Thursday, October 27, 2005

Post-Colonial Discourse

We watch a short clip about an old man in an old folk's home who carries around a bit of turf he stole from the lawn bowling club. He has no sense of belonging anywhere. We read the novel White Teeth and discuss transnationalism. We talk about anal bleaching and how that reflects on post-colonial discourse. Did you know there is a cream to turn brown nipples pink?

My mother says: "Why are you so black?"

I say: "It's called melanin Mother, I just have more of it than you."

I sit through class because I love Susan and this is my second-last class with her. Ever. After this I graduate and return to my land of teh tarik and roti canai and perpetual haze and mosquitoes and people asking me in that patient, understanding tone: "When are you thinking of getting married?" And me replying with the sweetest smile I can muster: "Which part of GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY FACE don't you understand?"

And now I have an essay to produce by Friday. An essay about concubinage in Malaya during the colonial times, contrasting the approaches of Somerset Maugham (colonial) and Simone Lazaroo (post-colonial).

They used to call us "little brown fucking machines", isn't that quaint? What's even better, they still do.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

40-year old virgin

I just watched the movie and it surprised me in many ways. I mean, you would think a 40-year old (male virgin) would have a stash of porn, masturbate continuously and be gagging for it. Instead, this guy had "hobbies" (no, not that kind, get your head out of the gutter), cooked elaborate meals and was very respectful of women. When he finally got into a relationship he held off on sex. When he was hit on by a skanky chick, he decided that he could not have sex with a woman he didn't respect. In short, this guy went against every stereotype of male virgins that I had built up in my head.

My view on male virgins was formed by a man I dated who was practically a virgin. Practically, not technically. He had never been kissed until he was 31. Little known fact: When you have sex with hookers (he had to get rid of his virginity somehow) you don't get to kiss. Yeah, he had his porn stash and his desperado stories. Women ran when they found out that their meetings were considered dates, and that he wanted to go further.

In university, he sneaked into the girls' toilet and wrote his name and phone number on the wall, along with, "wanna have some fun, call..." Needless to say, it didn't work. He considered joining the newly-formed Bonking Society in his uni, but desisted because it would have been too embarrassing. Instead he wrote long diatribes about the free sex indulged in by other students in the uni newspaper, earning him a few enemies who yelled as he passed by: "Hey loser, get that carrot out of your ass!"

So he played the odds and went all out to get laid without having to pay for it. No, not even the price of a date, because he always went dutch on dates. Once he "broke the curse", it was like all hell broke loose. He wrote a blog entry entitled: "Power" where he shared his newfound sexual magnetism with faithful readers.

"Where before I couldn't get a date to save my life, now all I have to do is have dinner with a woman and she falls desperately in love with me."

What can I say? Women are stupid. I know. I speak from experience.

Monday, October 24, 2005


My favourite priest is leaving. He said his last Mass today and I found tears snaking down my cheeks as he went out to a rousing rendition of "Shine Jesus Shine" by the youthful congregation (it was a youth mass). He is Irish with rosy cheeks and a comforting beard. I went out for coffee with him once and he was so terribly kind. Yes me, the superlative sinner having coffee with a priest. Laughable, I know, but there it is.

During Mass, they sang the "Prayer of St Francis":

Oh grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to consoled
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love with all my soul.

And I thought, maybe that's what's wrong with me. I seek to be consoled and understood. Not to either console or understand. It's a Liz Wurtzel-brand of self obsession. Oh poor me, my life's all fucked up. But it isn't see? It's great. I guess self-obsession always leads to this kind of freefall into emotional hell. Everything seems dark and hopeless and you don't even know why. You try to assign reasons for the void, but none actually make sense.

I walked to Blockbuster after Mass to return a DVD and thought about what it would be like to become a nun and lead a life of prayer and contemplation. Poverty, chastity and obedience. Away from these complicated complications that I don't understand. Maybe I would find peace.

And then I get a flashback to when I was 17 and I actually told our school nun that I wanted to join the Convent. She was kind. But she said:

"The religious life isn't a place to escape from life. You only join if you feel the call. And believe me you'll know if you feel the call. It's not ambiguous."

So I didn't get to run away. I had to "live" instead. Except that life hasn't felt like anything so much as a series of head-on collisions. I have barely survived. I spent three years in another place recuperating, getting my head around things again, sitting quietly in parks, smelling roses on my way back from the bus-stop. And now I have to return to the centre of chaos and something inside me just shrivels.

I don't know if I can take it. Underneath the bravado, I am scared and lost and helpless and alone. I don't want to fight anymore.

Sunday, October 23, 2005


I was finally gonna leave this dump. I knew my boss Strang had approved my VSS (that's voluntary service separation for all you non-Malaysians who are wondering). And everyone knows, if your immediate boss approves it, your group editor will sign on the dotted line. I mean, he was way too important to know every stupid rookie in the place.

So when Strang called me into his office to give me "the letter" I was reasonably confident. I flashed him a sweet smile and he bared his teeth in return. Then he sighed.

"You didn't get it."

"What you talking about? I know you approved it. And that's all there is to it, right?"

"Yeah I approved it. I shouldn't have though. Arshad rejected it."

Arshad was our group editor. He existed in the rarefied regions of the fifth floor descending occasionally to take off in his chauffeur-driven seven series. He was not supposed to know me from a bar of soap.

"But why?" My face crumpled in disappointment. I had so wanted to leave this place. And this way I would be leaving it with heaps of money in the pocket.

"When he came to your form, he said, isn't this the one with the..." Strang paused delicately.

Now Arshad is about 100 years old. A tiny, dried-up old man with a face like the bark of a tree. So when I asked Strang to go on, I was genuinely not prepared for what he said.

"With the what? Come on Strang. Don't hold out on me."

"Well, you know how he is."

"No I don't know how he is. We had been taught in training to respect him as the god almighty group editor for crying out loud. What did he say?"

"Is this the one with the big boobs?"

"Ewwwwwww! The big what? He said that? He wouldn't sign my papers because of that? The bastard! And I don't have big boobs!"

Strang smiled. "Well no, it was not only that. He asked me why I approved your VSS and I opened my mouth to say you were unproductive. But then I shut it again. So I said, well you know we have to let some people go, and very few agreed to the VSS. And he said, brother, just because we have to let people go, doesn't mean we will let someone who is young, pretty and good at her job go. Not approved."

I felt surprisingly warm. My (admittedly pervy) 100-year old group editor actually knew who I was. And he thought I was good at my job. Months of walking around feeling isolated and unappreciated melted away.

I walked back to my desk and saw my colleague Mals eyeing me warily.


"Um, Arshad said no."

"Yay!" she broke into a spontaneous cheer. "I knew it, I knew it. Why?"

I stared at her for a while and then grinned mischiveously: "Apparently, he likes my boobs."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Churning

The thing to remember about Lisa is that she is not that type of girl. She has never gone up to a man she likes and asked him out. Even for a coffee. Usually she just gets this churning in her solar plexus that intensifies everytime he walks by. Once she almost fell over and had to go out for air. (God, how I wish I was kidding)

"Ask Ryan out, what's the worst that could happen?"

"He could say yes!'

"Come on! You're being facetious."

(We're both writing students. So we do use five dollar-words like facetious. Really!)

"No, really I'm not. If he agreed to go out with me, I'd spend all that time worrying about what I was going to say and how I was supposed to behave and even if it went really, really well, I'd worry about whether he actually likes me or if he is just being kind..."

"Chill sister, it's only a coffee. Look, I asked Charles out and he said yes. I had lunch with him and somehow that helped me to get to the other side. I am now officially over him."

Lisa reels for a moment. "You asked Charles out? On a date?????"

Let me explain her amazement. Charles is our lecturer. He is 60. We both think he's great, with a difference. Lisa thinks he's a nice (well actually, nice would be stretching it, maybe interesting?) guy while I am (actually, was) desperately in love with him.

"Well, it wasn't really a date. I mean, I am leaving after this semester and I asked if I could meet him for lunch once during the break. He said yes. So we had lunch. I asked him all the questions I wanted to and he answered. He was sweet but somehow it broke the spell. The churning in the pit of my stomach - that's gone."

Lisa looks terrified. She knows she is allowing herself to be talked into this crazy idea. But how can she go up to this guy she barely knows (but has a huge crush on, nonetheless) and ask him out?

Fast forward one day: We have both just come out of the theatre. It was a student performance of King Lear. Ryan played Edgar and we are both very impressed. He comes out from the actor's exit in jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt, nods at us, smiling, and prepares to leave.

Lisa asks: "Um Ryan, can I talk to you?"


I turn away. This is a private moment and I don't want to look. It's cold outside and I clutch my shawl around me, wondering how it is going. Oh God, what if he says no? Will she be OK? She really really likes this guy. I have never seen her act this way about anybody. Of course, I've only known her for a year or so.

Lisa joins me about five minutes later and I scan her face anxiously. She is smiling.


"No go. He has a girlfriend. I mean, he said yes to coffee but when I found out about the girlfriend, I begged off."

"Oh dear. I'm sorry. How do you feel?"

"Surprisingly good, actually. Like this weight has been lifted off. The churning's gone."

Yes. She felt the fear and did it anyway.

And that, as they say in Hollywood, is that.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Women: The New Men

"You know what they say. Women are the new men, hahahahahaha," DB laughed like it was the most hilarious thing in the world. Except that it wasn't. Not for him. His wife had left him for another woman (yes, it does happen outside FRIENDS) and now she was happily partnered while he was negotiating for space in his large double bed with his cat and dog. He was not frustrated, perish the thought! He was peaceful.

Women, the new men? I wondered. For as long as I could remember, we were chastised for being clingy, needy and demanding. Now it seems that most of the cool chicks I knew were happy to be alone, with a casual lover or two for physical gratification (or a really good vibrator, who can tell the difference?)

Take Eileen, for instance. She refers to love as the "L" word and marriage as the "M" word. If any man is stupid enough to mention either during sex, she stops, adjusts her perfect hair, and, to not put to a fine point on it, kicks his sorry ass out. She has a kid she picked up along the way and she may pick up another one. But no man. None. And that's the way she prefers to keep it.

Or Dawn. She's 65. Her boyfriend, 55. But she refuses to move in with him. She does her own stuff, goes her own way and tells him to stuff it when he gets overly sentimental.

Or Theresa, the coolest dudette I used to know, who succumbed to familial pressure and acquired the requisite suitable husband and kid. While she loves her kid, she laments her lost wings and finds motherhood severely "overrated". When she met my (admittedly unimpressive) fiance, she took me aside: "Don't let them fool you. You don't need to get married. Don't make the same mistake..."

DB said women were "afraid of commitment". That they were "not in touch with their feminine side". Independence, of course, being unfeminine.

"So how do you figure," I asked. "All this time, we were told to hide our feelings, be tough, build our own lives so we were not leeching on yours. I mean, how would you like a woman who called 20 times a day to ask if you loved her?"

"What's wrong with that? I mean, it's nice to know you're needed. I mean we don't even feel you need us anymore."

Damn straight, buster! We don't! And if you need to be needed, that's your problem. I could recommend a good therapist.

"But before, it was about boundaries and reining in emotion. And we got pretty darn good at it. And now that's a problem?"

"Yes, that's a problem. For Chrissake, it wouldn't hurt to show some estrogen!"

"Fuck you! We don't need you. We will never need you again. Deal with it!"

DB and I glared at each other, breathing heavily. (Cue weepy violins)

"So you wanna?"

"Huh? OK by me."

"My place or yours?"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Blogging about blogging (how low can you go?)

This is fast becoming my favourite blog. I never knew just how satisfying it could be to rant without anyone actually knowing who you are.

I have just finished a book written by a blogger, Julie and Julia which I would seriously recommend to losers like me who trawl blogs in desperate search of friends and like minds and commenters. Her life was coming apart. She was turning 30. So she decided to go through the Mastering the art of French Cooking cookbook and try every recipe. Oh yeah, and blog her way through it of course. If you cook 524 spectacularly difficult recipes and nobody hears it in cyberspace, does it still make a sound? Is the number 86 possible or even necessary?

Anyway, she acquired quite the following very quickly (ah, every blogger's dreams, comments on what you are actually writing and not nothing, or stupid spammy shite) and her "readers" (she referred to them as bleaders) would get upset if she didn't post. They would say: "Julie, where are you? Are you alright? What about the aspic? And the crustacean murder? And the tarts?"

Well anyway, I liked it. It was like reading a really funny, zesty blog (a cross between Ah Yes, Medical School and Belle in the Big Apple perhaps?), but you just got so much more. I mean, it was not a post, it was a whole fricking book. And she would sometimes tell you what the commenters were saying (invariably hysterical and funny and thought provoking and sometimes downright ineffable), so it felt like reading this large, large blog. Her blog caught on and then the Christian Science Monitor wanted to interview her, and then all the various newspapers and then Almighty New York Times.

All that publicity, like puppies on her doorstep, tongues hanging out, tails wagging. And then the book deal. Wow. They came to her. What do you say to that?????

About the only things I didn't like in the book were the annoying insertions of scenes from the life of Julia and Paul Childs, which were, of course, fiction. They jarred with the tone of the rest of the book, making it slightly off kilter. I skimmed through these (which were all in italics for crying out loud) until I got back to Julie ranting about some kitchen emergency, where I would settle down comfortably and read with interest and attention again.

Why is it that we only want to read about people we identify with going through stuff we can relate to? Is that why blogs are so popular? You feel that someone can relate? You want to talk to other commenters and get a conversation going about the exact meaning of "flying under the radar"?

Anyway, liked the book. Pick it up if you're a blog addict. It costs $29.99 Aussie dollars and you can get it at Angus & Robertsons.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Howker's Isaac Campion is a first person account of the death of Isaac's much-loved older brother and surrogate father Daniel and the subsequent disintegration of the family as a result. This death is the single most important event in Isaac's life and is remembered by him, more than 80 years later, in vivid detail. “April 17th 1901. That is the day of our Dan's death...That day's fixed in my mind like a picture. Do you know something? I can even smell that day...” From this, we can are able to gauge the extent of the impact of Daniel's death on Isaac, even before he spells it out.

The funeral is dwelt on in detail. Isaac describes the solemnity of the ceremony, with the family dressed in mourning and all the neighbours coming to pay their last respects. Death, in those days, was an event, and treated accordingly. Isaac was scathing about the modern fashion of pretending everything is normal to save everybody from embarassment.“Everyone could see you were grieving and so nobody was pretending that everything was normal, you follow me? Because life in a family is not routine when the eldest son dies, or when any of the family die.” The ceremony itself and the outward indications of mourning, seem to be as important as the grieving process itself. Here, we can see that death was acknowledged and grief respected.

Howker also dwells on the economic and emotional impact of Daniel's death. As Daniel helped his father with the horses, Isaac will now have to drop out of school to do so. Daniel's death also brings into sharp relief the discord between Isaac and Samuel. Daniel, easygoing and self-assured, had always acted as a buffer between the two. Now he is gone, Isaac is subjected to the full extent of his father's brutality. As for Samuel , he is unable to grieve for his son in a normal way. Eaten up by anger and hate, he plots revenge and murder, exposing himself to his younger son, in the process, as the weak person he really is. This culminates firstly in Isaac standing up to his father and then in his leaving the farm for America with his favourite uncle. He does not return to England until after his father is dead. Although his 96-year old self understands and forgives his father, it is clear that his younger self never did. He ran away from an image of what he could be, and in doing so, broke the vicious cycle of violence, passed down from generation to generation in his family.

While Isaac Campion only pretends to be autobiographical, Night actually is. It is Elie Wiesel's account of his experiences at the death camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald and in part a psychological study of what happens to human beings when they are placed in unrelenting spiritual, emotional and physical deprivation. While at the beginning Elie feels the full impact of the deaths he witnesses, the sheer horror of the situation hardens him and blunts his feelings. Eventually he simply records the deaths in an almost dispassionate manner, having lost his faith in both God and humanity.

When Elie, the hitherto mystic Jew, starts to lose his faith in God, he is left with bitterness. It resounds through his “prayers”. The long, slow process of deterioration starts the day he arrives at Auschwitz. He witnesses children and babies being thrown into the flames of the terrible crematorium. Later that night he lays awake contemplating what he saw and bidding goodbye to his soul. “Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things even if I am condemned to live as long as God himself. Never.” He is angered by the poor prisoners who cling to their faith in the midst of their afflictions and while they pray, he stands aside cold, proud and angry, condemning rather than praising:“I was the accuser and God the accused. My eyes were open and I was alone – terribly alone in a world without God and without man. Without love or mercy I had ceased to be anything but ashes, yet I felt myself to be stronger than the Almighty to whom my life had been tied for so long. I stood amid the praying congregation, observing it like a stranger.” He does not fast on Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, as a further act of rebellion. In giving up his faith, Elie gave up a major part of himself. The resultant void swallowed up everything else, including his love for his father, the most important person in his life. In the end he manages to keep his life but he lost his soul. As Ora Avni pointed out, Night is a negative Bildungsroman, in which the character does not end up, as expected, fit for life in society, but one of the living dead, unfit for life as defined by his community.

The book also documents the slow death of Elie’s love for his father. When he starts out at the camp, his father means everything to him. Gradually, however, the inhuman conditions drain his love away. He feels only irritation when his father “provokes” a beating. He watches the sons around him either kill their fathers or abandon them to die, and prays to a God he no longer believes in that he will not do the same. In the end, however, he does. When his father becomes ill, Elie watches an officer deal his father a violent blow with a truncheon and shatter his skull, not daring to interfere or offer relief. Finally, when his father is removed from the camp for the crematorium, Elie can feel nothing but relief. “There were no prayers on his grave. No candles were lit to his memory. His last word was my name. A summons to which I did not respond. I did not weep and it pained me that I could not weep. But I had no more tears. And, in the depths of my being, in the recesses of my weakened conscience, could I have searched it, I might have found something like – free at last!” Some time after he is liberated he manages to find a mirror. He has not seen himself since he was in the Jewish ghetto. “From the depths of the mirror, a corpse gazed back at me. The look in his eyes, as they stared into mine, has never left me.”

The two books differ greatly in their treatment of death. Isaac Campion is more of a personal, family narrative. Daniel's death, while grisly, is purely accidental. It is treated with respect and the family grieves accordingly. As for Night, a proper grieving is not possible as too many have been wiped out. Elie, who has been stripped of feeling, is unable to mourn his father. There is no proper funeral and no prayers for the dead. While Isaac is able to find some form of resolution after his brother's death, Elie is condemned to hollow despair. He is betrayed by his God and he in turn abandons his father. It is something he will have to live with for the rest of his life. As he no longer possesses faith in a higher power, he cannot look to it for forgiveness. As he has stated repeatedly, Holocaust survivors live in a nightmare world that can never be understood.