The hanbok fantasy

The call came at 8.07pm, just as I might have been chuckling away while watching a variety show online. Suffice to say, I missed it.

When I checked the phone hours later, it was a number that was strangely familiar to me.  A thought crept into my mind. It might have been The Verdict. But it was too late to make any calls.

A return call was made during the lunch break. It was to someone from the agency. As usual, I was asked how the date went. I explained that the match was a step in the right direction. The person from the agency said the date was quiet in nature and would take some time to warm up to people around her. I was then asked if any attempt was made to meet her again. I affirmed it but said it was unsuccessful.

“So there was no interest?” the person asked.

“From the other side,” I replied coolly and calmly. The emotional upheaval following that failed attempt had dissipated with the number of times I listened to D Rice’s Delicate (on repeat mode). The mood has returned to some semblance of normalcy. I was trying to accept myself and the failure again.

“Okay. I haven’t called her yet to find out more. If you don’t hear from us, we’ll move on, ya?”

The person sounded cool and calm as well. This was business after all.

So, The Verdict became No Verdict. But I will not discount the possibility of them calling me up and telling me to get rid of that ever-ballooning paunch, which might have tilted the table during the lunch date so much that it greatly affected the date’s ability in ingesting her lunch. Or else, they will send my file to another agency which flies in women from some obscure villages in the Pee Ara See.

In the meantime, I live out my days as a recluse until the next match comes along.

***

A week ago, I was following closely a series of posts on someone’s blog / journal.

A young woman admired that person’s writing and work so much that she decided that it would be a brilliant idea to make them her very own. That is, as long as no one finds out.

Before we became slaves to word processors, copying and pasting now require the barest minimum of work. A great piece of work becomes your own within mere seconds. Cue plaudits and glowing words of admiration.

Being a sub-standard spewer of words and the waster of space on the internet for the past decade, no one has done this to me. I think the bits and pieces of self-deprecating humour and the never-ending references to the humongous girth that is my waist are kinda difficult for anyone to want to claim the writing as their own. I’d never known I have developed this proprietary way of protecting my rubbish and shite from being plagiarised. No one wants to copy the words of a loser, no?

But as much as I can understand how the original writer felt enraged over these blatant acts of plagiarism, I feel sorry for the young woman (no, I’m not wiggling my way to an invite for a date). She should do something for herself. Create her style. Express her thoughts in her own words. The expressions may not be contenders for a writing award, but at the very least, it’s her own. Through time, loads (and loads) of reading and writing, her style will evolve. She’ll pick up the tricks in creating her own style. She can tell her own story through her own words, phrases and sentences. Eventually, there will be pieces that are amazing reads.

Sincerely, I hope the young woman learns a little lesson from this. It’s not just a lesson about writing. It also applies to all other aspects of our lives.

***

In less than two months’ time and assuming everything falls in place, I would be off to one of the most isolated countries on God’s good earth.

Being the eternal loser of the loveless kind, I was already fantasising about how I might meet some cute, quirky woman (who shares the same interest in going to these weirdly far-flung places on earth) from the tour group, and how we will frolic among the fields of bright yellow sunflowers, wearing sun hats, holding hands and whispering sweet-nothings into each other’s ears till our voices turn hoarse.

Or that I would be so enticed by one of the female guides that I would be willing to get married, settle down in this country and spend the rest of life bowing to two portraits of chubby men, calling them words such as “Dear” and “Great” every other day. I could learn how to acquire and appreciate the taste of fermented spicy cabbages. If this country’s hated neighbours can produce drop-dead gorgeous women who can collectively sing and dance “Nobody but you”, there might just be as many drop-dead gorgeous women there (since they share the same ancestry). Just that they might be decked in a hanbok or an olive green military uniform, instead of those tight-ish dancing outfits.

In any case, the preparations have started.

And the possibilities may just be endless.

“Your Mandarin good or not ah?”

Another week came and went in silence. Interactions with humans have trickled to moves on the online Scrabble-esque game with others and the odd tweet. If one were to plot a graph of the number of words I spoke during a week five or ten years back and the number of words I’ve spoken each week in 2011, it would be a great exhibit for psychiatrists studying solitary behaviour.

Out of the long list of people on my MSN account, I’ve not been chatting with 99% of them. Even longer is the list of people who have possibly gone offline permanently or blocked me.

Facebook has become a bit of an albatross around my neck. I defend my privacy so much that I refuse to post stuff on my wall (or others’) and even participate in some of those games. I stay connected with them (by logging in and reading their latest status updates without commenting). Only just.

Twitter is heading the same way. The sole saving grace is the interesting stuff that the people on my feed post. I’ve been trying to stop myself from tweeting stuff out of frustration. I’m not sure if my rants are interesting to anyone else out there. Chances are, they aren’t.

So what am I left with?

My thoughts. Alone.

***

I’d like to think that my writing was more prolific years ago compared to the (occasional) trash I spew these days.

(Digressing a little, AOT’s 11th anniversary passed without any fanfare.)

It simply brightens up my day to receive comments for the recent entries. When almost everyone and his dog have jumped on the 144-letter limit, it is almost unthinkable for anyone to have the time to plough through a wall-of-text. And most of the stuff I write isn’t the funniest thing since the word “comedian” was invented.

So, for those who are still reading this space, you have my deepest gratitude (and sympathy).

I will still continue to rant and spew rubbish here. But they will be irregular simply because:

(a) most of the stuff I want to write have been written and posted on this site (usually with no new perspective)

(b) I’ve become more reclusive, which means that observations about human behaviours and interesting scenes have become increasingly fewer

(c) I don’t have much inspiration left to write stuff after a long day having to battle general idiocy and the overwhelmingly crowded public spaces. By the end of each day, I’m emotionally spent.

***

Many years ago, something got in my head and I decided to (self)publish a collection of stuff I’ve written. Being the Great Poseur that I am, I followed others by calling it a “zine”.

I was young and willing to impress then.

I gave readers of this site an option of me sending it to them or meeting me so that I could hand the “zines” to them (saving them some postage costs).

I’ve sent a few by post. I’ve met some in person.

In the heart of hearts, I reckon that those who got that “zine” via post might have been the luckier ones. They don’t get to see the bulging girth that is my paunch and a face that perhaps only my mother could love. The rest who met me in person must have been too scarred for life. I’ve not met any one of them more than twice.

Then, I’ve gone on those “blog” meetings a few times. Made friends with people who were expressing stuff online. There were some whose writing I loved and whom I’ve had the privilege of meeting them in person.

I’ve always treasured those moments when I met people who could write way better than meself, including those very rare moments when we talked about stuff we loved reading and writing.

Yet, through the passage of time, those connections became fragile and they fizzled into a distant memory.

As my social circle grows into something that is near extinction, I guess I won’t have to go around scarring and scaring people for life anymore. I’ve been troubled too much by how things petered out.  I don’t want to revisit again and again the thoughts about why they decided to walk out.

So, I am back to being a recluse, writing more than speaking when I express my thoughts, living a day at a time and writing a piece of shit, a word at a time.

***

I expected a verdict over the weekend. There was none.

Perhaps the agency received more than a mouthful from the previous date. Perhaps something along the lines of “that guy had a paunch so big, the table tilted towards me throughout the lunch date”, complete with the threat of a lawsuit for being permanently scarred in her mind. Or “I had that disgusting thing following me throughout the ride home and I wanna sue for damages.”

With such feedback, I’m sure the agency would possibly need not contact me for my version of the story. Somewhere in their office, my folder is being relegated to some obscure category.

Maybe I’ll get a call from some foreign brides agency soon.

“Hello sir. XXX dating agency passed your details to us. We’ve a fantastic date lined up for you. We’re in the process of flying her in from XXX village from the Cheenaland. Your Mandarin good or not ah?”

That sinking feeling again

When her text message came in at 6 in the evening, his heart sank. It was extremely unusual, but words of encouragement filled his mind.

“She’s just one. There are many more out there.”

“It’s okay. One door closes and another one opens.”

“It’s her loss.”

For the first time in a long while, his defence mechanism worked. But lying on the bed, he stared blankly at the ceiling. Something sinister took over. It made him feel as though he didn’t deserve the packet of fried rice he bought for dinner.

***

He was there early, as he made it a point to try to get there before her. He didn’t quite consider it as giving the woman (or women) the chance to gauge the extent of which he was suffering from obesity and then, allow them almost all the time in this world to write him off immediately.

She appeared ten minutes later and he knew she was the intended one when the waitress gestured at the table where his overly rotund body was occupying. One could consider it as her giving him a second chance or perhaps he didn’t pick up the disappointment written all over her face as she settled in front of him.

“Sorry I was late. Was trying to find my way to the café.”

They spent the next few moments examining the menu. To the agency’s credit, their choice has been fairly inspiring. Yet, the last thing on his mind was how good the food was at this café.

Salads would always be the safest option, he thought to himself. You don’t have to worry about the piece of chicken flying off your plate and finding its rest on her chest. You don’t have to worry about bits of the choicest leaf of rocket lettuce stuck in between your teeth.

Then, he remembered someone’s complaint about how the greens were not fresh at this café.

Spaghetti was the next section, but there was the element of having to keep the slurping sound down or that the loose strands would flay the bright red sauce around and land on the date’s crisp white blouse.

Then, there was the steak. But he was worried about how he would have to be extremely careful while cutting it without making the accidental screeching sound the knife would make when it hits the ceramic plate.

In the end, he settled for penne. He could pick them off, one at a time, safely without the risk that it would accidentally stain the date’s clothes, him being a klutz. She settled for chicken.

So, they spent the time waiting for the food getting to know each other. He tried his best to bring up topics for conversation that centred on her interests deftly. By the time he started the third topic, he dismissed a growing, nagging suspicion of how he was feeling as though he was lugging two huge, kick-ass tyres up the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.

The food came in the middle of their fourth topic. He was underwhelmed by his penne.  She didn’t say anything about her plate of chicken. Food was secondary to everything else for him. He wanted to make it work.

“I notice that you’ve been eating the pasta instead of the meat,” she remarked.

“Some times I compartmentalise my food,” he responded with a sheepish smile. It made him feel like some eccentric bloke.

“Ah, some people have OCD,” she blurted, before explaining a second or two later that it didn’t mean she thought he was being OCD.

They ordered their drinks as the waiter came round to collect their food. He watched as his plate with a pile of meat (sans the penne) was removed from the table. She then excused herself and made her way to the washroom.

“Do you carry this around with you?” she asked as he checked the movie listings on his iPad.

He felt as though he had upgraded from some eccentric bloke to an eccentric geek / nerd.

“Yes,” he answered sheepishly again, half kicking himself for bringing the gadget with him.

“Ah, [name of movie] is showing later. Wanna catch it later, since…”

“Oh, I have something on later.”

As the afternoon wore on, he realised that he was asking more questions about her than she did about him. Still he dismissed the thought.

With her text message, his suspicions, thoughts and intuition were correct. He should have listened to them more…

Still, he tried, and failed.

***

He would be given a post-mortem later this week, bracing himself for the slew of criticisms that could be flying his way.

A series of unfortunate thoughts

She said she too was going through some crappy situation in her life. He said she could talk about it if she wanted a listening ear.

She responded with a smiley and then logged off.

***

Reading the list of opening paragraphs from 100 great novels inspired him momentarily. As he sifted through 1-100, he was impressed with the variety of styles each novelist used. He picked up bits and pieces of the different types of “hooks” that drew readers in, line after line, word after word, until they’re done with the novel, leaving their lips pursed in disappointment (that they’ve come to the end of a masterpiece).

He also read about how an outline helps immensely in getting the process of storytelling – through the written word – started.

Yet with ideas becoming fewer and further between for him these days, a 100,000-word tome is simply way, way, way beyond him. Moreover, dealing with idiocy everyday effectively can suck any remnant of inspiration out from him.

***

Today, the recurring though in his head was about a certain scene at the airport. He was in it and how he was surprised – pleasantly at first and then disturbingly later – by it. A rather lengthy discussion with the bearer of news followed.

He felt for her.

But his reaction was symptomatic of how much he has seen it all. All he could muster was a sigh. Not just because he was helpless about the whole situation, it was just that he had never been involved in anything of that sort… as much as he pined for it.

***

Now, she was perfect, he thought to himself almost every other day. There was no way for him to wean it off, not when he could see her five days in a week and whenever she walks in and out of her work cell.

But like so many others before her, she was – in his mind – way out of his league. Firstly she could well be a decade younger than him, the man who is getting older and more obiang by the day. Secondly, she was still plugged in to Divinity, while he has now wandered too far in the Wilderness to have known how to crawl his way back. Thirdly, she had erected some form of (protective) barrier that basically screamed “Keep out!” at him whenever he had a chance to interact with her. Last but most important of all, the nagging suspicions – that there was already a man in her life – have grown bigger by the day (which explains the third point). So much so that it resembles a hot air balloon or the planet Jupiter (whichever is bigger). Case in point, the familiar look of love (coupled with a silly smile) plastered on her face whenever she worked on the touchscreen of her iPhone.

So, being the eternal loser of the hopeless mind, he could just admire from afar, even though she sits just across his work cell.

***

He has a date lined up later this week. He hasn’t an idea about what to expect. The agency decided to be smarter this time. There isn’t anything for him to latch on beyond a smattering of descriptions of her.

Chances are, he is going to turn up looking like a tramp with the cheap body spray he wore polluting whichever unfortunate restaurant they were meeting in. She may turn up wrinkling her nose in disgust hundred times over in her head as she come face-to-face with an abomination of God’s creation.

For him, he would have to talk about how he hated crowds for the umpteenth time and he had quite forgotten the last movie he watched. For her, she would probably have to muster every atom of her body to get enough energy in looking engaged in the conversation, half hoping that the night would simply end quicker. Or try a little harder in coming up with a polite chuckle after he deadpanned his 1,356th lame joke of the night.

Maybe he’s thinking way ahead of himself.

Or simply, he’s been thinking too much.

“Why would you sit with me at all?”

He wasn’t pleased about something and left the house in a hurry, leaving his mom bewildered.

Minutes later, he was at a clinic. The rage he held as he closed the grilled gate of his home meant that he hadn’t the time to think about how the scabs on his legs would be exposed to the world if he were to wear the pair of navy blue berms. But it didn’t quite matter since some of the people in the waiting room would probably have some scabs of their own, concealed or otherwise.

Unlike the previous trips to the clinic, he hadn’t much time to allow too many of the wandering thoughts to take shape. The iPad is a wonderful invention, he thought to himself, as his fingers swiped across the touch screen, flipping from one news article to another.

There were a smattering of patients all waiting for their turn either to see the specialist or get their creams, ointments, shampoos or soaps. The location and the expertise of the consultants here meant that many of them were the well-heeled. The brief moments when he looked up and around, he could imagine how these people all lived in landed homes and condos, driving their way here in their spanking new cars.

Just then, a mother and son walked into the clinic. Both had blonde hair. They spoke in an accent. He didn’t think much about them at first. A few moments later, they were ushered into a room.

Then, the unmistakable heart-wrenching cry of a kid rang out. That preceded a long and drawn out meltdown from the kid as the mother and son were ushered out. This was making it a bit of a challenge for him to read the stuff from the iPad. As much as he knew there would be times when nothing can be done to pacify a kid, he wished the mom would do something so that the little boy would stop crying.

But something the mom said (to the boy) etched in his mind for a long time to come.

“You’re a brave boy and you know that,” were the nine words the mom spoke gently to the boy.

As these words crept into his head, he found it even harder to focus on the screen. Memories were collectively triggered, as though a can of worms was yanked open. A surge of emotions preceded the faintest of cries…

He spent the next few minutes thinking about the times – in his childhood and during his youth – when it would have made a world of difference if his own mother said those nine words to him. Instinctively, he knew that his life would possibly be very, very different now.

But those were the lost opportunities, those times lost that could never be relived, regained or redeemed.

And until today, his mother had never, ever said those nine words to him. He could still wish, but it would probably never come to pass.