Wednesday, October 26, 2005

es muss sein!

Dear Father et al,

Simon Jackson is amazed that you don't think I've better things to do on vacation than render expense accounts to you. Still, this is the same bloke who asks me not to call mobile numbers on his land line, because they cost so much, so you may take that with as large a pinch of salt as you like.

Since Sunday's technically the first day of the week, and Monday's a day for office work, I'm giving you expenses up till Saturday. I've only used credit cards twice, by the way: Mum's card once to withdraw money because I'd forgotten to put any in my wallet (there are HSBC ATMs *everywhere* here; real reverse colonialism) and just before that, with my own credit card, when I bought my 7-day public transport saver card.

Anyhow, let's have a run-down:


Tuesday 04/10:
Heathrow Express = £14
1 X Tube = £2.30

Wednesday 05/10:
2 X Tube = £4.60
\r\nThursday 06/10:\r\nOystercard 7-day saver = £21.40\r\n \r\nFriday 07/10: £0\r\n \r\nSaturday 08/10: £0\r\n \r\nTotal = £42.30\r\n \r\n*Sightseeing and Miscellaneous*\r\n \r\nTuesday 04/10:\r\npublic phones to get hold of Simon = 60p\r\nFreud House = £3\r\n \r\nWednesday 05/10:\r\nMap of London = £3\r\npublic phones to get hold of gay youth groups = £1\r\ntoiletries from Boots = £8.11\r\nBritish Museum = FREE!!!\r\nBritish Museum Walking Tour = £4.50\r\nBloomsbury Walking Tour, detailing the scandalous lives of intellectuals "who lived in squares and loved in triangles" = £4.50",1]

Thursday 06/10:
Oystercard 7-day saver = £21.40

Friday 07/10: £0

Saturday 08/10: £0

Total = £42.30

*Sightseeing and Miscellaneous*

Tuesday 04/10:
public phones to get hold of Simon = 60p
Freud House = £3

Wednesday 05/10:
Map of London = £3
public phones to get hold of gay youth groups = £1
toiletries from Boots = £8.11
British Museum = FREE!!!
British Museum Walking Tour = £4.50
Bloomsbury Walking Tour, detailing the scandalous lives of intellectuals "who lived in squares and loved in triangles" = £4.50
\r\n \r\nThursday 06/10: \r\npublic phone to get hold of youth group again = 40p\r\nfabulous walking tour of gay London administered by gay youth after the meeting = FREE!!!\r\n \r\nFriday 07/10:\r\nWalking tour of South Bank (Self-guided)= FREE!!! \r\nOne hour at the Design Museum, looking at the stuff in the gift shop because we\'re too stingy to pay to go in = FREE!!!\r\nTate Modern = FREE!!! Suggested donation my Aunt Matilda!!!\r\nClubbing at Popstarz = £8\r\nCoat-check girl = £1\r\nCoca-cola for sugar and caffeine to keep me awake = £2.30\r\n \r\nSaturday 08/10:\r\nall-male "Measure for Measure" in the Globe Theatre standing stalls = £5\r\nPleasuredome sauna = £10\r\n \r\nTotal = £51.41\r\n \r\n",1]

Thursday 06/10:
public phone to get hold of youth group again = 40p
fabulous walking tour of gay London administered by gay youth after the meeting = FREE!!!

Friday 07/10:
Walking tour of South Bank (Self-guided)= FREE!!!
One hour at the Design Museum, looking at the stuff in the gift shop because we're too stingy to pay to go in = FREE!!!
Tate Modern = FREE!!! Suggested donation my Aunt Matilda!!!
Clubbing at Popstarz = £8
Coat-check girl = £1
Coca-cola for sugar and caffeine to keep me awake = £2.30

Saturday 08/10:
all-male "Measure for Measure" in the Globe Theatre standing stalls = £5
Pleasuredome sauna = £10

Total = £51.41

*Food*\r\nTuesday 04/10:\r\nBreakfast platter: sausage, bacon, fried br\r\nead with egg, fried tomatoes, baked beans, and black puddings. (They resemble little double chocolate biscuits with gristle insides, and they only taste of anything on the outside).\r\n\r\nBlueberries = £1.50\r\nSalmon and fried rice from Simon\'s fridge = £0\r\nAlso soymilk and cranberry-blackcurrant juice = £0\r\n \r\nWednesday 05/10:\r\nOrganic peanut butter sandwich from Simon\'s larder = £0\r\nCornish pasty (ugh) = 3.50\r\nBlackberry-apple lollipop from Visit London office = 60p\r\nHot dog from Iranian man outside British Museum = £2.50\r\nToffee apple from Sainsbury\'s = 52p\r\nYoghurt with vanilla crunchy bits = 59p\r\n",1]
Tuesday 04/10:
Breakfast platter: sausage, bacon, fried br ead with egg, fried tomatoes, baked beans, and black puddings. (They resemble little double chocolate biscuits with gristle insides, and they only taste of anything on the outside).
Blueberries = £1.50
Salmon and fried rice from Simon's fridge = £0
Also soymilk and cranberry-blackcurrant juice = £0

Wednesday 05/10:
Organic peanut butter sandwich from Simon's larder = £0
Cornish pasty (ugh) = 3.50
Blackberry-apple lollipop from Visit London office = 60p
Hot dog from Iranian man outside British Museum = £2.50
Toffee apple from Sainsbury's = 52p
Yoghurt with vanilla crunchy bits = 59p
Simon\'s unmarinated beef with fried plantains and gooseberry preserves = £0\r\n \r\nThursday 06/10:\r\nLoads and loads of organic peanut butter and gooseberry preserves sandwiches while I used the Internet in the house = £0\r\n\r\nScampi and chips with vinegar= £4.30\r\nClementines and chocolate digestives with passionfruit cordial = £0 courtesy of NRG gay youth counselling servies, heheheheheh\r\n \r\nFriday 07/10:\r\nBurmese meatballs with spring roll and banana fritters = £5.90 lunch special\r\nSlice of fridge cake, composed of crumbled digestives, maraschino cherries, raisins, almonds chocolate and butter melted then allowed to congeal from the Tower of London Café = £2.50\r\n\r\nOrange ice lolly = £1\r\nChicken kebab in pita in Leceister Square = £3.80\r\nChewing gum while walking home to save on cabfare = 60p\r\n \r\nSaturday 08/10:\r\nHot coriander and carrot soup with egg and cress sandwiches during intermission at the Globe Theatre = £5\r\n",1]
Simon's unmarinated beef with fried plantains and gooseberry preserves = £0

Thursday 06/10:
Loads and loads of organic peanut butter and gooseberry preserves sandwiches while I used the Internet in the house = £0
Scampi and chips with vinegar= £4.30
Clementines and chocolate digestives with passionfruit cordial = £0 courtesy of NRG gay youth counselling servies, heheheheheh

Friday 07/10:
Burmese meatballs with spring roll and banana fritters = £5.90 lunch special
Slice of fridge cake, composed of crumbled digestives, maraschino cherries, raisins, almonds chocolate and butter melted then allowed to congeal from the Tower of London Café = £2.50
Orange ice lolly = £1
Chicken kebab in pita in Leceister Square = £3.80
Chewing gum while walking home to save on cabfare = 60p

Saturday 08/10:
Hot coriander and carrot soup with egg and cress sandwiches during intermission at the Globe Theatre = £5
Cookie = £1.50\r\nChicken norjahaini with onion and coriander rice from Thames Tandoori at Waterloo Station = £10.90\r\nBrandy at Simon\'s = £0\r\nTotal = £48.71\r\nWeekly Total = £142.42 = S$421.86 at current exchange rates\r\nHope that\'s satisfactory, considering how I\'m deliberately avoiding going to attractions that charge admission (Madame Tussaud\'s? We went there ten years ago; the statues don\'t get older, do they?).\r\n And I\'ve still got £180 in notes in my suitcase that I haven\'t spent yet. Will probably be going to the Midlands for a bit to visit people, so might not be converting that.\r\n\r\nMust try to sponge off Simon more. Wonder if he\'ll notice if I start selling his furniture?\r\nSincerely,\r\nB).\r\n \r\n\r\n",0]
Cookie = £1.50
Chicken norjahaini with onion and coriander rice from Thames Tandoori at Waterloo Station = £10.90
Brandy at Simon's = £0
Total = £48.71
Weekly Total = £142.42 = S$421.86 at current exchange rates
Hope that's satisfactory, considering how I'm deliberately avoiding going to attractions that charge admission (Madame Tussaud's? We went there ten years ago; the statues don't get older, do they?). And I've still got £180 in notes in my suitcase that I haven't spent yet. Will probably be going to the Midlands for a bit to visit people, so might not be converting that.
Must try to sponge off Simon more. Wonder if he'll notice if I start selling his furniture?

Monday, October 17, 2005

diary of a stone monkey vol lxxii

Dear All,

It’s Black History Month in England. I visit the British Museum and I’m directed to the obsidian bust of Caesar with disconcerting white irises, brought back from the Sudan.

Yes, I know. It’s become a cliché, how I soliloquize on the strange transculturalism of the world, but who needs to know that about London, of all places, where less than 50% of residents are white and censuses state that over 300 languages are spoken in homes, behind closed doors? The churches, the Anglicans and Catholics and Protestants of other flavours, are jumping on the bandwagon with their evangel, offering Soho services in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, French. It’s the homeless people who’re white here, trodden down by class and Thatcherite politics; the Johnny-and-Jahan-come-latelies of colour have more of a chance to hop the escalator of upward mobility, freed from the shackles of history.

And history runs so deep here; runnels and trickles itself into every cobblestone and microcircuit. Their faces and fingerprints on every corner: Victoria, Elizabeth, the six wives of Henry VIII, on video, on fingerpuppetry, on the cold rush of air that sweeps beneath the antique bridges into the neon signage of Leceister Square. The portraits of the National Gallery stare down at us and paint their names.

And against migration, somehow English culture still holds itself together, sells Cornish pasties and scampi and chips at the same teashop where you get doner kebabs and curry on your jacket potatoes. You wander into the Tube, and everyone’s *reading*. Noses buried in newspapers and bestsellers or doing su doku, which is even more English than crossword puzzles in its unlingual reserve. When you hear someone talking it’s often tourists from an American high school, discussing the benefits of a lowered drinking age. And then the children in those ridiculous uniforms outside my flat, grey sweaters and vests and miniature ties like a toy recreation of an Edwardian wonderland. Their mothers come to greet them in their afros and hejabs at the ice cream truck for choccy wafer.

History and globality, smashing each other like violent lovers. Pausing to avoid each other’s bruises, a space of compromise. The guide at Cleopatra’s Needle explains that on Hadrian’s Wall, records exist of the Syrian craftsmen brought in for the masonry, so even today, amidst the rubble of Scots and the giftshops, some blokes have surnames from Syria. A book from the Globe Theatre explains how Shakespeare’s three-dimensional treatment of Othello was probably influenced by the fact that several thousand Africans were living in London at the time of his height. They were musicians, servant-girls, ironmongers, grand and luxurious courtesans. His Dark Lady, Emilia Lanier, was an Italian Jewess who wrote odes to Cleopatra.

The world came together, came so many times that they shut their eyes and stopped counting.

Yesterday, incidentally was also the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. Co-ed brass bands in uniform on parade. The guide explains how British nature demands a celebration whenever England really kicks France’s arse. We all need walls, don’t we? But channels run both ways. They sell biographies of Nelson and Napoleon in every bookstore, advertising them on the subway, and their faces are so close in profile it seems as though they kiss.

The first time I went to Trafalgar Square, it was night, after the Waterloo Gay Youth Group meeting. I’d spent the night gorging myself on chocolate digestives and clementines, flirting with a scruffy-haired stripling named Keith with green eyes and a misspelt e-mail address, and arguing with a teenage black bi-girl named P2, who claimed that the Internet was Evil for promoting gay promiscuity in spite of its dramatic success, I asserted, in connecting otherwise remote members of an invisible community. She said the dirty old men and young men should all die and I call her Mrs Thatcher. Then out across the Millennium Bridge, yapping in our teenage way, gawping at heterosexuals holding hands, and into an arena of Jacobite architecture lit from below in tinted lights, all neoclassical heroes and Corinthian capitals, and I said, Gawd, this is like CGI, this is like Myst.

When they hoisted Nelson onto his column they did so in a bucket rigged to a pulley elevator. The night before, twelve men who had engineered the statue ate roast pheasant on the top of the column, attended by waiters and French wine. In recent years the pigeons shat on the statues so corrosively that authorities were obliged to buy off fthe licence from the bird feed man in return for a hefty pension, and to hire a falconer to let loose an eagle twice a week from his little white van. All the birds reckon there’s a natural predator and stay away, the eagle returns to her master who can feed her Sainsbury’s organic squab, and everyone’s happy and humanely dealt with. The plinth left empty by a bankrupt William IV is now open to a rotating cycle of modern sculpture. There’s currently a rather unremarkable portrait cast of the artist Alison Lapper, born without arms and with shortened legs; the next body up will be that of Nelson Mandela.

All that history, all that currency, washing up into a little circle of brick. Singapore should hold similar walking tours; Singapore should dig into the dirt of its concrete. How can a city so old be so young? But that’s what cities do, because they’re renewable. Europe can manage that; they’ve had time to grow and change sizes while everywhere else just bursts its knickers.

I ride the London Eye and take pictures of Westminster Abbey in the rain; my best shot of the Blue Gherkin is from the balcony of Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of 1666. I chew my Krispy Kreme and eat my lentil dhal with rice and photograph the graffiti on the walls in Hebrew and Korean, the ammonite spiral of stairs below me and the yuppies munching their sandwiches in churchyards. I ask Simon Jackson what kind of a Jewish surname Jackson is; he says his grandfather had it changed when his father was four, fleeing their Ashkenazic roots. The father takes me for croissants and chocolatines at Paul’s the best French patisserie in England, and tells me of his boyhood trekking across Spain, his senescence as his retirement plan to manage the tourist office at Stonehenge fell through. They are out of orange juice; I have milk and he has a cappuccino. He rescues children of friends from bad overseas work, but only if they degrees in science or economics. He regards me with pity. I stay in all Thursday and work on my SQ21 book on Singapore queer biographies, only eating once, at the Rose Café, fried bread and fried mushrooms and bacon and black puddings like coal-dark cookies with white chocolate gristle. The waitstaff were Turkish, and the young, pretty lady with the mop approaches me and asks me why I am reading a book about India. So far I’ve ransacked Simon’s house and read Hermann Hesse’s “Siddartha”, “Steppenwolf” and Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali”. This one is about militant Hinduism in India, I tell her, the cult of Rama despite even Hanuman’s descent into the underworld to retrieve the ring of his master and meeting a thousand, each from a different aspect. Are they are Christians in Turkey, I ask her. It turns out they’re Muslim, but even back home, they will eat pork sausages.

There is no cogent way I can piece together my two weeks here already. No golden thread. My mother gives me her credit card for Hongkong Shanghai Bank of China; they have raised sponsorship for the largest Frida Kahlo exhibition in twenty years at the Tate Modern due to their Mexican connections and are now employing Prince William as an intern. What a master stroke of the colonised, to be boss to the future king of your old slaver! But who holds the chips, and how well do they function as buttons of power?

You know, I somehow remember there being more Asian people than black people in London the last time I was here. Somehow I’m seeing rather few of them outside the restaurants; perhaps it’s an assimilation pattern, or maybe some big boom from the islands happened after I left. P2 is dead against it of course; she says her father had every right to come here because he had a job, but what’s the business of bringing another uncle over? I call her the bloody Baroness of Kesteven.

I’ve clubbed here a couple of nights. It’s a very white gay community, that’s the feeling I’m getting. May be the whitest clubs I’ve ever danced in, and I have been in Frankfurt. A bit of a difference from Asian gay clubs, which will often feature at least the token expat. The ethnopolitics of pleasure. I’m reading Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American”, and chasing a Eurasian boy at Oxford via text message.

I was discussing globalization with Simon the other night. We had good chats, despite his gross neglect, because he is an extremely intelligent man, simply lacking in many social graces. He was wondering how much globalization really takes place in China if no-one moves there for the long run, since even the black and white faces of Shanghai are only there for a business deal or an education or a tour of the Colonial District.

Singapore’s got it, he says. There are some people who come to Singapore and won’t be going home. I tell him I think my Eurotrip is conducting the same kind of runaway odyssey that’s supposed to drive white kids to the Himalayas. He suggests Lourdes, or Santiago de la Compostela. Next door to Simon’s is the Freud House. Here he took refuge from the Nazis with a chau-chau, a Pekinese, a lesbian daughter, his antique array of ushabtis, avatars and bodhisattvas, and a cabinet with a Lutheran inscription of love, writing them all into a theory of the primitive and the unconscious in his ergonomic armchair, his mind was like the meat of a snail, said Salvador Dalí.

In the Egyptian room at the British Museum lies the famous mummy of Ginger, with red hair. What drove that migrant, a head like the phosphorus of matches, to leave his tribe for one of the few first cities? Hunger, probably. Travelers’ tales couldn’t have spread glamour much in those early days. Who knows, he may not have liked it, and only death might have made him decide to stop running.

Need sleep now,


P.S. Am in Oxford now. Bicycle city of gargoyles and subfuscs. Gorgeous Eurasian boy not replying, so am at liberty to make fun of his name, which is Lexus. May hit Canterbury next, and convert to Anglicanism, since it might let me be a priest.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

a passage to england: photo edition

Images from around London! Such as a fridge cake, composed of cocoa powder, raisins, almond flakes and butter melted and reconstituted for elegant consumption at the Tower of London teashop!

Also, fetching young lads and lasses from the Waterloo gay youth counselling group!

My second meal in London. Leftover salmon and fried rice in Simon Jackson's pantry. The salmon required a healthy slosh of soy sauce to render it edible.

Two drunken lads showing off their wares on the Millennium bridge, much to the Waterloo gay youth group's approval.

The curtain call after an extremely good (and funny!) Measure for Measure at the Globe Theatre (yes, that's a man in a dress)

Skanky clubbers at Popstarz. The man was Australian and grew up in between the surf and the cattle farm, which was a glorious life for a boy until you're 15 and you're dying for the fabulous lure of the city. He does video, with a special interest in movie trailer design. The girl's a dance student, with a particularly unreceived tipsy proletariat brogue. Neither of them seemed to be gay; certainly the man was fierce enough, but they were tonguing. Blugh.

Indian restaurant. Chicken norjahani with lovely coriander bhasmati.

This is London. Au revoir, hail and farewell.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

diary of a stone monkey lxxi

YS: Dear All,

I think I must tell you about Simon Jackson.

My mother and father used to invoke his name, as other parents might call upon the noble examples of Qu Yuan and Cai Wenji. My father told me of how when he was working in London, he visited this sage old colleague of his, Anthony Jackson, and gifted his youngest son with a volume of Asiapac’s “Fun With Chinese Characters”.

Baited with the thrill of the Orient, little Simon Jackson was to grow to become a great Bridge Across Cultures, yea, fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, performing grand feats of transcaucasian diplomacy between British Industry and Chinese Enterprise, with a Chinese girlfriend at his side (they are somewhat compulsory) and a tendency to irritate waiters in Limehouse when he ordered spring rolls in Cantonese, and said, “Cor mate, I don’t speak a word o’that rubbish.” Even when he visited us as a skinny teenager in Hong Kong, his gusto in culture consumption famously overrode his Jewish heritage:

Father: So he told us, “If it’s made of pork, don’t tell me!” And then he jia gao beng!

Mum: Someday you’ll meet an angmoh like that, who’s better than you at Chinese, and then you really think you’ll be better than him in English?

(Pregnant, bitter pause)

YS: Anyway, since we put up Simon back then, they felt it’s only fair for him to put me up right now. But the question is, how well does my family know the real Simon Jackson?


Q1. If you were Simon Jackson, thirtysomething East Asian business whiz, and your Singaporean friends rang you to take care of their son on his visit, would you:

A) offer to pick him up from the airport?
B) e-mail him your address and directions?
C) do neither until he called you panicked the day before departure?

Q2. Having established that you won’t be at home when he arrives from the airport, would you:

A) Leave your keys with a neighbour?
B) Leave your keys under the doormat?
C) Leave your keys in the recycling bin?

Q3. Having asked Yi-Sheng to call you upon getting out of customs at 6 am, would you:

A) Make sure you were awake by 6 am?
B) Make sure your phone was set to outdoor profile overnight?
C) Leave your phone on silent mode and sleep through two calls from public phones (which cost 60p = S$1.20)?

Q4. Once awake, you would you meet Yi-Sheng by:

A) frantically calling him on his mobile to make sure he’s alright.
B) responsibly leaving a note for him at the door.
C) coincidentally bumping into him and his giant duffel bag as he treks the long way round from the Tube station to your house, both recognising one another despite not having met for eight years.

Q5. Though already on my way to work, you would ensure Yi-Sheng’s safety and comfort by:

A) Walking 50 metres back to my house and letting him in.
B) Explaining to him carefully where to find the keys.
C) Mumbling affirmation when Yi-Sheng asks if it’s in the “green and black thing”, and rushing off to work in a non-cellphone-accessible area while Yi-Sheng empties the recycling bin several times in a desperate attempt to discover the keys and gives up after trying to call twice and stops to read heteroinsecurity magazines about “Being A Bloke’s Bloke” in the garden while the neighbours stare at him, and luckily, calling back just before your meeting to explain that the keys are in a white envelope tucked into the side of the bin (though with all the reshuffling, it’s at the bottom already, and a trifle grimy at that).

Q6. On discovering Yi-Sheng at 8pm that night sleeping on the living room couch because he wasn’t sure if the extra bed was vacant or not, you would:

A) apologise and go out for dinner.
B) have dinner indoors and chat.
C) get him and your septuagenarian father Anthony to help you move out your old refrigerator down three flights of stairs and then leave him alone in your house while you went out swimming.

Mostly A) => Wow, you’ve really managed to combine Western and Eastern (and Middle Eastern) hospitality into one seamless finish! Give yourself a hand!
Mostly B) => You are gracious, yet casually efficient. Not bad either!
Mostly C) => FAN-F**KING –TASTIC!!!! You’re SIMON JACKSON!!!

YS: Oh, but it makes it sound like I dislike Simon. He’s rather distant, but he’s alright, definitely, and he’s not quite what our parents thought. For example:

Q7. How old was SJ when he first started studying Chinese?

A) 6
B) 11
C) 16
D) 21

ANSWER: D). He said he’d have liked to begin when he received the Asiapac book at 11, though.

Q8. In what order of fluency does SJ speak the following languages?

A) French
B) Italian
C) Chinese
D) Latin

ANSWER: A, B, C, D. He started Latin before any of the others, though.

Q9. When SJ’s Chinese teacher speaks to him in Mandarin, he addresses her in:

A) Mandarin
B) Cantonese
C) English.

ANSWER: C). I’m sorry, mumsies.

Q10. Simon Jackson knew I was homosexual when I was

A) 5
B) 10
C) 16
D) 24

ANSWER: A). He only mentioned it to you when I was 16, mum, because he thought anyone with eyes would have known already.

YS: I thought I was a rather butch 5 year-old, really.

SJ: No. You weren’t. (Goes back to his washing)

Q11. Simon’s present job involves business linkages between the UK and:

A) China.
B) Southeast Asia.
C) India.

ANSWER: C). He’s tried to study Hindi, but he says it’s way too difficult.

Q12. Out of respect to the guests, all the meat at Simon’s bar bitzvah was:

A) Kosher.
B) Halal.
C) Porkalicious.

ANSWER: B). Most of the meat he buys now is halal, too. He works with loads of Muslims at the office, and shops where they do. Also loves his pork and shellfish.

Q13. Simon owns the Lonely Planets for:

A) Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.
B) Egypt
C) China
D) Brazil
E) Indian Himalaya
F) South India
G) Vietnam
H) Central America on a Shoestring
I) Cuba

ANSWER: All of the above. You’ll notice there’s nothing on Europe. Bugger.

Q14. In Simon’s kitchen, which of the following varieties of tea will you find?

A) Earl Grey with Bergamot
B) Assam with Kerala spices
C) Green tea
D) Kwong Sang superior brand
E) Eight-treasures-covered-bowl

ANSWER: All of the above. There’s a trend here.

Q15. Elsewhere in the kitchen, which of the following will you *not* find?

A) Plantains
B) Gooseberry jam
C) Bhasmati rice
D) Soya milk
E) Pate de foie canard entier
F) Marmite
G) Three different kinds of soya sauce
H) Kicap manis
I) A gelato machine
J) Jamaican jonkanoo seriously hot pepper sauce
K) Organic peanut butter
L) Champagne
M) Turmeric, cumin and green cardamoms
N) French rock salt
O) Hovis wholemeal
P) Thai lemongrass and coconut powder
Q) V8
R) A six-pack of Coca-cola
S) Chicory and coffee essence
T) Melatonin
U) Sainsbury’s arrabiata and tomato and mascarpone sauces
V) Courvoisier
W) Costa Rican coffee
X) Welsh goat cheese
Y) Tahini
Z) A toaster

ANSWER: Z). He does, however, have a big ol’ grill, which he was using to fry Portobello mushrooms last night. He has cookbooks on Caribbean, Sylvia’s soul food, Sichuan, Singapore, and various fusion cuisines.

YS: I think you get the picture. I could talk about his library (Leadership Lessons Learnt from the Panchatantra? The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier?) or his DVD collection (2046? Doctor Who?) or the music on his electronic keyboard. But I think it’s pretty clear that I’m delaing with a kind of comfortable cultural polymorphousness that’s been seriously reduced by my parents’ representations of Mr Jackson.

I’d developed a comeback for my mother whenever she told me about SJ. I’d talk about mother tongue and lover tongue, how we’re drawn by the language we choose instead of the language we’re born with. If you really want to make comparisons to my Chinese, I’d tell my mother, ask Simon how good his Hebrew is. I wouldn’t bet on anything, now though. He’s got a mezuzah on his front door, and Jewish magazines in his recycling bin.

He’s still pretty distant. Got home last night late, and he tries to teach me how to do cryptic crosswords while marinating beef. I’m never quite certain whether he’s looking down on me, putting up with me, or just being reserved.

Anyhow, better not leak this mail to him. That’d confirm his attitudes toward me rather solidly. Nosy self-centred trollop that I am.



Wednesday, October 05, 2005

diary of a stone monkey volume lxx

Dear All,


Gateway to Europe. Same way as Singapore’s supposed to be gateway to Asia: sober government, civilised hygiene, and at least they speak your language.

This is an unusual vacation for me because I’m running less towards a place than away. I’m frankly frightened of the weight of adult responsibility and the duty to win bread. Nor am I encouraged that I haven’t produced any great oeuvres in my four months dallying about the city being a writer: a poem every week, a play in 24 hours, a microbiography; no screenplays, no operas, no bildungsroman.

Odd thing about London is how it lies both inside and outside you. Americans won’t get this, because they weren’t suckled on a diet of Enid Blyton and Conan Doyle the way us Commonwealth kids were. And of course, there’s the dark imprints of the Raj on our architecture and recent history, and the prodigal’s return, the yellowing and browning of London itself, the clash of global union that sounds and gets reimported home all over again. Jamiroquai. Ishiguro. Meera Syal.

I boarded QANTAS on Monday at 10pm. Father’d been being fractious, told me I still didn’t know how to travel because I’d planned to leave the house too late, I’d packed my jacket in check-in luggage instead of carrier. To dispel the tension, Yi-Xian taught me close combat moves in the kopitiam, an odd bodily ballet of slapping the breast, grabbing the offender’s knuckles and locking his thumb and twisting the tender joints with a foot between his to prevent him from kneeing you in the groin. Mum said be careful, don’t let anyone cheat you, and I’m terribly puzzled, of course, because whyever shoul they have such concern over what can happen to me in Europe?

Wild Europe. Virgin Europe. Darkest Eurofrica.

Mum’s been commenting that I keep American time while I’m in Singapore: I write till 6am and I wake at 2 in the afternoon. My contrary sleep habits persist in the plane: I’m asleep for the two hours that the lights are on, then when everyone’s gone to sleep I read “Absalom, Absalom” and “Let’s Go: Europe 2005”. I watch “The Simpson’s Halloween Special IX”, “Beyond Tomorrow: Australia Edition”, a cooking show on tempura oysters and “Faking It”. After twenty-eight days, an insurance salesman is able to fool two out of three movie critics into thinking he’s a professional stuntman, whereas a maestro can point out a 25 year-old punk rocker conducting the Royal Philharmonic because he does it too damn well. It’s heartbreaking when he shaves off his pink and daffodil Mohican fringe and swaddles his tattoo. For the next few days he wears a brunet wig and coat and tails.

The lights come on and they run out of Continental Breakfast. I go to sleep. Heathrow airport is cold. In the line for immigration I put on my jacket, despite my pride against my father for not having needed it through the nightlong flight.

The West Indian woman tells me to step behind the line. She snaps at me when I hesitate on how long I’ll be in London; I haven’t decided, maybe ten days, maybe two. I tell her I’ve graduated and I’m doing the Grand Tour, next maybe Munich for Oktoberfest, then Vienna? She asks to see my Eurail pass, but already she’s looking at me nicer, unjealous, living vicariously in my wanderlust.

It’s 6.30 am. I’m the only man in the street dressed in red. Red windbreaker, red shoes, green army duffel bag of my chattels. It’s daylight, but hardly anyone’s on the Underground yet. Heathrow express to Paddington. Circle Line to Baker Street, Bakerloo to Finchley Road.

The West Indian woman asked me if it was my first time in London. First time in eight years, I say. There’s a bizarre, horrible sense of homecoming to this city. Of course I am glad to be here but there are certain words which already describe it.

London is limbo. The celestial regency of Sheridan and the inferno of Aphra Behn. The court of Marlowe, the boat of Kipling, the oblivion teahouse of Carol Ann Duffy. But empty.

Today there’s been a curious peoplelessness to it, no doubt because it’s Rosh Hashanah, or possibly because I haven’t stepped beyond my borders much today.

Will write more, once my thoughts are collected. Chag sameach, my Hebrew friends.



Monday, October 03, 2005

Yeah, I'm gonna miss Singapore... Posted by Picasa

MRT coming home so late after Saturday night with paolo and Samir that I could ride with the Sunday morning workers. I was in clubbing clothes, they were going to work. The ambient advertising was about a golf course. Posted by Picasa

Sometimes I think ambient advertising should be classified as a merit good. Isn't it marvellous how his bellybutton appears to coincide with the latch of the rear compartment? Posted by Picasa

Maxwell Hawker Centre with Paolo and Samir Posted by Picasa

And this is a picture of my goodie pack at the 24-hour playwriting competition. Posted by Picasa

I'm uploading pictures of home before I leave. This is what the interior of my refrigerator looks like. I'm not kidding about the mutton by-product; it's in there. Posted by Picasa

Me in a recent stranger's house for New Year's Day, 2005, Buenos Aires Posted by Picasa