Friday, June 22, 2012


This is one of those really annoying times I've gone to bed more than an hour earlier, only to realise sleep would not come, no matter how hard I try. Yes, lots on my mind. Way too much! It did occur to me to write it all out, for it's what I do best and what brings me rest. Then again, seriously - who wants to read of all the matters that trouble me, things that hurt me, stuff that make me cry et cetera? So, how about a story instead? Surely, when one cannot sleep, it's time for a story?

A couple of years ago, I shared a story of a camping trip I had as a teenager. The rain threatening to flood our tents was just the opening act. The major thing was much, much less amusing. It was, after all, our very first time out camping all on our own, and we thought no further than having the time of our lives. Just imagine - a bunch of girls (40 cadets plus 10 or so probably incompetent "camp leaders" - the committee members) wanting to do manly stuff. The only thing we did sort of okay was pitching up tents that didn't fall down while we were in them - and even that wasn't perfect because we forgot the trenches. (Read the previous story!)

We reached the campsite in the morning of the first day, unloaded all the stuff from the bus, fed the girls their brunch and got to work on pitching up the tents. Then, it rained and drama ensued. Lots of it. (Seriously, read the previous story!)

By afternoon, the rain had stopped. It was bright and sunny and everything pleasant. We hiked a little way off campsite and frolicked in a stream. It was shallow and bubbly, the water cool and clear, and the girls all giddy and silly. Everyone was playing and laughing, enjoying every moment. So far so good.

Then, evening came and it was time to make dinner. It's been a long time, really, but I remember we only had 2 or 3 burner stoves, to be shared by everyone. Dinner was simply some canned food which the girls (4 to a group or so) had to cook by themselves. Here's a picture of how accomplished in cooking girls of my era are: there are 8 girls in my group of very close-knit girlfriends, and out of that, at 15 or 16 years old, only my friend, Big Eyes and me could make decent fried rice, mee or meehoon. Some can't even fry an egg without the final output appearing burnt and butchered. Yes, that bad. But no, no one set anything on fire while cooking - the comedy was to come later.

After dinner we gathered at a small pavilion for some songs, dances, sketches, stories-sharing - all the fun stuff. All the girls were enjoying themselves so much they must have thought that was the best camping trip ever (or so I liked to believe, while I still could...) Then, came the comedy. It's really a tragedy, but since it was such a long time ago, it's become comedy.

My friends, the other committee members, concluded that the cause of this comedy was the girls' dinner. They played in the water upstream, and then collected water downstream to cook with! In retrospect, it might not be likely, for they played in the afternoon and made dinner in the evening... I am more inclined now to think it was because they didn't know the first thing about cooking - most didn't wait till their concoction boiled before taking the pots off the stoves. 

It was bedtime when the first girls started getting tummy aches. It wasn't much of a problem, as we had two toilets right next to the campsite. Within the next couple of hours though, it became quite clear we had a huge issue. Almost all the girls were stricken with diarrhoea. Two toilets to about 40 girls. Imagine. Wait, don't imagine! There was nothing we could do. We were first-aiders and we had first-aid kits stocked full of supplies to treat sprains and strains, cuts and burns, maybe even small fractures, but not food poisoning. The girls just had to take turns at the two toilets until their bowels cleared. The queue outside the restrooms lasted the entire night, until the next morning.

Ironically, all but one of us, the seniors, were fine. We sat a table with wooden benches, kept awake in shifts and actually had the time of our lives. I had my first experience of the I'm-being-watched feeling. I was back-facing this really huge tree, and I kept having a feeling that something was watching me. I turned back several times in the course of half an hour or so, and saw nothing but that tree. A little while later, a friend joined me, and it wasn't several minutes before she turned as well, citing the same feeling of being watched. Then, a third friend came and joined us, and that feeling went away. We talked and joked and laughed, and talked and talked some more. Reader, you know how I somehow have the ability to say the stupidest things in the wrongest times to cause unwitting listeners, usually in the midst of drinking, to spit water they are otherwise supposed to swallow. (Example here) So, my friend was sipping tea from a glass we'd been sharing (by "we", I mean all my friends at the table and those who came and went) and I said something, well, "funny". She nearly choked on her drink, spit the very last drops from her mouth back into the glass and laughed heartily for a good couple of minutes. After that, we left the table for a while and when we got back, to our horror, we found the glass almost empty. Someone had drunk the spit-mixed tea! We asked a few girls in panic and found the one who drank from the glass. She was clearly very upset when we told her, but it was still pretty funny to us. So, we went around telling the funny story to our other friends, until my bestfriend frowned when we told her. She drank from the cup too, she said, indignant, but the story just became doubly funny.

While we were having all that fun, the girls were still taking turns at the two toilets. Then, one of my friends started feeling sick too. By that time though, half of us had stayed up half the night, so it was time to end our "watch" shift and go to sleep. My friend told the following story for years afterwards although I have absolutely no memory of it. According to her, right before we went to sleep (we were in the same tent), she told me she was afraid to go to the toilet on her own in the dark, but she knew she would need to, with her tummy aching and all. I, she alleged, declared that I will go with her when she needs to - just wake me up, buddy! And then, when she really needed to go and tried to wake me up, I simply turned to the other side without opening half an eye and continued sleeping. Seriously, she told this of me for years!

Anyhow, we all made it through the night. A bunch of us, me included, woke really early and took a walk along a trail where we saw beautiful rays of sun piercing through the thick morning mist onto a bunch of giant bamboo plants. We hurried back to the camp to get the others to go and have a look, but everyone was too sick and too tired, and they just wanted to go home. They said it was the most horrible camping trip ever and they just wanted to go home.

We made the girls take down their tents and pack up while we did the dirtier job. What dirtier job, you ask? Remember, 40 girls having diarrhoea through the night and two toilets. Someone's gonna have to clean those two toilets. So, we wrapped ourselves up in black garbage bags and we did. We even had a photo taken of us - all in a row in garbage bag fashion - but I don't think I have it anymore.

The End.

Sleep will come now.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Traveler

The thing is, I never really considered myself sociable (I still don't). I don't like approaching people and most of the time, I don't enjoy small talk with non-friends. When I was in school, my friends and I were expected to foster friendship with cadets from other schools during events like annual gatherings and campfires, and I would be one of those who'd perform most poorly in this "socializing" task. 

I used to think it's because I am somewhat shy, but once, when I dared describe myself as "shy" and all of my closest friends gave the same response, "You must be kidding!", I had to accept the fact that maybe it isn't shyness. I mean, I'm talkative by nature and I find it hard to run out of things to talk about, so if I really want to, I guess I shouldn't find it hard to simply walk up to someone and start a conversation. So, maybe I just don't like taking the initiative to be friendly. In fact, most of the time, I wish strangers wouldn't talk to me. For the "protagonist" of this post, though, I'm glad he did.

It was a lovely evening and I was taking a solitary stroll along the beach. A bunch of local men were bundling tourists onto a banana boat and they asked me to join in for a ride. I politely declined, citing fear. They offered to let me ride in the speedboat (which will be pulling the banana boat) instead. I declined again and after several minutes of courtesy chit-chat, I went on. A little way ahead was a lone man with tousled shoulder-length hair, relaxing and watching life around him. He smiled warmly as I walked by and I smiled back (because it would be impolite not to). It took no more than ten or fifteen minutes' leisurely pace to reach the end of the stretch at which I turned back. The man was still there, and as I passed him again, he smiled and said "Hi."

I said "Hi" in return, and we started chatting. 

It began as all usual conversations would - where we are from, whether we're there for work or leisure - and then, I took an extreme interest in him. He's traveling to see the world, he said, in his mobile home, which he's driven all the way from his home in Germany, out of Europe, through the Middle East, India, Indochina etc, and had been parked at Batu Ferringhi Beach, Penang, for ten days. I was beyond amazed. I am aware that it isn't uncommon for some people to take months off work (and regular life) to travel, but that was the first time I'd met anyone who's spent almost a year on the road... literally! At the time of our chance meeting, he was a week away from the first anniversary of his traveling, and his journey wasn't at its end... once he's reached "the end" (I think it is Singapore, but my memory is poorly these days) he will turn back and trace a slightly different route back to his home, possibly through vast China. That will take another year or more.

I asked for his permission to take a photo of his mobile home. He graciously allowed me.

I spent the evening talking to this fascinating man. He told of his many encounters in the foreign countries he's been - the people, the culture, the ease or difficulty with which he made his drive across and meeting other travelers like himself. He showed me his solar power generator, which provides electricity for appliances in his vehicle; the little boat and the bike which he hauls with him, for local exploration when he's parked somewhere; picture books of common objects which he uses for communication in countries which languages he doesn't speak - he would just point to the picture(s) that indicate what he needed; and a map on which he tracked his journey thus far -

I had so many questions to ask - he put up with me good-humouredly and answered everything. He talked of his life (and life in general) in Germany, his work, his wife and children, and his past travels. He asked me stuff as well and I painfully remembered I don't really know much about interesting spots in my country. Remember the last time I went gallivanting around town with the lost boys from Europe? Yea, that was the one and only time. I kept thinking, if it was my bestfriend, she would have made a far, FAR better conversation with this traveler than I ever could have.

I don't generally talk to strangers, and still don't think it is wise to, but for this - well, I guess I'm fortunate. It isn't yet a year since our chance meeting. He should still be driving, somewhere, right now. All the best, F! Thank you for your stories.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


A little more than a year ago, I wrote about Love Never Dies (I pre-ordered the DVD and it is right now on its way to me! Yay!), ALW's sequel to his (non-arguably, surely) greatest work, The Phantom of the Opera.

I've been listening to the cast recording very frequently all this while. At first, I focused on just the music, like I'd said I would in my previous post, but of late, I can no longer ignore some disturbing facts about the story. I can no longer ignore how wrong it is that Meg gave everything for the Phantom who regarded her as nothing more than a convenient existence. The Phantom is a genius, but so incredibly arrogant and self-centered he didn't give a damn about anything beyond himself and his selfish love for Christine, all his IQ isn't nearly enough to make him bearable. Yes, he actually cared more about his love for Christine than for Christine herself, but that will be a whole other post. This post is about Meg.

As the musical begins, we hear of Meg's desperate hope to impress the Phantom with her singing and dancing. We hear of her working hard at improving her performance and striving to be worthy of his regard. The Phantom doesn't see nor hear her, however, for he is busy professing his love to an automaton in the likeness of Christine.

Madame Giry tells Meg that the Phantom has been composing "something glorious" late at night, and implies it would be for her. It isn't an unreasonable expectation, for Meg indeed is the one who has stayed faithfully by him, performing every show and drawing in crowds, and is actually the star at Phantasma. Who would be more deserving?

But no, for all that she's done, Meg gets the "cheap vaudeville trash" she's always got, and the "glorious" new aria is meant for Christine.

It's the last show of the season -

Ladies and gentlemen… Mr Y is pleased to present to you his final surprise of the season...

A command performance by Christine DaaĆ©, the most heavenly Diva of this or any age…

But first, for those of you whose taste is a little more earthbound…

The Sweetheart of the Midway…

The ooh La La Girl…

The incomparable…

Meg Giry!

Christine is a heavenly diva, and Meg is but earthbound.

As the musical draws to its end, we hear of Meg's other sacrifices -

I took a little trip to Coney Island.
I took a little trip, because of you.
I did as mother said,
and followed where you led
and tried to do what little I could do.

Well here’s the way it works on Coney Island --
They make you pay for every little crumb.
I gave what they would take,
I gave it for your sake,
now look at me and see what I’ve become.

Bathing beauty,
on the beach…
Bathing beauty,
in her dressing room…
Bathing beauty,
In the dark,
on their laps,
In their beds --

She gave herself to men, literally, to ensure the Phantom's plan for Phantasma is realised, and in the end, he said

We can’t all be like Christine --

No, Meg is simply Meg. Meg is not Christine. No matter how much she gives, how hard she works, how willingly she sacrifices herself, she will never be Christine to the Phantom. It's not Christine's fault; it not even so much the Phantom's. Meg should never had believed she could be anything more than just... Meg.

Are you anyone's Meg? Stop. Don't be.