somehow from then, I knew that I must get out of Singapore and I must do it as soon as possible. It was venomous (and still is) and I had to run away before I get infected. So slowly (and sometimes sub-consciously) my plan of migration took form in my mind and as soon as I could associate a face to that form, that was my cue to fly.
And here I am standing at the precipice of year 29 looking back, I see that everything prior to now has a reason and plays a part in where and how I am now. The good, the bad, the sweet and sad all serve a purpose. And again I will have to start ploughing the fields, sowing the seeds and patiently wait for them to grow into trees that will provide shade for me in the future. Although age is a nothing but a number, it is still better if it were a nice round one. There, life is getting better already and I don't even have to do anything.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
You might find the concept funny -- having a parade in such a small area but it is important for the gay population in Singapore because it sets a precedence. It is also an opportunity to show the rest of the nation that we are but like them, normal and well-adjusted Singapore citizens. It is a daring move by the organizers and I applaud them. I have waited for this for so long but now that it might really be happening, I can only watch it from across the ocean for I am now so far away. Words cannot imagine how frustrated and sad I can get knowing that I will miss this historical event. You will have my moral support, the brave homosexuals of Singapore. It is time to step out of the closet and I will be there with you in all your hearts waving the rainbow flag so high.
I urge all of you (straights and gays) to attend the parade if you can -- that's why I am writing this in my blog to spread the word. Please leave a comment expressing your interest and I will point you in the right direction. This event has also been reported by The New Paper. But you will be surprised at the level of apathy in Singapore -- there are actually many gays who are completely unaware of this! Come on, I know freedom should be afforded to us by the government in a democratic country but Singapore is different (not right but it is just so) -- we must fight for our freedom as much as against the hypocrisy the government is knee-deep in.
To whet your appetite, here is an extract of what the parade organizers have tentatively put together:
Date: 15 Nov 08, Saturday
Time: 5pm - 7pm
Venue: Hong Lim Park, Speaker's Corner
Gays Are Like You and Me
1) To be publicly heard as gay or gay-friendly men and women
2) To show Singapore that her gays citizens are like you and me
3) To lobby for gay equality in all aspects of life
All people currently resident in Singapore. We welcome family members, friends, colleagues, schoolmates, and everyone who is gay-friendly and accepting
Icons and Banners to be displayed:
1) "Gays Are Like You and Me"
2) The Rainbow Flag
Casual (what you would wear when walking down the street)
Over The Rainbow - Judy Garland
Make It Happen - Mariah Carey
We Shall Overcome - African-American Equal Rights Theme Song
Keep the park clean
5:00pm - 5:15pm Assembly
5:15pm - 5:45pm Welcome and opening speeches
5.45pm - 6.00pm Briefing on March
6.00pm - 6.15pm First round of March
6.15pm - 6.20pm Short Briefing / Break
6.20pm - 6.35pm Second round of March / Songs
6.35pm - 6.50pm Public Forum: "Why is there so much shame associated with being gay in Singapore and what can we do about it?"
6.50pm - 7.00pm Thank you speech
7.00pm onwards Dinner Time; Free & Easy
Flyers: Distribute to bath houses, pubs, fitness centres, etc
Banners: Online and offline -- PLU, Fridae, Sgboy, IRC, Signel, Spaces (Oogachaga), Safehaven, Men After Work, Yawning Bread, Heartlander, Fabulous Asia, and any other PLU-related sites
Assistant Parade Leader
Secretary / Time Keeper
PR Manager, including briefing the media on which segment of the gathering is non-comfortable with being caught on video or photographed
Graphics / Webpage Designer / Facebook or Yahoo!Groups co-ordinator
Setting the deadlines
Recruit committee members
Print Park terms & conditions (http://www.nparks. gov.sg)
Get graphic designer to do flyer and bookmark
Video and music
Make small coloured flags for all participants
Make placard and banners
Get name tag / stickers
Bring trash bags
Talk to Hong Lim Park Cafe to arrange for food & drinks
Buy whistles, rattles, ghetto blaster
Get pole for rainbow flag
Forming a committee
Arrange for first meeting
Get the songs lyrics and practise with all
We all know how organized gays can get right? So are you impressed yet? There are actually many gay activists in Singapore organizing many activities for the community eg. seminars, workshops, talks, etc and I have attended many of them. The biggest one is the annual month-long Gay Pride event called Indignation (it coincides with National Day) which consists of many small events. Take a peek at IndigNation 2008 at http://www.plu.sg/indignation. Gay life is actually not all that boring when you strip off the clubbing, sex and drugs. We should all get involved and keep the gay flame of Singapore burning strong.
To do my part for the inaugural gay pride parade, I have put together an MTV of the Mandarin song I have written during the time when we had a fighting chance to tear down 377A and I wanted to make that the theme song to garner more support (but no one got to hear it). I then wanted to share the song with the community during IndigNation 2008 but alas I did not have the chance to perform it before I left for Sydney. Finally I can present it here as my support for the parade. The song is called " 傲 " which means "pride". I find this title especially apt because it sounds very much like the word "out".
Here are the words to the song (as well as a rough English translation) followed by the video:
I do not have the right to love a human being
How can there be a reason behind that?
You try to snatch our rights from us, how very ugly of you
We can no longer wait without any conditions
Let us realize our dream today
Our pride is high and mighty, we will not stand to be mocked
Against the wind, we can fly towards the ends of the world
If we harness this energy to create
The day of equal treatment will come
Our pride is high and mighty, we will not stand to be mocked
We swear to use love that knows no bounds to change the world
We know it is not that you cannot but do not want to
Please listen to our prayers
That rainbow in the sky, though it has seven different colours
We must all unite and strike together
Our pride is high and mighty, we will not stand to be mocked
Unwavering, we want the people of the world to see our strong and determined faces
If we do not fight and seek for ourselves
How can we better our lives?
Our pride is high and mighty, we will not stand to be mocked
The differences between you, him and I are so very minuscule
Why do you keep trying to not care and understand our urgent needs?
Our pride is high and mighty, we will not stand to be mocked
My freedom to love another is something you can have no control over
Hand in hand, the pride that surges from our hearts
We want you to see it now
Do you like the song/video? It is a tribute to all the brave gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered folks in Singapore staying on to fight the fight. One day we will claim what is rightfully ours and on that day, our pride will be so high and mighty, no one will ever mock us again.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
In Sydney, such parties take place every few months or so with the biggest one being Mardi Gras. As for Sleaze, which has been taking place during the Labour Day long weekend since 1982, the 6000 – 7000 tickets were completely sold out this year. We got discounted ones at $115 a pop. The event was held at the Hordern Pavilion at Fox Studios, a place where big rock concerts and exhibitions were held.
We had a relaxing day earlier and tried taking a nap before the event so that we could stay up late. I knew something was wrong right from the start as I did not feel any excitement prior to it. But still, I have not attended a gay dance party of this scale so I had to see it with my own eyes (the closest one I "attended" was the very last Nation Party in Singapore only to see it banned right after purchasing the tickets!).
We made our way to the rendezvous point and the 5 of us (3 of which were Ision's friends) started walking towards the venue (it took about 45 minutes) and the clock struck midnight soon after. During the walk, I kept hoping that I would slowly get higher and more psyched for the event but the elusive climax never saw the light of day. We entered the party grounds via the long (quiet) way and were a little worried that we might be on the wrong track.
The first thing that greeted us was not hunky gay men but pudgy female police officers inspecting our bags. There was a tiny sign at the gate listing the prohibited items (which they said had been posted on the website so we should have known beforehand) and one of the items was liquids. Well, there was a bottle of moisturizing mist in Ision’s bag and he was so furious that that was not allowed in because he felt that there was no way anyone would have known that liquids were banned (a new rule) prior to the event. An argument between Ision and the officers ensued. To diffuse the tense situation, I quickly ran to a nearby shrub with the bottle and hid it safely and got on with the night – I get very affected by awkward situations and the foul moods of people around me. So essentially, the already-dead partying spirit in me just got buried under another layer of dirt.
The theme of the party was “Villain’s Lair” so to dress to it, one is supposed to either be a superhero or a superbaddie. What we saw mostly were people in leather, something which Ision has not seen so much of before, not even at leather-themed parties! I gathered that leather was the closest to the theme and was something many already had at home so it was a simple get-up. It made complete sense – imagine how difficult and cumbersome it would be to dress in an elaborate costume during a crowded dance party only to take it all off on the dance floor right? (by the way there is no other way to dance in a party other than being topless – at least for me).
We adjourned to the centre of the dance floor only to discover that there was terrible live singing (occasionally out of tune) going on and not-so-attractive people all around us. This was supposed to be a major event graced by the A-Gays of Sydney but all around us were
The minutes and seconds ticked laboriously away into the night and my hope of better music started to wear thin and my lower back (as there was no space to stand in any way other than totally upright) and neck (as I was shorter than most of the people around me dancing in my face, I had to constantly look up) started to ache. I had to take a rest and so we went to take a seat at the designated resting area. One thing I discovered was that if you want to see cute hunky guys, stay at the perimeter of the dance floor and not go in. I don’t exactly know why but that was just so.
And so one of the most happening events in gay Sydney degenerated into an exhausting night of people-watching, which was not all that bad because there were some pretty amazingly- (and weirdly-) costumed people around. I guess the night not only served the purpose of dance but also of giving people the chance to break free of their everyday shackles and be who they really are. But what was left for people like us (people who are themselves all the time) to do when only such un-fabulous “music” was puking out of the sound system? So slumped in a chair our bodies continued. I was so glad at that point that I did not spend a single cent on getting a good leather costume for the party (the perfect outfit would have cost me $350)!
One of Ision’s friends (as well as many others on the dance floor) found a good way to stay high despite the lows ie. chemically. Prior to the event, this friend stocked up loads of these laboratory wonders so that they could unleash their mind-altering powers on a night like this. One of my undying principles is never to take mood-enhancers (including poppers). First they are expensive and I feel that I do not need any assistance to help me enjoy myself. If something is not enjoyable, it shall remain so because that is just how it is. Of course there are also the obvious health reasons. But this time around, I started thinking along the lines of if-I-were-to-ever-break-this-principle-of-mine-it-would-be-this-party because all stars seemed to be aligned, ready for me to let go of it. In addition to that, I have always been curious too – what does the word “high” really mean? And when all these elements got jumbled up along with a persistent friend who kept pushing the “little piece of chewable pleasure” to me, I guess there was nothing else I could do but to give it a go (only if Ision agreed to go halves with me). In case you are wondering what this $45 item in question is, I will drop a hint here: “anti-natural log of 1”.
And this was how one of the historical events took place in my life. Mind you, it was only half and so nothing was really expected but different people react differently and first-timers need to play it safe because you never know…
An hour or so passed and still there was no sign of music-improvement and it was already 5 in the morning. That was the last straw and we decided to leave – I wanted to experience a major gay dance party and I did. And just when we were about to leave, the magical effects of the pharmaceutical started kicking in. Everything seemed so clear as if my eyesight has improved beyond perfect vision. Also, all the fatigue I have been dragging along with my feet throughout the night seemed to disappear into thin air. I really felt that I could stay up for many more hours (the number was actually 5). It made me wonder – what if I had taken more than half of it... But still I had no reason to stay when the music continued to suck that hard (my ability to enjoy myself at dance parties depends SOLELY on the music) and so we began walking home. I was also looking forward to eating at the end of the event as I was so very hungry. Ision's friend later regaled us with how the music went from bad to fab right after we left (urgh).
So we walked hand-in-hand away from the claustrophobic ball of noise and sweat as the night sky peeled off along with all the party superficialities and slowly turned to light. I guess the night was not totally uneventful after all. Some people continue to skip, hop and jump (not to mention jerk, blow and screw) in the scene well after they have settled down but Ision and I are different and I got to fully confirm that over those 6 miserable hours. The name of my blog says it all – I have SO moved on to the next phase of my life and partying just does not fit in any more. I am not saying this from a moral high-horse perspective as there is absolutely nothing wrong about partying (heck, I love dancing topless if the music is right), this is just how my personal journey is playing out. Perhaps I am really getting old (and not just whining about it).
Whatever the reason might be, I am glad that I attended this year’s Sleaze Ball because not only had I broken new grounds, my beliefs got boosted with affirmation.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The Case of “Been There, Done That”
I have always felt that one of my most endearing and admirable trait is how steadfast I can be in my goal to find true love. I do not set goals easily because I know once I do, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) will auto-pilot my way towards the target. My past goals include getting a good university degree, a good body, leaving Singapore for greener pastures, and of course finding true love. You will see that I have achieved all those owing much of course to my OCD. However the thing about goal-achieving is once you have done that, what else is there to do? Well, one can always start enjoying the fruits of his labour or make goal-setting the next goal. These are all good advice but there is more.
I was in the Gold Class cinema lounge watching “The Mummy” with Ision the other night and a plus-sized black woman came and sat beside us. Immediately after that, she asked if we were married as she overheard us talking in married-couple-lingo (about my ugly cuticles being a manicurist’s nightmare). It was such a sweet question and both of us started talking to her as she went on to express her views against the opponents of gay marriage.
That scene in the cinema lounge was what I have never ever imagined being something accessible to me just a few years ago and now it is all happening. The bits and pieces of life seem to be falling nicely into place. When you have fought so hard and wanted so much for something to come true, you cannot help but feel a vacuous sensation in your heart when that dream is finally realised. Other than happiness and contentment, what else is there in the pipeline? What then can fill that void? In the first place, is there really a void and even if there is, is that void really a problem? With regards to my goal of finding true love, is it a clear-cut case of “been there, done that”?
Fortunately (“fortunately” might not be the right word) as Ision and I start our new lives together, there are new challenges that we have to face and they become nice distractions to fill that void. One perfect example would be the maintenance of my lean, toned body. When I was still living in Singapore and after my periodic Sydney visits, I always find myself having to work extra hard to lose the weight I have gained during the vacation. It is no different this time round except there is no post-Sydney space and time for me to starve and exercise all that fat out of me. Mind you, I am doing twice as much cardio as in Singapore but the fact that even that does not help prompts me to conclude that there is something fundamentally fattening about Sydney or for that matter, living in a Western country. It must be the food portions, the cold weather, cheap comfort food (as opposed to more expensive health food – especially when your wallet is suffering from the shock of a surge in cost of living), my feeling happier and more well-adjusted or all of the above. Since I have arrived, I have put on more than 2 kgs and I have lost a little of the definition of my pride and joy – my abs. Luckily the weight-gain seemed to have stopped but unluckily this means that this unsatisfactory new steady state might have to be my future from now on.
And here lies the conflict that has been playing in my mind for a long time. Years ago, I started making the gym my church to boost my self-esteem (shallow I know, but it did the trick) and also to land myself a partner with the improved body. I have always wondered whether I should ease on my gym-OCD now that I no longer have self-esteem issues (I think I might have issues of narcissism now – ah, the wonders of OCDs) and nights lying alone in my bed. Should I be contented with my body’s definition-loss or should I continue to work hard to improve it for the sake of myself (ie. to feed my ego)? Sometimes I think I should choose the latter as we all need to maintain our looks to keep ourselves attractive to our partners but I also get bogged down by thoughts of starving myself and slaving in the gym. I have a big ego, don’t get me wrong but in the face of a change in one’s phase of life (new country and new “married” life), should one’s self-pride be quelled in tandem? I find myself continually trapped in the middle of this tussle.
I used to always lean towards the working hard side but of late, I am heeled to let myself go with the flow of life. But then again knowing myself, can I possibly stand losing something that I know I have absolute control over? I think it is now evident how such mental struggles can serve as perfect distractions to the “been there, done that” syndrome.
Even if I do attain no clarity on this issue, I know in my heart that life is made up of both goals as well as the paths that lead to those goals. More importantly, I know that most goals in life (at least the important ones) are non-static. You can lose the love of your life, lose your figure and lose all the successes that you have toiled day and night to achieve in an instant. Once you can see this, there will be no such thing as “been there, done that” because “there” and “that” are such fleeting concepts that they simply do not exist.
So Ision, I will strive hard not only to preserve but to fortify our love using all means possible. And body, I will continue to make you proud of your owner (and vice versa).
Sunday, September 21, 2008
The Case of “The Betrayal”
A few weeks ago over lunch with a girlfriend, I innocently asked her why wasn’t her husband there, she told me that they were having some kind of a disagreement. To many, “disagreement” might be too casual a term to describe the situation. You see, she has recently found out that he has been surfing gay porn sites as well as having a correspondence with a friend he got to know from Gaydar (a gay personals website). The said correspondence actually stopped at “let’s meet up for coffee and see where this goes.”
If you were the wife in question, how would you feel right now? What should the first thing be done towards handling or even solving the problem?
The most important issue is not a matter of trust in this case. Although theoretically the husband has been doing things behind her back, we should not focus on that. The problem is a multi-layered one and even if you managed to rectify the issue of the lie, you have a much bigger problem in your hands – the problem of your husband’s sexuality.
Most people would take the side of the wife in this domestic conflict but we should see how this is painful for the husband as well. Imagine a man forced by society to hide his sexuality all his life. Living a lie is far worse than telling one. I am not saying that suffering the darkness of being in the closet absolves the crime of lying to someone you love but being the recipient of that love, you should step back and look at the big picture.
The first thing that the couple can do is to start a communication line going and this is dependent on whether or not the husband has accepted his sexuality. If there is no acceptance, there is a lot of work to be done on his part and this can take years. The wife must then ask herself if she is willing to wait for him to come to grips with it. The last thing anyone should do is to try to change his sexual orientation because it is impossible. With or without the resolution of the husband’s sexuality issue, the couple can seek counselling to try to handle that communication that is so important yet so hard to kick-start at this moment.
If the husband turns out to be bisexual (and not gay), there is still room for the wife to continue working on the problem. Many do not believe that bisexuals can be monogamous because they feel that one single gender simply cannot satisfy all the needs of bisexuals and we all know how strong men’s sexual urges can be. If you really love your bisexual husband and don’t want to lose him, the only route I can think of is an open relationship. I know this is unfair to the wife because she is the only strictly faithful one but it is very easy for a man to segregate love from sex (that is if the husband does love his wife). If the wife can be that open, the relationship will work out fine.
As you can see, there are so many layers to work through before this issue can really be resolved. More often than not, we either don’t have the patience or are not so open-minded. Also, there usually is no open line of communication when the issue of infidelity is involved because of all the lies and betrayal that has been thrown to the surface. The underlying make-or-break factor is love and I mean strong love from both parties. If you have it and let it be your motivating force and guide, there is a much higher chance of this working out.
So how can we avoid this problem from happening in the first place? I guess we can never do it, especially in a society that is not progressive and open-minded. When a bisexual or gay person lives in such a society, there is a very high tendency to hide his or her sexual orientation and this (not the gayness itself) poses real societal problems (gays getting into doomed marriages and families breaking up subsequently). Only when society opens up can we be truly honest to one another right from the start and maybe all this pain and frustration can be averted. But our lives go on regardless of how slow or fast the society progresses so I guess we just have to deal with it when it punches us in the face. Fortunately, gay relationships do not suffer this fate because we know for sure we are gay and get together without even realising that this could actually be a problem for many. I pity the straights that are in this predicament, I really do. But I blame the society and all the external factors (eg. government, politics, religion, etc) curbing the evolution of a progressive world.
I gave all the advice I could think of to my girlfriend and right now they are at the stage of sweeping everything under the rug as if nothing has happened as the husband is likely to have not come to terms with his sexual orientation yet. But do you think they don’t know what’s coming to hit them eventually?
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I will share some of these vignettes from my recent life with you over the next few weeks. They are still fresh in the Brain album.
The Case of "The Irritating Colleague"
When I left my job in Singapore, the company was going through (and still is) a very common problem, that is the influx of cheaper (and more easily satisfied) foreign workers. The company can pay them less because they come from poorer countries and they are also willing to work harder for the same buck than their Singaporean counterparts (who have risen above the "poverty level"). This influx usually makes the workforce less cohesive, leads to anti-harmony in the workplace and saps the already-dwindling fun out of it. However this is inevitable as a country progresses and so its people must somehow find a way to swim or sink.
Under this umbrella term "foreign workers" are a few major sub-divisions which differ in notoriety. I have always heard complaints from friends (both from the engineering industry as well as others) that foreign workers from a particular country step on their toes especially hard. I have always reserved judgement because I have not worked with these people on an intimate level. But this global sweeping workforce-conversion phenomenon has finally gotten to me and now I know the basis of these complaints. I will not mention the country in context but I think many of you will be able to guess it anyhow.
Irritating colleague trait #1: Always trying to get his face into the picture
Example: The boss and I were talking about me completing all the required online training within a particular day. He was not even in the conversation but had to force his way into it by saying "I also completed the training". In actual fact, I did more online training than him on that day.
Irritating colleague trait #2: Being ultra-friendly to colleagues but totally foul-mouthed outside
Example: He would be all friendly and Westerner-like to the people working in the office but he would be very quick to swear at things like slow drivers, late trains, etc. If you are a friendly person by nature, you won't swear like that. That is simply what I am trying to say.
Irritating colleague trait #3: Not respecting the privacy of others and being very rude
Example #1: I am at my desk writing on my work journal and he would pop behind me and look over my shoulder at what I was writing and then ask me what I was writing. Is that any of his business?
Example #2: He had problems with his computer and wanted to try something on mine. I was not using my computer then but was just beside it reading. He simply walked over and started using my computer FIRST before asking. What is this? The stone age?
Example #3: During one of the training sessions, I placed my handphone face down on the table where he sat as well. Without asking, he just took it up and looked at it. My goodness! Need I continue? Of course Ision's face was my phone's wallpaper and he had to ask who that was. I simply said that he is my partner (my mini coming out story) and nothing more on that came from him. Thank God! I wouldn't want to educate a caveman on human sexuality.
Example #4: We were talking to the boss in his cubicle and he just proceeded to flip through my boss' documents laid out on the table. This is rather telling -- invading the privacy of others with his rudeness is simply his innate dysfunctional behaviour (and not even the boss can escape from his "wrath"). He really doesn't know it is something very rude!!
As all of you already know, I am a person who tries to avoid conflict and awkward situations as much and as best as I can. So I did not really express my disapproval to all the things I cannot stand about him. One might call me a doormat... But I know I have a breaking point like every one else and once that threshold is crossed, I will make myself heard. So far it is still bearable because unless it is ABSOLUTELY necessary, I will not talk to him and distancing myself from him like that (and in the process identifying him as a bumpkin from a third world country) has helped to make me feel better in his presence. We started as new employees on the same day and I guess we still have a long way to go and that is yet another reason why I refuse to blow things up unnecessarily. It also doesn't help that we get to and from work on the same shuttle bus and train line. Sigh. Why can't he be a cute hunky Caucasian?
How would you deal with a person like that if you were in my shoes? And have you guessed which country he is from?
Saturday, August 23, 2008
A little bit about my job before I carry on. My job title is "Development Process Engineer" and I work for WorleyParsons, a very large EPCM (Engineering, Procurement & Construction Management) company. The thing that makes the job different is that I am contracted out to the Caltex Refinery at Kurnell (1.5-hour train and shuttle bus ride away) to help them with their Process Design work. For non-engineers, Process Design is basically the design of facilities and equipment that are needed to run the chemical and refinery processes. Some might ask -- hasn't the plant been built already? What else do you need to do? Well lots. For instance, if the refinery wants to increase its production or produce another grade of product (eg. according to new government regulations on clean fuels) then we have to first help assess if the exisiting facilities are sufficient and if they are not, we have to design them based on the company's requirements and that involves a lot of work depending on the scale of the project. The things that we do range from hydraulic and relief studies, sizing pumps, heat exchangers, distillation columns and tanks to risk assessment of existing as well as new facilities. Then the design details are sent to the Project Controls group for cost-estimation and the entire proposal is submitted to management to approve. Upon approval, we can then do more detailed design until we can start to procure the actual equipment and put them all together in the refinery during the construction phase of the project. The last step would be to commission the new facilities making sure that they run according to design. As Development Process Engineers, we are involved in every phase of this entire process up till commissioning but as the project progresses, we get less involved and the Project Engineer takes over.
So that is in a nutshell what Development Process Engineers do.
But that is not necessarily what I am doing at the moment and thus the point I want to make. Being a contractor based in the refinery, you can't help but to feel that you are the slave who is given all the dirty work that no one wants to do. And indeed that is the best one-line summary of the project I am working on at the moment. I kind of knew the plight of contractors for my work at ExxonMobil also involved interaction with such contractors. However when you are one, the reality of it all sinks in. It is actually not that bad because I am rather new to Process Design so even a very low-level project can be a source of learning and personal development. However if I were more experienced (the original job advertisement asked for a person with 7 years of experience!), I would find this job meaningless and even demeaning. Right now, I worry that I might be a little too inexperienced for this position because I was a Process Designer for only 6 months in my previous company. I expressed this concern during the interview but they assured me that they need people new to the job as well. Well my black-and-white resume is there in their records and they should be fully aware that I only have this limited knowledge of what I am currently doing. I know I should take it easy and just learn on the job but I cannot help myself for the thought of the steep learning curve I have to climb is quite daunting. But when I tell myself that this is Australia, land of the laid-back souls, it does not seem that bad after all. By the way, I wake up at about 5am to reach work at about 7.20am. My (flexible) office hours are from 7.30am to 3.50pm (including half an hour of lunch break -- we usually eat and work at the same time because we all want to leave work on time).
I know a lot of you reading this are very interested in the salary that I am currently getting -- so typically Singaporean and Chinese! Don't worry, I will give you an idea somewhere in this post.
I think most of you know that tax is a real bitch in Australia and there are good reasons for that. We have a very good health care and welfare system. For Permanent Residents and citizens, they can visit the doctor and pay a fraction of the fees only (co-payment) and everyone gets this benefit. Also if you are unemployed, you can get payouts from the government and I heard from someone that it is quite a substantial amount, like $1500 a month. Singapore got it wrong when the welfare system was rejected for a "clutch" mentality was thought to be a strict no-no and everyone is supposed to work to their bones to earn a living. Australia is on a welfare system and do you think it is a worse-off country? People here are happy, relaxed and very well adjusted. I hardly see that in Singapore where everyone is either chasing after something unattainable or even worse still, what everyone else is having. It is quite sad...
Ision told me before I arrived that I should not start believing that the Australian work culture is any better than Singapore's for fear that I would get disappointed with too high an expectation. But now I can safely say that yeah, it is really better!!! I am still getting used to the idea but here, people are visibly more relaxed at work and there is a lot of chatting amongst colleagues. They also work at a very comfortable pace without appearing stressed at all. They come to work on time and leave on time (unlike Singapore!!!) with absolutely no pressure from their peers and superiors. And most important of all, the work still gets done!!! Either Australians are super-duper efficient (I think they are just like everyone else though) or it is just proper workload-assignment. You see, Singaporean employers take advantage of their workers by hiring a little less than the number that is actually required (cheaper to do so) and hence everyone has to work more to cover for these missing workers. Singaporeans are also kiasu (which cannot be helped) and this breeds irrational competition and comparison and things like staying late in the office just to keep up appearances happen (even when there is little actual work to be done). Employers then take further advantage of that and it all becomes a vicious cycle.
Back home, I am always seen as the slacker (and at times even treated with disdain) when I treasure my personal time and life more than the work piling up in the office and I have always hated Singapore for that. That is why I think I have really found a place that suits me and my views on life. I am so glad that I have made the right decision to move here. I urge everyone who finds Singapore life unsatisfactory to do the same too and do it as early as possible both for the sake of your health and well-being and also because it is easier to apply for Permanent Residency when you are younger (when you can be more productive and hence beneficial to the country). The bottomline -- only when one feels relaxed and unstressed can one get genuinely motivated to contribute at work and be creative, proactive and strive towards making the company better. How many of you can say from the bottom of your heart that one of the reasons you work is to make the company better? In my opinion, a company is truly great only if it has employees that think like that. If it treats people like slaves (in terms of workload and work benefits), then all it will ever get is slave productivity and slave loyalty.
My colleagues are rather nice people but in Australia, colleagues at work remain as colleagues at work. Everyone has their personal lives outside of work (regardless of whether they are single, attached, married or with kids) and rarely do work and personal lives mix, which I think is good. The close group of friends I had in my ex-company is really not representative of real work life so although I miss this friendly atmosphere at my workplace, I know a lack of it is a reality of life, or at least a reality of the Australian work life.
My department is very small (only 7 people -- one from UK, one from India, one from USA, one from Iran and 2 locals -- a pretty international mix). I report technically to the Caltex department head and to another WorleyParsons manager (also situated within the refinery) for HR-related matters. I don't know all my colleagues well enough to comment on their characters (although I think I already have enough materials on one particular person to do some serious bitching at the moment -- more to come in future posts) and frankly I don't think I want to attach a human perspective to this group of people -- they will forever remain as just colleagues and not personal friends. That way, I can concentrate on my job and segregate my personal self from work better. That is what everyone is doing and I must follow suit (which explains why my work environment can get a little cold and I am not talking about the weather -- it also doesn't help that my open-concept office is but a container outside the main building). Another good reason for this work/personal segregation is so I can keep my outspoken character under wraps which will greatly help me in surviving well beyond my 3-month probationary period. I always know that first impressions last but I just need to be myself most of the time and sometimes I cannot help it but to ignore caring about what others think of me during this sensitive period. Ision and I have decided to only move to a bigger apartment when I get my job-confirmation and I think this is a wise idea.
OK, time for some Mathematics.
We have a scheme here that is similar to Singapore's Central Provident Fund (CPF) system and we call it superannuation or super for short. It is a mandatory 9% of the gross salary (some companies pay more) that will be deposited with a commerical fund manager that will manage the investments made with that money. When the platform is a commercial one, there is accountability and transparency. When the funds are managed by the all-powerful government (a la Singapore), it becomes a black box and who knows what is done with your hard-earned money (go do a little research on GIC and Temasek Holdings). But I digress... When you get your pay cheque, the 9% has already been deducted (some companies offer super on top of the base salary instead).
Then there is the tax. As with all tax calculations, a sliding scale method is used, ie. the more you earn the more you are taxed. For my current salary, I am taxed about 24% (this percentage is not fixed and changes depending on which bracket my income falls under). This tax will automatically be deducted from your salary and what you get in your pay cheque is what you get to keep in the bank. This is good because then you will not have to worry about filing your taxes and tax-evasion will not be a problem to the government. But many people perform a tax return procedure at the end of the fiscal year to get some taxed income back (eg. charitable donations are tax-deductible).
However there is no Annual Wage Supplement (ie. bonus) system here. Perhaps this is because people here are paid enough to begin with and hence need no supplements to boost their low income! My current monthly salary here post-tax and post-superannuation is $445 more than my last-drawn post-tax and post-CPF salary (inclusive of bonuses) back in Singapore. Although if you include CPF/superannuation (since theoretically this will be your money eventually), the above figure becomes slightly negative. So in a sense I am earning slightly more back home but if you include the currency conversion and considering the worst-case scenario, I am actually earning much more here in Australia.
So in summary, I make more money here with better work/life balance, a more superior health care/welfare system, living amongst friendlier people in a far more open-minded society, and above all with the love and support from the man I hold closest to my heart. Why would I ever want to go back to Singapore?
Well, money certainly is not everything and I am sure you have heard this before time and again. But it's true! Quality of life is something money cannot buy and I believe I have found it here. It is really not that elusive you know, you just have to open your eyes, see the world and move beyond the narrow (oh so narrow) perspectives of this box you call Singapore.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The budget ($69 one way) domestic plane ride went better than I expected most probably because I slept through more than half of it. Also, it was timed just long enough to not make Ision complain about the crammed conditions. Come to think of it, there weren’t any screaming babies either and that helped a lot. Ision later mentioned that I was the only Asian on board which on closer thought was not that surprising for we were going to the Australian countryside, not a crowded shopping centre or cheap city restaurant. I guess it was high time for a city boy like me to get immersed in all that
We landed in Ballina slightly more than an hour later in a small domestic airport which was nothing like an airport at all (more like a bus interchange). It was easy to spot Roger (Ision’s father) in the crowd. I didn’t expect it but I did feel a little surge of family when I saw him. I lost my father when I was 8 years old and the last time I saw Roger, he went on and on with his fatherly tales and that brought me so much warmth, something valuable that I missed out on all my adolescent and adult life.
We travelled very lightly and so the next instant we were on our hour-long way to our destination in Ashby. We were greeted by much small town scenery punctuated with vast fields of sugar cane, open spaces and perfect weather. The land rover finally pulled into this dirt road with a mailbox so I thought home must be near but we went on, rising, dropping and winding (they call those sheer drops and hairpin turns) for another kilometre or so till the landscape opened up to reveal a cozy-looking house on top of a hill with a “lawn” that stretched beyond where I could see clearly. Welcome home.
Ision has not been home since 4 years ago and his father wanted him to go home urgently to help him with some chores (more on that later) that he could not perform himself due to old age. The trip was also timely as I am starting work on Monday and this could be my last getaway before I get swept up and lost in the much-needed focus on my career. Frankly I don’t think I deserve this vacation for I have not undergone much stress (other than the stress of relocation and finding a job. Hmm… maybe I deserve it after all) and more importantly I am not earning an income. But what the heck, I am in a laid-back country so I might as well flow with the culture. Besides, the bank interest rates are high here and July’s interest alone paid for the entire trip, and more.
We got down from the car and were shown our room, which was Ision’s when he was a boy (up till he was 18 when he left for
Jen works at the recruitment agency in Yamba (more on that town later) and I had a very good impression of her from the last time we met in August 2007. She is very refined and well-mannered (think of those high-class British ladies we see on TV) which was not surprising as she came from a good family, went to finishing school (an English thing – a school that teaches etiquette and stuff to girls) and was a Home Economics teacher.
Slightly after we saw Jen coming home and the familiar image of that energetic middle-aged woman with perfect figure and poise came into vision. She is only slightly younger than my mother but much more energetic (which never failed to amaze me) – I guess country-living does have its perks. As soon as she entered the room, I could see an immediate change in Ision. He went into a child-like state as if all the cares of his adult world got parked into the corner. I found that quite endearing because in my opinion child-like innocence is one of the rarest and most elusive gifts an adult can receive. To be able to feel that again is a very good thing and I am happy for the happiness that instantaneously filled his heart.
And very soon there was the old-married-couple quibbling between Roger and Jen. If they were a young dating couple, you would think that the relationship would be over soon. However years of love and bonding had transformed security, familiarity, intimacy and all the other good stuff into this little oral war playing out right in front of us. Ision later told me it felt a little scary that we have developed to something close to that in such a short time. I told him that was not a bad thing at all and he totally agreed.
It was the middle of the week on a Wednesday night and Jen did not want to bother herself with her usual perfectionistic style of cooking so she just threw in whatever she could find in the fridge and whipped up a delicious risotto for all of us. It is worth mentioning the pantry they had – imagine a walk-in wardrobe but replace clothes with condiments, dried goods, canned food and all the ingredients of a perfect kitchen. I was so impressed with the things I found in that micro-supermarket!
That is the end of day 1. Feel free to take a break before continuing. Hehe.
The next morning we rose to a beautiful sunrise right in front of the house and as the sun warmed the shallow waters, mist formed above the surface clouding the entire landscape and then surreptitiously disappeared.
I think I will never get back to eating de-shelled macadamias from the supermarket again. The thing about living in the country is that a lot of people grow their own food and Ision’s parents bring home-horticulture to the limit. I had a chance to taste fresh strawberries, passionfruit, macadamias, pecans, lemons, kumquats, tomatoes, lettuce and the list just went on.
At about mid-morning we changed into our work gear (boiler suits) and went on the tractor and were driven by Roger into the forest where we got to work. The task of the day was to clear a jungle path and what made it super tough was that it was along a reclining slope – something that I grew to hate in the army. Roger headed the pack with his chainsaw which cleared the thicker branches and we followed behind clearing the vines and undergrowth with huge shears to form a path.
It was lunch-time and Jen prepared a filo pastry roll with vegetable filling for us in advance. How thoughtful of her. Of course there was home-made vanilla ice-cream at the end of every meal. This explained for the extra 2kgs I put on after the trip. But it was a vacation for us so I went with that weight-gain in mind (I will slim back down for sure after I start my new job). We then had a brief nap (very very wrong to sleep after eating) followed by my usual 30-minute jog but this time along the undulating country roads where wallabies, cattle and horses could be seen everywhere.
We went out for dinner in the small town of
This trip saw yet another first for me – Ision driving me around. It felt kind of strange at first but he is a good driver so after a while, it was as if he had been driving me around all along. The night sky brimmed with stars and it has been a while since I saw such a clear night sky. I did not see any shooting stars though maybe because I have almost all my wishes come true at this point. Travelling along the pitch-dark country roads really brought all the horror movies and thrillers I have watched over the years to the surface (eg. the beginning of “Vacancy”). I started asking Ision questions like “what would you do if all the headlight bulbs were to burst at the same time” and got quite boring answers. I like hypothetical questions a lot and he doesn’t. That is the fun of relationships, isn’t it? Upon reaching home, we went straight to bed and I realized that I could still get tired from relaxing too much.
We woke up the next day later than the first morning and after a slow breakfast (with home-made bread -- yummy!), we were whisked into the forest again to complete the half-finished path-clearing task. Following that was a quick lunch and then Roger drove us out to Yamba, another small (beach) town 30 minutes away for coffee and drinks. It was another day of perfect weather and being out by the sea really makes you wish that the day would never end. Ision read in the newspaper that the weather back in
It soon got dark and we proceeded to pick Jen up from work to meet up with other friends for a family dinner at the same place we had dinner the night before. It really IS a small town. After dinner we went back to their place for coffee – this seemed like a tradition of small town folk. Ision found 2 potential Nu Skin customers and spent the rest of the night showing them the products and website. Too bad he did not bring the right products to show them this time round as they were really interested. I could see the sparkle in his eyes as he went on with his advertising and this made me feel so good. One of the major draws of Nu Skin products is they are really cheap compared to the same stuff from brands like Clinique and Biotherm and on top of that they work better. I am currently using Nu Skin’s Clear Action system which aims at clearing the skin of pimples and other blemishes. The stuff really works.
Under Roger’s and Jen’s instructions, we rushed home to watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics only to fall asleep soon after it started and taped the rest. It WAS a very long ceremony but I must say I saw special effects that I have never seen before. And talk about the scale of the event! Kudos China, wealthy wealthy China.
The next day was a short one as we had to leave by mid-afternoon. We helped to do chores around the house like cleaning bird poo off the railings as well as feeding the exotic wild birds that flew to us when we offered them food.