Wednesday, 30 July 2008

The Boston Chapters: Black Tuesday

29th July 2008

The familiar jingle played repeatedly, stretching my already too thin patience. Still suffering in shock and anxiety of discovering the loss from my wallet, I was trying my best to calm my nerves while preparing for the worst.

I saw the scene play back in my mind's eye. Standing in front of the ATM, typing in the amount "$200.00" on the number pad. A flick of the wrist, a glance at my watch; an awful reminder that I was already much later than I should have been.

The all-too-familiar hobo sitting at the side was caught in my peripheral vision, as my central vision caught a message on the screen.

"A 2 dollar charge will be made for your transaction. Do you still wish to proceed?"

Jamming the button hurriedly produced no results, only to later find out that it was the misaligned button below it.

Snatching the money out of the jaws of the teller in a hurry, I impatiently answered the "Do you need a receipt?" question on screen with repeated button presses. Snatching the receipt the moment it was dispensed, I turned around and left for my meeting... not realizing that I had forgotten something; something too costly to have been forgotten.

"Hello. Mr. Kang?" a man's voice came on the line, through a relatively thick and familiar Filipino accent.

"Hi, I lost my debit card yesterday and I am calling to enquire if there were any transactions made after 5.45 a.m. Singapore time?" I asked, wary and yet trying my best to be preparatory.

"Yes sir, there have been a number of transactions made," the voice replied.

"Could you list down all the transactions made after the withdrawal of $200 USD at 5.45 a.m. Singapore time?" I asked further, still trying to hold myself together.

"Well sir, they are at 6.10 a.m., a $20.13 transaction; at 6.22 a.m. a $35.46 transaction.... at 6.50.... at 12.05 p.m., a $65.34 transaction, at 12.20 a.m. a..." my heart sinking deeper with each line the voice read off.

"You know what, could you just total the total amount that I lost?" I cut the voice off impatiently.

"Please hold on for a second sir, I will compute it manually," the voice said, as he subjected me to the artificially-happy jingle all over again. Well, for what it was supposed to be musically, it sure didn't help me feel any better, as I bit my nails and took deep breaths waiting for the final tally.

"Ok sir," the voice returned, "the total amount of your transactions made amount to $981 SGD," he said calmly.

I sat in silence for a few seconds; probably the longest few seconds in the last 2 months, before I managed to utter out the words in a shaky tone, "is there anything I can do about these transactions?"

"I'm sorry sir, these transactions are still pending... file a dispute claim..." the voice continued to explain as I felt my heart wrenching in pain and disappointment while my mind tried to focus on the instructions detailing what I had to do next.

"But again sir, I stress that there are no guarantees that filing a dispute claim will be able to get you your money back," the phone call ended as I sat in my chair, stunned in silence, in an entirely emotionally confused state.

Feelings of disappointment, anger, at both myself and my carelessness and the motherfucker involved, resignation, resentment, shock, self-pity, enlightened all compressed into an extremely long and painful 5 minutes; maybe longer, maybe shorter, but it didn't matter.

I took a deep breath as I thought about the things that the money could have been; the opportunity costs involved. It could have easily been a PS3, an Ipod Touch, a trip to Taiwan, money to get me by till the next job, a shopping spree; and yet, all it ended up was a pile of dust to be squandered off by someone else. All the hard-earned funds from the previous low-paying job burned in the hands of another.

I let out a deep sigh as I thought about my fate. Questioning the lesson to be learnt behind this. Prudence perhaps? And in a way, I was every bit deserving to have someone squander of some of my money. But to the point that it escalated into almost my entire remains, to have to pay close to a thousand just to learn said prudence; that was just bad luck, or just another cruel twist of fate.

Indeed, blind optimism somehow always lead me to believe that things happen for a reason. And oftentimes, I convinced myself that God is simply moulding me with each experiencing to make me into a bigger and better person, so much so that as and when he were to thrust my almost-deserving Greatness onto me, I would be ready to accept and hold it.

Yet, in recent years, with each new cruel twist of Fate, I only find myself seemingly growing decrementally less, and question the cause and purpose of such experiences incrementally more; always convincing myself that "the light at the end of the tunnel is just around the bend", or "its always darkest before the dawn" psycho-babble. But yet, with each new mishap, my patience for the answers grow thinner and my bitterness and resentment towards my Fate, luck, chance, karma, purpose, or whatever one might call it grows cancerously.

Indeed, it never rains but pours. Just another cruel twist of Fate in my already bitter life, perhaps?

So, despite and against all warnings from the company around me, I still have to ask: "So, what else could go wrong?"

................ Fuck.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Niagara Falls: Night Scene - The Cursed and the Mist

13th July 2008

The sound of running water sounded off from a distance as I peered over the railing and through the trees to get a view of the waters below.

"Please move to the front, there is a better view there," the tour guide said in her almost-obvious Malaysian English accent.

Knowing that we only had 20 minutes to spare, we hurried along the pathway. The sound of the running water got louder and faster as we walked down the pathway, matching the increasing pace of our excited hearts. It was of little surprise really, after all, this was what we had endured more than 1o hours up the country to see. And the validation of that endurance was only footsteps away.

The pathway came to a downhill, and the trees came to a clearing, revealing to us the very validation that we seeked. Just below us, was a cliff that hung over the cascades of the falls, shrouded in a thick cloud of mist that blurred the Canadian backdrop behind it.

Mist of Night

I stood there frozen in wonder for a few seconds, staring out at the wondrous Mist. A mist so thick and so vast that served as a proof to the strength and speed of the waters that spawned it. A body of water strong and loud enough to earn itself the moniker of "Thunderous Waters". Wasting hardly anytime, I skipped down the downhill path into the park below to get more upclose and personal with the raging waters.

The sound of the waters grew louder as I made my way downhill, finally peaking at an almost deafening volume when I had reached the bottom. The stream that led to the actual cascade was fierce, raging and violent, judging from the speed in which the white foams of the waves were rushing downstream. But this was only a mild prelude of the force of the water that lay ahead.

The Falls proper were a horseshoe-shaped wonder of power. Water rushed down the cliffs at tremendous velocity and fittingly deafening volume. The vapour that sprayed from the impact of the raging waters onto the rocks below accumulated into a collective cloud of mist, shrouding the other ended of the horseshoe behind it. As the wind blew, parts of the Great Cloud fell onto the face, driving in the reality of my proximity to the fabled falls.

A Horseshoe of Rage

For some odd reason, the water spraying on my face grew more frequent. "Is it just actually raining, or is it just me?" I turned around to ask Joanne and William (a.k.a. Hot Stud).

"I think its really raining," Hot Stud replied, as he hid his friend's SLR under his jacket.

"Typical, " I said to them, "what else is new?"

Seizing the moment, I tried to grab as many photos as I could while wishing for the weather to hold out a little longer, just that little bit longer. But this has never been the case in the past, and as usual, the inevitable happened.

Through the Rain

The rain got progressively heavier until it escalated into a rapid downpour, forcing everyone to run for the nearest shelter. As I huddled under the shelter with Joanne and everyone else, shoes drenched and hair wet, she turned to me and said, "I think you are really a jinx, man. Seems like every time I travel with you, it will surely rain."

I just turned to her and forced a sheepish grin through the cold shivers, partially in recognition and partially in resentment of my fate.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Niagara Falls: Thousand Islands - Pieces of Heaven

12th July 2008

Standing at the bow of the boat, my legs were starting to regain some strength after a rather numbing 6-hour ride. Lady Luck must have been a bit more pleased with me as the basking sun hung overhead, causing blinding reflections off the clear blue surface of the water. Through the lens of my all-too-cool-shades, I scanned the area in front of me, only to see miles and miles of blue water stretched outward with little snippets of green sprinkled atop the vast sheet of blue.

The captain sounded the boat's low, loud horn as an indication of the primer to a peak into the lifestyle of the rich, famous and extravagantly extravagance. The Thousand Islands region was a vast archipelago off the coast of the state of New York that stretched all the way to Canada. Whether or not the region actually lived up to its name was anyone's guess really.

Quietly cruising atop the crystal blue waters, I sighted islands of very varying scales; some so small that they only had enough room for the birds to make their nests, most large enough to at least house a little holiday shack, and some large enough to provide the foundations for summertime-mansions of the rich and the famous.

Summer Shelter

And when I say rich and famous here, I mean the moderately famous, but REALLY rich. People actually rich enough to buy an island off this prime estate, rich enough to build a house / mansion on top of said island, rich enough to buy some form of transportation to get to that island (normally in the form of a jet-ski or speedboat) and on top of that, rich enough to live somewhere else over the other seasons other than summer. People of the calibre of Donald Trump and the owner of Macy's probably, were the people who could actually afford to lay claim to a house on one of the thousand.

A Different Take on the White House

As the boat continued upstream towards the Canadian side of things, I stared in amazement at the numerous islands, and how they actually pieced together to form a little community or town on its own. With each house on each island bearing a house or maybe island number, and the cars and bikes substituted by speedboats and jet-skis. A community with its own little facilities, like a dedicated lighthouse to aid the traffic at night and even a common park on an island. A neighbourhood where the guy living on the next island is probably every bit as much of a millionaire as you are.

Park Life

An elitist community reserved for those who could enjoy the luxury of such exclusivity, while the rest of us hoi polloi look in on their glamorous lives from our boats. I continued to stare out at the islands with a sense of amazement, yet letting go of an uncontrollable sigh as I contemplated upon the level of extravagance that I will never attain.

Through the Looking Glass

The boat turned around as we made our way back while I scouted Heart Island from a distance. Heart Island was one of the bigger and possibly the grandest of the islands, complete with a castle and brown-bricked towers overlooking the waters. Yet, grandeur is not without its price as the island bears one of the most tragic stories in the region.


The owner of the island actually meant to build the castle on Heart Island as a gift of love. Yet, in an exceptionally cruel twist of Fate, his wife passed on before the completion of the castle. Heartbroken and dejected, the owner completed the castle and swore never to return to the shores of the island. The opportunistic US government then later bought the island from him for a grand total of .... $1 US dollar, later opening it up to the public and touted it as a tourist attraction.

Kingdom Heart

Today, the fate of the island has been very much transformed, as we spotted a happy couple standing along the shore of the island, fully clothed in their bridal costumes, radiating an almost-disgusting aura of bliss. Children ran around the fields of the island with echoing laughter, as tourists paid homage to the tragic owner of the island by visiting his dedication of love.

The boat took as back to the familiar shores as I stepped off the platform. Making my way back to the bus in preparation for the arduous journey that was to be continued, I turned back to take a final garner of the islands. As I turned back, I believe that I saw a little glimpse of paradise on the water's surface; a Heaven in which salvation is bought solely through the merit of one's wallet.

Hot and Cool

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Boston Chapters: Boston Pops

4th July 2008 / Independence Day

Peaking my head over the shoulders of the lady in front of me, I was trying to get a glimpse of the portion of the fries that I was queueing up for. The strong scent of the fried unhealthiness was tempting to my half-filled stomach.

Loud popping sounds rang behind me as I turned around in a hurry. An array of lights filled the sky as the consequent pops and bangs thundered through the dark night sky. Shades of red and gold shone on the faces of the crowd, with heads darting hurriedly over shoulders and feet madly shuffling all in the name of getting a better view of the fabled. It had started...

Blinding sparkles of the rainbow filled the sky as the crowd watched in amazement. Streaks of light shot out from the centre of the Charles River in fan-like glory while bursts of red, green, purple and gold took their turns to outshine the moon.

Shapes were drawn against the Boston skyline as the sparkles fell in varying degrees, some in a hurry to fall upon the heads of the capacity crowd that stood along both sides of the river, and the bridges in between; while others took their time to take a graceful curtsey as they descended.

An explosive bursts of red drew a close to the 10-minute display before the deafening bangs were replaced by lukewarm cheers and claps, as some people wore expressions of admiration on their faces while others looked on, as if longing for more.

I stood firmly in place with the latter, as I have always been rather unshakable when it comes to fireworks.

"I've never really been impressed with fireworks back in Singapore," I told Prada as we stood in the field in anticipation.

She looked at me interestingly.

"I just don't get what the hoo-ha is all about. I mean, yes, its nice, but still... It's not something that I think its worth squeezing with the rest of the crowd for just to see a display of lights in the sky," I continued.

"Yeah, I know what you mean," she said.

"Yeah, even those during National Day, I think they kinda look the same almost every year. I mean, yes, it's a what, 15-minute non-stop display of fireworks, and its nice. But really, its not like its not something that has really wowed me," I continued in my explanatory tone.

"I'm just here to see if the fireworks in the U.S. will be able to actually impress me," I said skeptically. "And what better time to see fireworks than during their Independence Day right?"

She nodded in agreement.

The speakers over the area were running out of patriotic songs it seemed, as they resorted to playing "Yankee Doodle", causing me to giggle to myself at how pathetic the "entertainment" during the wait was.

The almost 30-minute wait was turning out to be rather mind-numbing as I said to her, "Well, I really hope that the fireworks are worth it," I whined, as manly as I could.

"Yeah, I should be sitting back in the dorm watching this on TV instead of standing here and waiting like an idiot," she out-whined me.

Minutes after we finished our exchanged, streaks of light rose up from the center of the river once again. As if not an obvious enough cue to grab hold of our attention, bursts after bursts of colours popped over the clear sky night shortly after, causing clouds of smoke to emerge, lit against the red and gold sparks that streamed down from the sky.

Deja Vu

Patriotic music played in the background as the extravaganza proper kicked off. Precisely-coordinated bursts of sound and fury decorated the black curtain hanging overhead, spheres of glowing sparkles grew after each pop, clap and bang. Collective sounds of amazement were heard as the entire crowd kept their heads raised towards the sky.

The music change to a slow-rock piece marked the end of the previous set as a new tricks were brought to the table. Traditionally big spheres of light were accompanied by small, graceful streams of sparkles; resulting in an astoundingly good contrast between the over-the-top spheres and the small and detailed streams that tugged at one's heartstrings. The entire sky was clear momentarily, when suddenly, at a very low sky-level, all the bursts erupted at the same time, causing an illusion of jellyfish-sparkles wading through the sky in front of us.

Flying Jellyfishes

The set changed again, this time accompanied by a classical opera piece. The entire display felt well-chereographed and timed, and never once giving you the feeling that it was rushed or uncoordinated. Every single burst seemed so deliberate, as sphere after sphere of white and gold erupted in time with the high notes while the remnants streaked down in accordance to the long notes. The entire set closed with alternating white and gold bangs as the last note was held in classical opera style.

Classical Light

The vibrato transitioned into a continuous thunder of bangs, pops and roars, as the coordinators seeked to end the almost 40-minute show with a vengence. Firing off all that was left in their arsenal, lights, sound and fury rang for a continuous 5 minutes as sphere after sphere erupted, gun-fire like shots littered the sky, streams of lighted flooded down, smoke rose up against the night scene, all coming together to create an explosive finale, and after that, all was silent, as the flashes stopped and the smoke cleared.


But the silence was only momentary, as the roaring applause and cheers of the crowd soon followed, drowning out the ringing in their ears with the collective expressions of joy, amazement and admiration.

I stood amidst the drowning noise, silent. Silent and speechless, utterly speechless.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Boston Chapters: Swimming with the Big Fishes

14th June 2008

Shivering out on the top deck as the cold sea breeze blew across my face. The waves getting rougher was a sign that we were probably already out in the ocean and at the mercy of her relentless tides. I stared out into a vast nothingness, waiting in anticipation of spotting something, anything, between the endless sky and the sea.

Absolute Nothingness

The biting sea breeze hit my face again as I stared down the horizon, bringing the process of how the weather gradually escalated into an almost unbearable affair into memory.

Boarding the Voyager III, the sunset cruise showed signs of shaping up to be less sunset and more cruise as the sun hid shyly behind the cover of grey clouds. Starting to feel a premonition of the possible repercussions of my lazy-reluctance to carry my jacket with me, we boarded the ship and climbed to the top deck for the best possible view.

The Voyager III, or so they say

Departing from the harbour, the wind on my face grew from a gentle caress into a forceful slap, as we moved further and further away from the harbour. The Boston skyline was one that was somewhat sparse, but with enough distinctions to give it its unique flavour. But this gradually diluted into an indistinguishable blur on the horizon as the ship moved further and further away from the local shores.

Always the Visionary

The boat bypassed a series of islands collective known as the Boston Harbor Islands, one of the most recently named Nature Parks in America. And it was for good reason, as we saw a cocktail of Penguins-on-the-rocks as we cruised in the direction of the Boston Lighthouse, one of the more iconic lighthouses this side of the country.


Picking up more speed as we hit the higher waters, the wind also grew more and more threatening, as mops of hair flew backwards and futile attempts were made in doing some mad-hopping in hope of generating enough heat in the body to counteract the intense shivering.

Mass Shivering

Shivering out on the top deck as the cold sea breeze blew across my face. The waves getting rougher was a sign that we were probably already out in the ocean and at the mercy of her relentless tides. I stared out into a vast nothingness, waiting in anticipation of spotting something, anything, between the endless sky and the sea.

Suddenly a female voice came over the ship's speaker system, "Folks, if you look towards your 10 o'clock, we should be expecting to see some..." as the crowded almost instanteously gravitated towards the left side of the boat, waiting with bated breath.

Suddenly, a spout of water was seen shooting out near the surface of the ocean some distance from the boat, as fingers started pointing towards that direction. And then for a while, there was nothingness again.

The seconds of silence felt like forever as everyone waited in further anticipation...

Splashing of the waves were seen a little right of where the spout of water was spotted, and then... a large black tail came out of the water, performing what seemed to be a wave-like gesture towards us. The crowd across 3 decks of the boat cheered in a collective "Woo" as the gesture was performed over and over again over a span of time. I drew out my camera with my wildly shivering hands in an attempt to at least try to capture a slice of the magic.

Hit with my Best Shot

"Over there in front of the boat is a Humpback Whale folks, performing some action with its tail known as Breaching. Scientists have no idea why the whales do this, but one theory is that it acts as a form of communication with other whales," the voice over the system explained, as we continued to watch in wide-eyed wonder.

And no sooner after the word "communication" did another black mass jump out of the water right in front of us to the left of the ship at a relatively high speed, much to the jaw-dropping amazement of most of the people on the boat.

"On the left of the boat, at your 9 o'clock, is another humpback whale," the voice explained in a professionally calm tone. "We have what appears to be a mother-calf pairing folks," as it went on to explain further about the occurrence of such pairings.

I was utterly blown away despite the shivering cold, as it had probably just occurred to me how near I actually was to these gentle giants of the sea. And it seemed to only have just sunken in that there was probably no other way in which one would be able to actually see whales of any form other than out in the deep blue wild, since whales aren't exactly aquarium-friendly.

Even though it was mostly fins and tails that were visible, there was just something rather amazing about being in the presence of these deep blue giants and have them continuously waving out at us with their fins and their tails; or at least the illusion of thinking that they were acknowledging us, at the very least.

The amazement failed to cease as I watched on, seeing the fins and tails appearing out of the water in brief waves at a time and disappearing from sight just as quickly. The silence between the magic moments were spent squinting out into the vast ocean, hoping to catch some sort of splash or movement in a distance.

It was almost at the end of the viewing session that we were joined by another whale, putting the total up to 3 humpback whales. While unfortunate voyages have been said to be totally devoid of even a single sighting, I guess that Lady Luck was probably smiling on us by giving us threefold of what we expected; then again, maybe she was just smiling in amusement to our suffering and shivering faces just to catch sight of a few "big fishes."

"It's almost time to head back, folks. We will make one last sighting of the whales before we head back to shore," the voice boomed out to the now less-crowded deck. It seemed that many of the viewers, inclusive of most of my team, had given in to the bitterness of the cold, and succumbed to the temptations of the warmer cabin down below.

Michelle and I were the last man and woman standing as we stayed on deck for the best view possible.

"Haha, it's kinda ironic don't you think? That we are paying 50 bucks to stand out here in the cold to suffer, when we could be comfortably seated in the warm cabin" I turned around and said to her.

She turned around to look at me.

"But there is just something about fully experiencing something, at least to me. Like for me, standing out in the cold is part and parcel of the entire experience of this Whale Watching thing, and for me, I would rather 'Bite the Bullet' if it meant fully experiencing something," I said.

She agreed whole-heartedly.

"And you know what the funniest thing is? The funniest thing is that the last 2 people standing in the group are the 2 who didn't bring any jackets," I said laughingly, as I lowered my camera ready for the ship to turn back to shore.

Impossibly more untimely, one of the whales leaped out of the water in what seemed to be a backflip-like gesture, giving us full view of its front-side and its belly, as if to reward us for our efforts.

I raised my camera in an attempt to catch that breath-taking moment on film, but being the tease that Lady Luck is known to be, by then, the whale was already nowhere to be seen.

Last Man (and Woman) Standing