Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Chatterbox: Face Value

25th January 2008

"Who's having the Chicken Rice?" the waitress asked, looking for a confirmation before placing the platter down right in front of me.

I gazed upon my well-presented platter, scrutinizing the serving of the portion on each plate or bowl. Patiently, I picked up my chopsticks and dug them into the bowl of rice, taking the first bite. Nicely glossed with a layer of fragrant spices, a mouthful was already enough to validate the quality of the rice used.

Mandarin Chicken Rice: Seven Times Prettier than the Average-Joe

"Umm, the rice is REALLY fragrant." she exclaimed, as I fed her a spoonful of the light-brown quality rice.

Eager to tantalize my taste buds further, I grabbed a off the top layer of the nicely-spread platter of white chicken, bringing it to the level of my nostrils to get an appetizing whiff, before putting it to the test that was my taste buds. The classic-roasted restaurant-quality Hainanese Chicken was relatively more succulent (by a mile, in fact), yet hardly as smooth as the sauce-drenched white chicken in neighbourhood hawker centres that I was accustomed to.

Yes, picky perhaps, but considering that the Chicken Rice in front of me costs approximately 7x as much as your conventional, everyday plate of chicken rice, at a whooping $21.50, I figured that it would only be natural that one would scrutinize all the way down to the underside of the plate just to find the value of where the extra cost went.

In front of her, her bowl of Lobster Laksa was extravagantly presented with two halves of lobster, in portions that were hardly sloppy at all. Richly cooked with the appropriate amount of saltiness, spice and a tinge of sweetness, the Lobster Laksa was easily in the upper-tier of Laksas; of course, the presence of the Lobsters hardly hurt the judgment passed at all. The overall bright orange-tinge of the gravy, complimented with the extravagant serving of lobsters, gave the dish a somewhat flamboyant and obviously upmarket look, instantly validating the $33 price-tag *ahem* tagged to the dish.

Lobster Laksa: Pageant Dish

I reached out to grab 1 of the 7 Fried Dumplings and took a bite off the steaming hot delicacy. With a crispy golden-roasted skin and juicy prawn-fillings, the Fried Dumplings had the taste of familiarity, but with the juiciness kicked into overdrive. What set it apart from the everyday dumplings was when it was thoroughly dipped in the given Wasabi Mayonnaise, endowing the dumplings with a hint of wasabi-bitterness subtly hidden underneath the richness of the mayonnaise.

Fried Dumpling: The Secret's in the Sauce

After moving full circle around the table, I continued to indulge further in my platter of chicken, all while experimenting with the 3 different sauces that were provided, Chilli Sauce, Soy Sauce and Traditional Green Ginger Paste. I realized that the drier texture of the chicken actually complimented the sauces really well, especially with the viscous, black soy sauce provided. But the real money shot hit when I reached the bottom layer of the chicken platter. Soaking it in the light sauce at the bottom of the oddly-shaped bowl, the true flavours of the chicken erupted in my mouth, satisfying my eager taste buds, finally validating the relatively hefty price-tag on my chicken rice.

Perhaps this principle applies to our choice of romantic partners as well. Whereas some of *ahem* us, have our values instantly validated upon the look and feel of our presentations, with an appetizing personality only serving to match up to our initial impacts; there are others who are seemingly simple and a lot more ordinary upon face value, but only to have the true value validated much later into the meal. I believe that she and I are one and the other, but no prizes for correct guesses on who's who though.

Cheeky on Chubby

But whatever the value of the dish, the true value in fine dining comes very much from beyond the platter, as the price encompasses the entire experience of the meal. The feeling of being able to dine amid the atmosphere, painted red and black with the brushes of traditional Chinese furniture against a fusion-based backdrop, more that accounted for the value that was bought with the respective prices stated on the menu with its staple of upmarket local delights.

Again, perhaps similarly, Romance can be seen in this sense as well. As the entire thing about Romance is that it is greater than the sum of its parts; it is essentially doing all the seemingly unnecessary, going the extra mile to put the signified being the signifier, adding an additional layer of meaning to the seemingly ordinary; all in the name of an Experience or a Memory. And yes, deep down under the dark exterior, vampires innately know how to pull the strings of behind the scenes of said Romance, or at least that's what I've had hypnotizing her into believing, hah.

Better Late than Never

Monday, 21 January 2008

Stench of the Rat Race

My glance slid across the walls of the interior of the evening commute, as I took brief glances of the passengers cladded in office-wear surrounding me. Their faces told it all; visible signs of fatigue, carved by the cruel daily cycle that they had succumbed to in the name of "making a living." The Rat Race, a cruel climb up the corporate ladder, a slow and treacherous process that leaves a daily count of weary feet and wrinkled faces, hung blatantly over and entirely overshadowing the supposedly-sharp shirts and blouses of the numerous men and women that lie victim to this painful dedication.

The train reached the interchange station, as the door opened and a new flood of victims turned into canned sardines, all forcing themselves to believe that they are the "one more person" that can squeeze into the already over-crowded commute, all in hope of getting home a little earlier to shake off the chains of the Rat Race.

He believed himself to be that "one" as well, as he insistently pushed his way in, ending up right in front of me. Dressed formally but hardly sharply, he was donned in a light blue long sleeve shirt that was probably from a forgettable departmental-store brand, his pants were black and tapered, and his shoes were black leather, but hardly shine-polished. Slightly over-weight and with a face that was instantly forgettable, he was probably the most archetypical example of the victim of the Rat Race. But the most telling sign that gave it all away was the haversack that he carried on his back over the entire office get-up, a sure-sign of the typical "office-loser;" one who probably worked really hard, but doesn't step too much out of his comfort zone, and would probably not ascend very much higher in his treacherous climb.

As the train accelerated, he lost balance and instinctively reached out for the nearest handlebar, which was just beside me. As he grabbed the vertical bar, I was fully exposed to the view of his armpit area, and immediately, I noticed a little damp patch at the crevice that was his armpit. Little beads of sweat dripped slowly down his forehead, as I noticed the expression of discomfort clearly written across his face.

Instinctively, I held my breath. The proximity between us and the sure-signs ominously hinted at a ravaging of my olfactory senses if I were to do otherwise.

One stop down, the doors opened as some sad faces alighted while a new throng of weary eyes boarded, maintaining the status-quo. He turned, facing his back towards me, to suit the new crowd configuration and also perhaps to seek a greater sense of comfort, even if it only meant a mere rotation.

I had a full frontal view of his back, as I noticed, in the areas not covered by the criss-crosses of his maroon haversack, was a total discolouration of the light blue hue of his shirt, a discolouration that hinted at exposure to something more liquid.

My eyes gawked in horror, as I could feel the capacity of my lungs being stretched and strained from the lack of air intake. I held it in, but the seconds ticked by slowly, too slowly. Finally, at its limit, my lungs bursts open, along with my nostrils. The stench, a sourish, and yet slightly bitter smell of a whole day's staleness utterly ravaged the better half of my more-than-keen olfactory senses, choking me with its pungent nature while I bit the bullet to try to hold my coughing in as to not create too much of a socially ill-fitting scene on the evening commute.

Yep, this was the stench of the Rat Race alright, in every sense of the word. Perhaps I will never figure out why is it that in a climate as tropical and humid as ours, where perspiration is a more than natural bodily reaction to the forces of the climate, the people still refuse to make perfume or cologne or even some form of deodorant a greater part of everyday life.

It would seem that perhaps I am 1 of the minority that was actually exposed to the use of such fragrances being a completely unsaid code of social etiquette, one where to not be offensive-smelling is a personal responsibility and is a personal reflection of one's personal hygiene and grooming.

Indeed, it shocked me that even in my University years, at the not-so-tender age of 19 (for the females) and 21 (for the males), I still discovered (by the worst of accidental means) that some supposed future-leaders of society are perfectly fine with leading the pack by their personal distinct scent (read: odour) more so than anything else.

Obviously, the trend doesn't really change even upon climbing a social level higher from academia into the Rat Race. As the formality of office wear still does nothing to some in their want of need to present themselves in a better light (or scent), being perfectly fine with spreading their joy with the rest of the evening commute, if their joy came in the form of little beads of sweat, that is.

The train reached halfway to my destination as a huge pack of sardines were unloaded, finally leaving me the comfort of a seat and more importantly a relief for my nostrils. I took the seat next to a middle-aged office lady, again, formally dressed but nothing near elegant or chic, probably enough to get by and more likely than not holding the position of a senior staff, but not a managerial one.

Her eyes were staring blankly in front, as a bout of expected fatigue came over her and she drew a long, deep yawn. Through the bad manners and the uncovered yawn, my overly-keen olfactory senses once again got more than it bargained for, as I inhaled the stench of soured-milk, mixed with the concentrated and yet hardly refreshing smell of hours upon hours of stale coffee-breath, perhaps an accumulation of the entire day's bulk of caffeine intake.

Again, it would seem that a large bulk of the bottom of the barrel of the Rat Race is perfectly fine with letting the entire world (or at least the people next to them on the evening commute), know the full entirety of the solid and fluids partaken throughout the entire course of the day, from the overbearing smell of the chilli-sauce in their carrot cake during lunch time, to the 12 cups of coffee needed to perk their smelly rat-asses up during the 8-hours And throughout all this, a simple thing like a breath-mint or the like perhaps doesn't even occur as a distant thought at the back of their minds.

When I finally arrived at my destination, exiting from the pipe-like structure of the train, a thought came upon me. While I have personally managed to evict myself from the constraints of the Rat Race proper, I cannot help but have to be flushed down the same pipes with the rest of the rats that is the evening commute. And with each flush of the daily evening commute, 1 poor Vampire peers through the manhole of society deep into the sewers of the Rat Race, cursing at the Stench that follows.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Christmas 2007: Naughty or... Mice?

24th - 25th December 2007

I was crouching and rising repeatedly, walking circles around the car, trying to detect the source of the lingering, rancid odour that has been plaguing the car for the last 2 days. The smell was a pungent combination of sour and pungent, remarkably distinct and utterly ravaging my more-than-acute olfactory sense.

I lowered my head, examining the surfaces of the tires, trying to look for some signs or hints of brown or black substances. After much smelling, I more or less concluded that the right side of the car was smellier than the left, so I examined it a little more.

Suddenly, at the corner of my eye, I saw 2 houseflies hovering around me. As the saying goes, "... like flies to rubbish," I figured that if I followed the flies, I would be able to find the 'rubbish,' in whatever form it took.

I traced their eccentric movements, and noticed that they frequently hovered around the front-right corner of the vehicle. So I scrutinized every single visible area for some signs of the source of the rancidness, all while continuing to strain my olfactory senses as I tried to use the acuteness of it as an additional aid, perhaps not for the wiser.

Not able to detect any visible sights, I decided to pop the lid of the engine, since it was the only possible area that I hadn't looked into. I looked at the mass of black and grey pipes and parts, not detecting anything out of place or close to a tint of brown. So I lowered my head and decided to rely on my sense of smell instead.

I strafed from the right to the left to the right again of the car engine, inhaling deep breaths of the offensive smell as I went along. "Whatever it is, it is surely coming from the right side, definitely the right side," I turned to her and said, before lowering my head to repeat the process again.

As I strafed from the right to the left and back to the right again, suddenly right in front of me I noticed something out of place. I squinted hard at it, under the shadow of the engine lid that was blocking out the light from the setting sun. There it was, caught amidst the winding pipes and parts, dark-brownish, furry and with its eyes tightly shut... a dead rat, caught between two parts of the car engine.

Squint hard at it and it will Stare back at You.

"Eew... gross," she said, as she took two steps away from the vehicle.

Stunned into silence momentarily, I finally uttered, "Fuck! What the hell? How the hell did a fucking rat die in my car engine?" after recovering from the disbelief.

After chain swearing for another 5 minutes or so, my rationality finally kicked in as I picked my handphone out of my pocket and dialled the Mother, telling her to come down with the Maid with a pair of thongs, plastic bags, and whatever else we might need.

Coming down without the most important of tools, the thong, the Mother passed me a long screwdriver and told me to try to use it to poke the carcass out. I turned the sharp end of the screwdriver at it, and applied pressure onto the dead bastards head, hoping to apply enough force to push him out of the jam. But as more pressure was applied, I could feel the end of the screwdriver slowly impaling into its still soft and probably rather decomposed skull. Deciding not to risk any grey matter explosions, I gave up.

The Mother sourced around for 2 clothes-hangers and tried using them as a makeshift thong to try pulling the bastard out. She grabbed its neck between the two hangers skillfully, and applied inward and upward pressure, as the neck of the rat extended most disgustingly. But every time she used a stronger upward force, she would lose grip of the bastard's neck.

After numerous tries, she finally gave in and told the Maid to try pulling it out with a plastic bag over her hand. Murmuring about how smelly it was in her mother-tongue, the Maid wrapped a plastic bag over her hand and tried to use all the brute force she could muster to try pulling the little bastard out. After 10 minutes of yanking and complaining, we finally gave up.

Driving to the nearby petrol kiosk, we craftily decided to try to seek help under the guise of filling the tank. "Could you please help us check the battery water?" the Mother asked, setting the poor attendant up for a most grotesque encounter. As he popped the lid, we tried to ask, as non-chalantly as possible, "and could you please help us remove the rat stuck over there?"

After payment, we walked back to the car, as the attendant told us, "the battery water has already been checked."

I walked over the the right side of the engine, and saw that the little bastard still lying there. "Uh, could you help us, like, remove the rat." I said.

Perhaps I would never know if he was feinting ignorance or was just purely unaware, but he kept insisting on having done his job and trying to close the lid of the engine. "Uh, the rat is over here, like right here, you see it?" I said, a little insistently and sarcastically, as I pointed out the exact location of it.

Caught dead in the corner, the young attendant realised that he had no choice but to help, yet he lacked the intestinal fortitude. So, he signalled to his Malay colleague to come over, pointing the problem out to him and giving him the most sheepish of grins.

Hiding the shock-expression on his face, the Malay attendant wrapped the plastic bag around his hand, turned his head and started yanking at the corpse of the little bastard. Twists, turns and a good 2-3 minutes of hard yanking later, he FINALLY managed to pull the carcass out of the deathtrap.

At a good 30cm long (at least) and probably weighing at least 1kg, the bottom half of the corpse of the rat was visibly missing a large amount of fur, probably sliced, scratched, burned or fried from the engine activity for the length of time that it was caught in it.

If Santa really exists and rewards people around the world based on the naughty or nice rule, then it would figure that this Vampire has been REALLY naughty this year, to deserve such a foul and rancid gift in my little Gothic Christmas stocking this year.

But this thought soon changed, as Christmas proper was celebrated under the traditional familial warmth of the season, with multitudes of gifts and even more camaraderie. Aside from the usual assorted of accessories and t-shirts, the Sin Harvest this year also yielded a good amount of quality gifts, including the hottest game titles (Ed & Ching and Florence), a Guess Watch (Princess Christy) and 2 sleek killer mugs and a pricey Silver Cross-Necklace (courtesy of the girlfriend). All this and more only served to remind me that perhaps, just perhaps, I haven't been all that naughty the year round to deserve such a bountiful harvest.

Sin Harvest

But this illusion of merit was short-lived, as the foul-odour of my Christmas stocking continued to plague the car up till post-party on Christmas day, when I asked the Father to have a look and see what can be done about it.

After much examination, the Father finally decided to bite the bullet (like he always does) and wash the engine of the vehicle. After picking out loose bits of rat-fur, cleaning dried blood on the under-side of the engine lid and scrubbing the innards of the engine-parts, the engine was almost totally rat-corpse-free as I gave it one final olfactory-check.

Still detecting a faint odour, I peered deep into the innards of the vehicle to notice, wrapped around 1 of the pipes, a faint orange-beige tube-like object. I reached 2 of my fingers into the inaccessible area, and picked out the string-like object.

"I think it's 1 of the rat's intestines," I said in disgust, as I felt the squishy texture of the thing on the tips of my fingers through the thin layer of tissue paper.

"Seriously Dad, out of 20-odd years of driving and owning a car, have you ever had anything like this happen to you?" I asked the Father.

"Nope, not at all," the Father answered, with a slight chuckle.

With my jaw wide-opened in disbelief, I thought to myself, "Man, I must have been REALLY naughty this year."