Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Our Embarrassing Budget Terminal

I just came back from a trip from Phuket and this is the first time I've tried a budget flight. It was a last minute trip and to book a ticket to Phuket on Silkair on the desired dates, it cost roughly about S$1200 round trip, a price i could fly to Europe in less desirable dates. It is very complex how they calculate these fares, a day can make a difference of a few hundred dollars, and booking a day after you consider can see a sudden rise in the fares, and you can hardly even try to conclude any certain trends, studying these fares and strategising when to buy your ticket makes watching the stock market feels as relaxing as having an ice cream with my little nephew. At this time of the year, to book a flight, it is a profound decision to decide how much you want to be chopped - with a small, medium or big parang (huge meat-cutting knife, if you wonder what parang means). One way or another it is going to be painful. 

Anyways, so i got a reasonably humanely priced ticket from Tiger Airways and nervously i told the Taxi driver to go to the Budget Terminal. My nightmare hence began. The Taxi Driver started to ask me how much i pay and if the budget planes are safe to travel in. I really want to know too. He made me really nervous, reminding me of a few plane crashes with various foreign budget air. The part where i was close to asking him to turn back and take me to the warm comforts of my home with no life-threatening vacations and the warm fake furs of my teddy bears as when taxi uncle said, "I think their engine not so good hor!!" i had a nauseating feeling which was positively not from his 60km/hr driving. It was from the brainwashing. When we were approaching the terminal, the bright-red handwritten-type font that screamed "BUDGET TERMINAL" aggravated my nausea. I felt a sense of panic. 

I came out a nervous wreck from the Taxi, and upon first sight when i stepped out into the Budget Terminal, i thought i had arrived in the Phuket Airport. As if i had a hallucination, the world's best airport (in most years) boast of such a sparse shoddy architecture. 

To my horror, when i stepped into the check-in hall, i thought that i just stepped into a foodcourt, horrible lighting, bad details, bad materials, all bad. The lines of people at the check-in counters is reminiscent of people Q-ing for Cha-Kway-Keows or Carrot Cakes in a hawker centres. I want to be clear - I am all for budget airlines that make us so much more mobile, but this airport architecture is excruciating. Why is it that low-budget must mean no design? Does the design have to reflect the word "Budget Terminal"? There are so many bright young designers in Singapore who will be able to make this a bit more presentable. There as as much thoughts put into this as designing a foodcourt. How many young designers would kill to have the challenge of making a budget terminal look cool? Many. 

The nightmare continued when i stepped past the passport checks and i felt nothing less than stepping into a JB Mall shopping for cheap Attack washing powders or Head & Shoulders Shampoo. As i was having a panic attack and looking for the washroom, it is time to board. You know, there is this feeling when you are really high tide and when you stepped into a toilet, it heightens that urge to pee.. When i got into the gate area, i had that terrible urge-to-pee feeling because i thought that i just stepped into a huge public toilet and lines of people Q-ing at different "cubicles" (the gates, really). The 20by20 homogeneous tiles a bit beige-y, a bit brownish, you can only find in all public toilets in Singapore - it is all over. Complete with uneven grouting lines, it was hard-core public toilet aesthetics. 

When i finally got to the Phuket Airport, it was actually a relief. At least i feel more at home with that, feasting on the food of the push-cart hawker food. There is at least no pretensions to be first-class in everything, it is consistent and consistency is important to keep an individual or a nation sane. 

I flew back to tonight and as i boarded a taxi to get home, the very good natured taxi driver told me that he just dropped an Aussie traveller who asked to take a taxi from terminal 1 to the budget terminal. Very little money and he said some taxi drivers would complain but he said, we all just have to do our job. Very nice guy but really very bad budget terminal.  

Chanel could rock

I am recently recruiting and suddenly i remember an interview i once had with a candidate (not very potential one).

She came for the position of assistant editor. we stated that a knowledge in design and architecture is essential and we were honest enough to state that we are a publisher of that nature. And yes we do state our company name. Unlike some ads that vaguely and almost always Urgently seeks certain positions e.g. "Waitresses with customer experience needed. Able to work late hours. Commissions." Hardly a Crystal Jade or a school cafe position. They are really either seeking a Tiger auntie in Ang Mo Kio or a Tigress in Orchard Towers, or possibly a new position for one of our upcoming integrated resorts.

So back to this little Arts and Social Science grad with a little literary ambition. Wide-eyed and narrowed-brained, she might actually be more suited for the late hours with commissions position. After some small talk of her hobbies and family background checks, just to be sure in case she is going to ask me for contacts for Orchard Towers, I asked her, "So you like design?"

"Yes..." the tone a bit unsure..
Technically a must-have for this position.
"So can you name a few of your favourite designers?"
"ERm.. i don't really have any favourite designers..."
Hmmm.. ok not very boomz .. but i've decided to be kind and try again.
"Any designer - product, graphic, fashion....?" I've decided to leave out architects, the most misunderstood design profession.. when i once did a vacation stint for quick money in a not-so-design-driven firm to do quick designs, I handled many confident tow-kays and rich aunties who pointed enthusiastically to the neighbour's multi-cultural pediments and bastardised corinthian columns complete with boy statues peeing and told me that is their dream home. And it was not uncommon that we have requests for "country style" which is their dream home. The term dream home was at one point a nightmare term to me. Why would you want a bloody country style home when you can't really keep cows and horses in your 1500 sqm semi-detached house? And i don't really know how to handle that fireplace. We do not study that in architecture schools in Singapore, for reasons that are very hard to explained to these country-loving aunties. Really, our country-house equivalent in this part of the world will be the attap house in Chua Chu Kang, if they still keep pigs. 

So back to Miss Not-very-Boomz, she was really tensed when i apparently pressed her for an answer. She asked for 5 minutes to think. I obliged and in the 5 minutes, i cut and filed my nails like any bored secretary should do to kill time. It felt like 30 minutes and i hope i had more nails. 

Finally, she said hesistantly, "Chanel...?"
Before i could say "Next!" like any impatient Polyclinic doctor in Tiong Bahru, she saw a drop of blood dripping from my left eye. But i am no miracle Mother Mary statue. I am her nightmare, and she declined the position before i even offered. I could have, if i was working on a movie script about how i picked the most unlikely candidate in a highly competitive interview (as we set it up like it was) and train her into a rock star editor. She didn't give me the chance. We could be famous for different things. And maybe i could evolve my publishing business into the movie world, very much in line with the MDA's crossing platform initiative.

If the movie "Coco before Chanel" came before her interview, she might have uttered that name with much more confidence, and actually Chanel is cool about 80 years ago (now maybe she really meant Karl Lagerfeld..), and if she could really sell me that how she admired Chanel (and not Karl Lagerfeld), she could be truly unique above all the rest of the candidates who threw out the name "Philippe Starck" as if they were throwing out an amah-bra (aka granny's size 48DD bra) at me - a big gift on their part, but on my part, a bit embarrassing, a bit dated and just doesn't turn me on too much.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

editing everything except life

everyday i am editing stuff.. edit edit edit.. and sometimes it feels like a job sometimes it feels strange because i am empowered to edit everybody's text, which consists on thoughts, which is based on life. very important job to not undermine anyone's text nor life, and at the same time not to let it look bad.

when will i find time to edit my own life...? My house is a perpetual mess with piles of books, magazines, documents to read, letters to open, bills to pay, laundry to wash, floor to mop, shelves to clean...my personal life is in a perpetual last-minute get-togethers, not wanting to dismiss any of my friend's special occasions and invitations, every waking minute is about delivering every job we have to the best we know, dealing with clients' requests and wishes, thank god to a dream team who sensitively try to ease my burden in whatever ways they can.

If only i could edit my life, so many things could be better, just like most of the text that i edited. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

how does it feel to wait to die?

My grandma had a stroke 2 years ago, which rendered her in a invalid state, she could hardly speak nor move any more. Before the stroke, she was already quite sickly, so the family hired a maid to take care of her every move. Thank god for Lily, she is a friendly, optimistic and hardworking maid. Over the years, she became the lifeline of grandma, because most of us are always busy working. She was our interpreter because she could read grandma's every whimper and every twitch of her left hand. Unlike The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, we didn't gp as far as to devise a communication system for grandma, much less to write a book. We should be ashamed. 

It is a lonely state as a stroke patient. Your mind is aware of everything, but you are trapped in your own thoughts without any means of expression. To me, it is a state worse than death. I would choose euthanasia, and this is scary because it is illegal in Singapore, and i would have chosen that.

Last week, grandma took a turn for the worse. She had a blood clog in one of her artilleries, which is life-threatening. And the doctor advised against any surgery as it would be too much for her to take. They can only prescribe medicine to ease her pain. 

We took turns to visit grandma at the hospital, and all we could do is to stand around and everyone is silent except Lily who will be updating us on what grandma did that day, or how she is feeling. Occasionally we took turns to hold grandma's hand, and she would just look at you. Those eyes were calm but sad. I held back my tears and as i listened to Lily in the background talking jovially that grandma is happy to see us and she is in good spirits today, it made me want to hit myself with a brick. 

When we were young, we used to stay over every weekend at grandma's place, and she would take us out for walks, buy us any tidbits we want, cooked dinner for us, occasionally teaching us a few words in Thai and laughing at us when we pronounced badly.

Grandma came from a family of goldsmiths in Thailand, a pretty wealthy family. She was the youngest of 3 sisters, but she left the family for love. I was told that she eloped with Grandpa, who was a sailor from China. The family was so angry they apparently disowned her for a while, so my mum told me. She was a tyrant mum, as my mum described, because she wasn't used to doing housework, so my mum and my 2nd auntie became the housekeepers since they were young. But grandma always pampered us, all her grandchildren. A weekend at grandma's place was always like a holiday. She would cook us the best food she can and allow us to watch video tapes all night long, something we don't get to do at home .. much, except for term breaks.

My mum and all my aunties and uncles still addressed her as "mek", which is "mother" in Thai. My generation almost completely lost touch with our Thai relatives. Sometimes i wonder who these aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews that I have in Bangkok whom i will never meet. Sometimes i hope that one day I will meet them all. It is a sad cliche, but if i run into one of them on the street, i really wouldn't even know.

Grandma lies there, occasionally falling asleep probably due to the strong painkillers. But when she opens her eyes she will stare intently at each of us, intermittently, as we stand helpless and useless in front of her. She can never ever tell her story again. And we will live, wondering about the story of grandma. 

Grandma lies there, her eyes tell us that she knows that she is dying. And we stand helpless and useless in front of her. She tells us it is ok. And i hit myself with a brick. I still cannot feel her real pain.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Gay Confrontation

A close friend of mine, who is completely gay, but looks and acts completely straight, as in, you will not for a minute suspect that she is gay if you do not know her, and who is a teacher in a primary school, told me something really funny.

There was a new American teacher who just joined the school and as with most Americans, are enthusiastic and friendly, came up to her on the first day and said:

"Hi! I'm your new colleague! I'm Gaye, you are?"

My friend was really shocked and she wondered who leaked that information about her because she has not told anyone in school. In her panic, she said:

"ERM, let me think...."

Gaye was puzzled, "What?" she questioned.

Concluding very quickly that even if a colleague came out to her on her first day of work, even if she had exude any vague gay vibes, my dear friend decided to stick to her grounds of being in the closet as far as school is concerned, so she thought she cleverly said:

"I'm NOT!" 

Her guilty conscious had unfortunately turned against her when Gaye asked:

"Your name is Nought...?"

My friend, in a matter of 2 minutes, digged a 5-metre deep hole and plunge herself into endless embarrasement. 

Duty Free Blues

I just came back from a pretty tiring trip from HK, and after alighting the plane, as always, i proceeded urgently to the Duty Free Shop to get my legalised amount of duty free alcohol, often the only perks of any tiring work trip. after i grabbed i Macallan Whiskey, a random bottle of wine and that nicely packaged 3-bottles-beer-package, i joined the long painful line to pay. Aching to rest, i stood in the long queue and suddenly someone from behind me started speaking:

Girl A: "What's that?"
Girl B: "Campari."
Girl A: "How do you drink that?"
Girl B: "Oh.. usually with some soda..."

Makes sense so far.. At this point, I pretend to turn back and check how long the line was, but really instinctively to check what they are purchasing. Girl A has a bottle of red wine and Girl B, yes a bottle of Campari. I turned back and concluded that behind me are 2 amateurish alcoholics-wannabe. What stressed me out was the conversation that continued, and i swear from the bottom of my heart I did not make this up:

Girl A: "You know, the other day, i went to this party and they were serving Sangria, and they told me they made that with Vodka and Gin.. that's weird right? because i thought they make Sangria with Whiskey.."

It was a bit traumatising for a bar-owner to hear that, i was very tempted to turn around and told her whoever made that was really fucked-up.

Girl B: " Hmm... that doesn't sound right... i'm pretty sure they make it with Contreau and Whiskey.. You know, Contreau is an orange liquor and they are supposed to soak all these fruits like oranges in it before they make the Sangria.."

At this point, i was really in spasm, itching to turn around and tell them it's really red wine and brandy.. and you sort of infused the citrus fruits in the red wine... erm not Contreau.. gosh, where in the world did they get all these information...?

Girl A: "By the way, where do you work?"

Tour group friendsters i guess... i just urgently wait for my turn to pay so I can go home and gulp my Macallan...