Mother Tounge

Summer is slowly seeping into Sydney, chasing away the last vestiges of Spring with its humid rainstorms. The heat and humidity is a slight reminder of Singapore’s weather, and with it a slight feeling of home. Over the last couple of days the humidity has been building up, threatening a drenching shower but always retreating at the last moment. The storm clouds – Nature’s humidifier – sits above the Sydney skyline and bide its time.

Finally, the clouds release its contents and the temperature cools ever so slightly.

It had been like this for the past two weeks or so. A couple of sunny, humid days alternating with a day or two of rain, a little summer dance playing out across the city.

Yet the humidity has decided that it like it here and that is how I ended up half naked on Skype talking to my parents. Top naked.

Last Sunday, the weather was mild and perfect. The sun was out in full strength and although the humidity continued to hover around the city, there was a light breeze to ease the discomfort. Apart from my daily grocery trips and a coffee chat with a close friend on Thursday (something concerning my future), I had spent almost the entire week cooped up in a stuffy house. So I decided to head out to Glebe Point Road for brunch at Well Connected Cafe.

After a quick brunch of bacon and egg wraps, with ice mocha to wash it down (never a serious proponent of the java, a blasphemy considering that I come from a country of heavy coffee drinkers), I headed over to Sydney Uni to continue reading Geert Mak’s fascinating travelogue/historical/journalistic account of Europe, aptly titled In Europe: travels through the twentieth century.

I went to one of my favourite spots in university: a square patch of garden, with the BBQ pits, picnic tables and bicycle racks forming a neat line under the large foliage that formed a protective wall along the back perimeter. In the middle of the garden was a lone tree, dedicated to a person that I can never remember. In the distance, I could see Fisher Library and its towering Stack, quiet and imposing. The tiny stretch of Eastern Avenue visible to me was empty, not a single soul on its granite path.

The campus is still.

A person with normal hearing may be able to hear the quiet chirping and tweeting of the birds, the noisy buzz of the insects, or perhaps even the cacophony of the empire of dirt underneath their feet. But I am not a person of normal hearing, even with my hearing aids. The only sounds I heard is the low roar of traffic that sped along Paramatta Road. Yet that sound comforted me and soon it became a white noise buzzing in the background.

I continued reading Mak’s account of the Eastern Front during World War II where it saw the highest amount of casualties and devastation during the entire war. I read about how waves after waves of Soviet citizens pounded against the Wehrmacht, which was slowly decimated by fierce fighting and the harsh Russian winter. One word caught my attention: “Groupthink”.

Groupthink: “decisions made by small group of policymakers who see themselves as all-powerful, and who dismiss all problems by refusing to admit any undesirable information from outside” (Mak 437).

Groupthink, it had a rather Orwellian tinge to it. But it vividly described the policy decisions of Hitler and his inner cabal.

As I continued my reading, this time about Stalin’s rise to power, I heard garbled voices drifting into the garden. Looking up, I saw a group of tourists crowding on the road in front of the garden. Their necks craned, they stared at the sandstone buildings surrounding the garden, stoic and stately. The group consisted of men and women of East Asian origin, with ages ranging from late middle-age to the golden years. Despite the relatively warm weather, the majority of them were wearing windbreakers. Some of them were wearing caps and a few of them had cameras slung around their necks. As I was about to return to my reading, two men spotted me and broke away from their group.

They turned up at my table and smiled. So I smiled back. One of the men peered through his silver-rimmed glasses. With his black hair neatly parted to one side over his pale face, he had the benign air of a schoolteacher, or perhaps, an accountant. He reminded me of some of my teachers back in Singapore.

The other was a stark contrast. He was much older. His worn out cap sat on his thinning, silvered hair that framed his deeply tanned face, filled with deep valleys and crags, as if molded and sculpt into shape by years of harsh weather and hard work. When he smiled, there was a flash of silver fillings. He looked like the old men that I frequently see in Singapore coffee shops, often alone and brooding over a steaming cup of kopi-o, sometimes with boisterous friends over numerous bottles of Tiger Beer.

We continued smiling until the older man broke the silence.

But what he broke it with, I do not know. It sounded like Mandarin, or what my rudimentary knowledge of the language thought it sounded. It was his accent that gave a hint, voluminous, with an almost musical quality. The older man continued with his questions that I did not understand and could not answer.

I thought about playing the Japanese card, but then I remembered about the tense relations between China and Japan over a small, rocky island, so I quashed that option. The younger man joined in the questionings. Although his accent was lighter, I had no idea what he was trying to say.

I was in a quagmire, I knew enough Mandarin to get by, but not to converse. If I said “I cannot speak Mandarin”, in Mandarin, the men will know that I can speak Mandarin and will then attempt to carry out a conversation with me. I was caught in a paradoxical situation. How could I convey the message to the men that I could not understand their questions without betraying my infantile command of Mandarin?

The solution was right in front of me. Slowly, I dropped my gaze to my opened book. I paused for a few seconds before raising it to the men faces. The men stared at me, wondering why this young Chinese male was so impertinent to his elders. I repeated the procedure again, and this time they followed my gaze towards the book on the picnic table.

The younger man got the hint and very slowly, he asked, “Do you speak Mandarin?” Well, he got part of the hint.

It is a rather odd phenomenon that tourists who travel to other countries expect the native population to speak their language. To be fair, I am not an Australian, and I do the same thing in foreign countries sometimes: “Do. You. Understand. ENGLISH?”, and always in English. And here, on the ground of Sydney University, I was experiencing this odd phenomenon – this time on the receiving end – a man asking if I speak Mandarin, in Mandarin.

In the end, I admitted that yes, I speak Mandarin.

The two men were delighted. A floodgate opened and a torrent of questions rolled and rumbled towards me, mostly from the older man. I could only answer the older man with blank stares. The younger man somehow understood that although I speak Mandarin, I was not fluent in it.

By then, the rest of the group had gathered around the table, seeking sanctuary from the blazing sun, but mostly curious about the non-conversation taking place between the two men and I.

Standing opposite me, a woman with a hint of makeup on her lined face topped with buoyant curly hair, waved her right hand in a downward motion at the older man to stop his incessant questioning.

She tsked, “He doesn’t understand you”. Turning to me, she spoke slowly in a relatively flat accent, “Are you Malaysian?”

“No, I’m Singaporean.”

“Ah, Singaporean!” She turned to the rest of the group, “He’s Singaporean!”

“Singaporean?”

“Singaporean!”

The group was intrigued with me, a Singaporean male so far away from home, alone reading an English book on university grounds. The woman, now the de facto spokesperson of the group, asked if I am of Chinese heritage*. I replied in the affirmative. She walked around the table and stood beside me. Glancing at my book, she asked me another question.

“Huh?” I had no idea what she said.

She repeated her question slowly, “Are you a student?”

“Oh, er, yes. Yes.”

“So,” she gestured around her, “you study here?”

I no longer study at Sydney University, I am a graduand. But I do not know that Mandarin word for graduand. So I gave a simple answer, “Yes, I do.” The woman conveyed my answer to the group and they all nodded approvingly.

“Which year are you in? First year, second year, third year?” She raised her right fingers that corresponded to the number she said.

I pointed at her three upright fingers, “Third year.”

“What do you study?”

I did not know how to say the word literature, much less the word for politics. So I simply replied, “English. I study English.”

The woman nodded and mentioned something about university and English. I assumed that she was asking if I studied English at university level, so I just replied in the affirmative again. We had a pleasant conversation. I told her, in very halting Mandarin, about my brother studying in the U.S., and my sister studying the U.K. (something the whole group found amusing. One said, “You are all over the world!”). And I told her that yes, my parents can speak Mandarin. My problem with Mandarin was not so much the understanding, rather it was the difficulty in speaking it. The woman chuckled and said that I was not the only one, the American-born Chinese that she encountered during her holidays in the States had the same problem. Even then, she said, my command of Mandarin was fairly good.

I guessed six years of Singapore education system and eight years of tuition classes helped.

“So how are you university?”

“What?” It was back to the subject of university again.

“How are your grades? Are they good? Improving?” The woman raised her hands to demonstrate a plane, or a bird, taking off.

“Oh, er, yes, they’re good.”

She nodded in satisfaction. “You’re a hardworking student. You come out here and study, not like those people over there.” She gestured towards a group of young Australians barely a few steps away from us.

During the course of our halting conversation, a group of young Caucasian males, all dressed in shorts and pastel coloured t-shirts, had set up a small playing court and began playing a rather leisurely game of croquet. I glanced over at the Australians, wondering if any of them overheard what the woman said, and if any of them understood her.

She turned back to me and gave me a thumbs-up, “Good student.”

I smiled, “Yes.”

With our limited conversational subjects drying up, the woman went to talk to the other members of the group. The older man continue to engage me in conversation. As much as I tried to understand him, it was futile. Trying to understand him was the equivalent of trying to understand an elderly Scottish Highlander speaking English. If he had flattened his accent like what the woman did, perhaps I could understand him. Finally, the older man smiled his wrinkled, silvered smile and went to speak with the other group members.

My concentration was interrupted and instead of returning to my book, I watched the group of Australians at their leisured playing of croquet. There seemed to be no competition, just a gathering of friends hitting a plastic ball through hoops with a mallet. Around me, the Chinese tourists continued their chatter and soon their sounds drifted into the background like the traffic on Parmatta Road. It was one of those serene days, calm, quiet, with just a hint of seclusion that protected one from the hustle of city life. A while later, the Chinese tourists, energetic and refreshed, ambled off the garden and towards Eastern Avenue. The Australians continued their aimless putting. I am left alone, pondering.

My brief interaction with the Chinese tourists raised an old question: Am I Chinese? I know I am of Chinese heritage because my ancestors were from China. But does this makes me as Chinese as the Mainland Chinese because of my facial structure? If so, then does that means it makes that group of Caucasian Australians as English, or as Irish, or as Scottish as the people from the United Kingdom? What about the Americans who have direct ancestry from Ireland, Germany, or the Scandinavian countries? Over the years I have been told by strangers from China, and even by Chinese friends, that I am Chinese, I am part of them. They see me as part of the large Chinese diaspora around the world that ultimately belongs with the Mainland Chinese.

This ‘Chineseness’ also extends to language. During our conversation, the woman mentioned to me that because I am Chinese, I must speak Mandarin, and since I speak Mandarin, I must be Chinese. A circular argument that I constantly hear when speaking to Chinese people. I am Chinese, therefore I must speak the language. I have been chided for not being Chinese enough due to my unremarkable command of Mandarin.

The link to ethnicity and language is pervasive, especially in Singapore. When I was in Singapore, we learned two languages: English for everyone and our respective mother tongue. The term mother tongue is a bit of misnomer for me. Strictly defined, mother tongue means native language. In that case, English would be my mother tongue. But in Singapore, mother tongue refers to the language of an ethnic group. So during my time in the Singapore education system, I learned two language: English and Mandarin.

You are Chinese, so you must speak Mandarin.

Even so, within the Chinese language there are so many internal divisions or ‘dialects’ to the point that most of mutually unintelligible to one another and can be considered languages in their own right. I can speak what is known as Standardized Chinese, but I cannot speak my parents’ dialects at all. So does that makes me less Chinese?

On the flip side, I am, what most of my friends say, ‘Westernized’. Some of the observations stem from the fact that I am more attuned to cultural imports from countries such as the U.K.and the U.S. But in today’s age of globalization, who isn’t? However the majority is due to the fact of my strong command of the English language. I think, speak and dream in English. My entire worldview is processed through the English language. And as such, I am ‘Westernized’.

I do not deny my ethnicity. Yet I do not consider myself fully Chinese no matter what how the Mainland Chinese try to convince me. As a matter of fact, I have an Indonesian friend who is more ‘Chinese’ than I am. He has a much better command of Mandarin and .he frequently follows Chinese pop culture and is a fan of the pop group S.H.E. He is not of Chinese ethnicity but he is in a sense much more ‘Chinese’ than I am.

A cheer broke out among the group of Australians. Apparently someone scored or whatever it was in croquet. The majority of them were sitting on the grass, more content to watch than to play. During my reverie, the sky had became overcast. The sun disappeared behind a flotilla of rainclouds that threatened to unleashed its torrent on the city at any moment. I packed up and headed towards the Victoria Park, leaving behind the Australians chatting among themselves in the quiet garden. It was time to go home.

One can wonder, after all, whether there is any sense at all to the discussion concerning ‘European identity’, whether it is not in fact diametrically opposed to the entire history of the ‘European concept’. For if anything serves as the true hallmark of European civilisation it is diversity, and not a single identity. (Mak 486)

Perhaps the same can be said of a ‘Chinese identity’.

* The term ‘Chinese’ here refers to the Han ethnicity.

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Singapore National Day 2012

Today is Singapore’s 47th National Day. It marks the day Singapore was asked to leave the Federation of Malaysia in 1965, the day we became completely independent. Apparently Singapore is the only country to become independent against our will.

Tonight, I’m going to a National Day event organized by the Singapore Students Society (SSS) in USYD. It’s not a big event, more of a casual event where Singaporean students gather around to talk cock, comprain, and makan, and watch the live telecast of the National Day Parade in Singapore. I wonder what sort of military hardware the Singapore Armed Forces is going to showcase. This reminds me, I need to apply for a new Exit Permit from the military.*

Although I’ve joined SSS only this year (yes, I know I was adamant to join the society in the beginning), I’ve been going for their National Day event every year since I’ve came to Sydney (except in 2009 because I decided to be a hermit).

As an overseas Singaporean, going for a National Day event provides some sort of link to my home country. I’m not a Singaporean that runs around waving the Singaporean flag while screaming “MAJULAH SINGAPURA”. But it’s nice to be reminded of home every now and then, especially since I’ve not step foot into Singapore for a year.

I even took the effort to wear the national colours today. Teehee.

Close enough.

 

So Happy National Day to the Singaporeans back home and to the overseas Singaporeans around the world. The Overseas Singapore Unit is watching you.** For the males, the military still want you back.***

 

* Yep, all Operationally-Ready National Servicemen (a fancy way of saying reservists) are required to apply for an Exit Permit if they are leaving Singapore for more than one year. Really leichei one.

** Joking only lah. You don’t have to sign up with the Overseas Singaporean Unit. But ever since I joined SSS this year, I’ve been receiving emails from them. Why liddat one?! Tonight I go comprain to the President of SSS.

*** The SAF really wants you back. Liddat one lor. Tulan or not, SAF loves you.

The Second Last Week (A Sequel)

I’m back, yet again. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve let my blog rot away. There were times when I did not blog for a month or two. But at almost five months, this is by far the longest I’ve been away from my blog.

There’s two reasons for this absence. First, I was President of a student society for International and Exchange students in Sydney University. It’s called Unimates. I did mention Unimates a couple of times here. For the past five months or so, I was so damn hyper-focused on Unimates that I didn’t have much for anything else. Then of course, there’s coursework and other campus activities. Anyway, I’ve officially stepped down last Thursday.

The second reason – and this is the main reason – is that I was sick and tired of blogging. I could have used the excuse that being a President of a student society was time draining. But then that would be an easy cop out. I was Vice-President last semester and even though I was busy, I still manage to blog on a monthly basis.

But it seemed this year I had no will to blog. I wouldn’t say I stop blogging completely. I did wrote a few blog post for my society’s blog. But then, that’s a society’s blog and as the then-current President, there’s a limit to how much you can say, although I did try to take certain liberties (ahem).

But yes, I was tired of blogging. I could have continue blogging, but then it’ll be nothing but boring fillers: “Beloved Blog, today my friend was a judgmental nincompoop. I shall cease any correspondence with this offending and odious person. BAH!”  Well, you get the idea. Still, it’s not that I have nothing to write about. I do. But sometimes it’s harder to get it onto the screen and get your ideas across to the readers. And to be honest, I make a very horrible blogger. I promised to write a blog advert for this Singaporean upstart back in February and I never got to it. And then there’s Mike Thomas’s film that I promised to write about it way back in October.

Yes, I’m a shithead. Or as I mentioned, an offending and odious person.

So I’m back. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve put too much investment into this blog to let it really, really rot away. And now that I’m no longer President of Unimates, maybe I’ll have more time to rant about random stuff.

But this post is not about random rants. This post is about the sequel to the very short story called The Second Last Week. I wrote it last year for one of the Unimates’ event. It was supposed to be a short event description for the final Unimates event (a dinner party) and it somehow turned into a very short story. You can read it here.

The sequel to The Second Last Week is for the exact same event, only eight months later. This Unimates dinner party actually took place last Friday. When I was writing the event description, I thought it would be fun to write a sequel. So I banged out another very short story.

The Second Last Week has influences from the 1998 film Six-String Samurai to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. And it also placed Global Financial Crisis and the University of Sydney Union’s membership pricing in a humorous context. The sequel still references to Six-String Samurai but I’ve changed the rest. I was slightly more heavy-handed in terms of pop-culture referencing in the sequel. Anyway, enough jabbering on my part. Read on.

 

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The Second Last Week (A Sequel)

You sit up and look around. The surrounding landscape stretches out before you, barren and undulating. A tree or two, grow out from the ground cracked by centuries of heat. The trees’ barks are roasted to the colour black.

“What…” a hoarse sound escapes from your mouth.

You remember dying at the hands of Lord Exam. The brief pain when his blade severed your head from your body. And the sweet, sweet darkness that you succumbed to. And afterwards…

Hold on.

A small fragment of memory is floating around. You push through the fogginess of your brain and try to reach it. So close. The memory of laughter, of food, of drinks. But where did these memories come from?

You look around again. There are no sign of your guitar and samurai sword. You look up, shielding your eyes from the blinding sun, and see, for the first time, a red gash on the sky. That’s odd, you thought, you don’t remember seeing that there.

“Are you lost?” a smooth, baritone voice shatters the desert silence.

You half turn and see a strange-looking creature, with dirty, matted orange fur, staring at you.

“I, er, I can’t remember.”

The creature raises an eyebrow quizzically. It continues staring at you with its dark green eyes. Slowly, it circles around you, its right hand casually resting on the hilt of a small sword.

“You cannot remember if you are lost?”

You eye it warily. The creature could be a marauder. They were frequent in the desert. But then, it didn’t look like any marauder you’ve seen before.

“Where am I?” you cough, the words sandpapering your throat as they left your mouth. “Is this the Mojave Desert?”

The creature stops pacing. “Mojave Desert? No, my friend, this is the Red Waste.”

“I’m sorry, but I seem to be suffering from amnesia. I don’t remember being your friend.”

The creature hisses. “It is a mark of courtesy. Unless, you would like to have the honour of becoming my enemy.”

Small as the creature was, it looks as if it handled its fair share of battles. Furthermore, the creature was armed.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I remembered being killed by Lord Exam. The last memory I had was laughter, and weirdly enough, of food and drinks too.”

“And who is this Lord Exam?”

“He is…” you pause. Lord Exam, Lord Assignments, and Lady Projects were the most fearsome of marauders. How could the creature not know the tripartite of Doom?

“Hold on, where am I?”

“As I have mentioned, you are in the Red Waste. To be more precise, we are in the Red Waste,” the baritone reply resonates through the desert.

For such a small creature, it sure has a deep voice.

“I know, but I mean, what is this place? I remembered I was in the United States.”

“United States? I do not know where that is. But no, my friend, you are in the land of Essos.”

“Essos?”

The creature sighs and rubs its forehead. “Yes, the land of Essos. The land of the Free Cities. The land of the Dothraki Sea. The land of the once mighty empire, Valyrian Freehold.”

You blink at the creature, confused.

“Clearly I have not managed to enlighten you. I hope that you will regain your memory. But for the time, we must continue walking. The Mother of Dragons will be here soon, and she wants my head.”

“The Mother of Dragons?”

“Ah yes, a very beautiful woman. Her eyes are pools of lavender, while her hair shone with the white of the moon. I promised to wed her, but wanderlust took over me and I escaped from the City of Qarth.”

You stare at the creature.

“Clearly you do not believe me. But now it is not the time to convince you. Come, we must continue our journey. Can you walk?”

You slowly get onto your feet, stretching the tensed muscles. Apart from a sore backside, your body is still in good condition. Taking a few unsteady steps, you stroll beside the creature. You did not realize how small the creature is. The top of its hat barely reaches the height of your kneecap.

“By the way, what’s the red thing in the sky?”

The creature looks up, the wide brim of its floppy hat shielding its green eyes from the sun.

“I have heard many stories in Qarth. Some say that it is the Dragons’ comet. Some say, war is coming. But the most frequent story I have heard is that the gods are angry.”

“The gods are angry? With whom?”

“I do not know. But the tale is that someone was kicked out from the realm of the gods after failing to pay for a meal.”

That sounds familiar. But you have no idea where you have heard that tale before.

“I see. That’s an odd tale.”

“It is. But I do not believe in these stories from Qarth.”

“I’m sorry but I don’t think we’ve introduced ourselves. I would have gave you mine if I remembered it”

The creature smiles. With flourish, the creature doffs its wide, floppy hair and gives a deep bow.

“My name is Puss-In-Boots. It is a pleasure to meet you in the Red Waste.”

“And it is my pleasure too.”

“Come, my friend. The Red Waste is a treacherous desert and we are a long way to the City of Braavos.”

Above, the red gash glowers from the sky.

Saying goodbye to my pet rats (Pantalaimon and Bentley)

Pantalaimon was put to sleep on the 25th of January.

Despite the title, I never had a chance to say goodbye to Pan. I was overseas on holiday. The acquaintance who was looking after Pan and Bentley desperately tried to contact me on my phone. Except she couldn’t. My Blackberry decided it needed a vacation too and shut down its entire software. And because I forgot to bring my seldom-used Blackberry USB cable, I couldn’t restart my Blackberry. So it means I had no chance of prematurely ending my Blackberry’s vacation.

Smartphones.

In the end, I resorted to using an older LG mobile phone. While not so smart, it was definitely more hardworking.

I received a few calls from an Australian number and answered it. But either due to poor reception or LG’s lesser capabilities, I couldn’t hear anything. Within a fifteen minutes span, I got about a dozen repeated calls from the same number. Each time I picked up, there was no sound. I called back but couldn’t get through. I even used my Dad’s Android but it too, was unsuccessful. In the end, I wrote it off as a prank call.

The next morning, on 26th Jan, I checked my email and saw that the acquaintance (henceforth shall now be known as “T”) had emailed me yesterday. Two emails, in fact. Most likely giving me updates on Pan and Bentley’s behaviours. Those buggers can be quite a handful at times. Then I saw the email’s header.

It was an update. But not the update every pet owner wants. I mean, if the email’s header started off with “URGENT” and followed by “Pan’s sick”, you know something is really, really bad.

And it was bad.

The first email was about Pan’s critical condition. He couldn’t come off oxygen. The vet told T that there was not a lot she could do for Pan and the only option was euthanasia. T didn’t want to make the decision and wanted to get my approval.

I put the pieces together and slowly realized that T was the one flooding the LG mobile with her calls. But we both couldn’t reach each other. So I was oblivious to Pan’s suffering.

The second email was sent about an hour later. T went ahead and put Pan to sleep. The vet told T that it was the best decision since Pan was suffering from serious lower respiratory problems. Which means that Pan had either a collapsed lung or a cancerous growth. In short, even with intensive care, Pan’s condition was untreatable.

T stayed with Pan till the end and told me that Pan passed away peacefully. I’m grateful that she was with Pan. At least someone familiar was there to comfort him as he expired his last breath from his very brief lifespan.

I re-read the emails again, a bit bewildered. I took Pan and Bentley to the vet before I left Sydney in mid-December. Apart from their usual bout of mycoplasma (a lifelong disease that plagued them both), the vet gave them a clean bill of health. Furthermore, Pan was always the healthier one. Most of my time was spent worrying that Bentley might drop dead anytime. There was once Bentley refused to eat because he was depressed, and he was depressed because I was away. I told my housemate to force-feed him baby food if he carried on with his hunger strike. But that’s another story.

In the end, Pan was the first to leave.

After re-reading the emails again and again and again, I immediately called T. We sped through the usual “hellos” and “how are yous” before T tentatively asked if I’ve seen her emails. I told her I have.

“I’m so sorry, Zareth. Putting Pan to sleep was the only option.”

“It’s okay, T. If I was in the same position, I would have put Pan to sleep too.”

“I’m so sorry that you couldn’t be there for Pan.”

“It’s okay,” I said. Somewhere, a thought emerged from my confused brain. What if T mixed up Pan and Bentley?

“T, it was Pan who was sick right? Pan is the bigger rat and he has a brown stripe. Not Bentley, right?”

“No, Bentley is fine,” T replied, “it was Pan who was sick.”

“Okay. So what exactly happened to Pan?”

“Well, I cam back from work the other night and I noticed Pan wasn’t eating. Then he couldn’t walk and breathe so I brought him to vet.”

And I guess that was when everything went downhill.

“Oh okay. Well, I’ll give your boyfriend a call once I get back to Sydney. I’ll go pick up Bentley and rest of the rats’ stuff.”

“Sure, no problem. I’m so sorry again, Zareth.”

“It’s all right, T.”

The above conversation did not go that smoothly though. I did a lot of “erm-ing” and “uhm-ing” and numerous white sounds. I couldn’t think straight.

Even now, I still can’t come to terms that Pan went first. It’s not that I want Bentley to pass on first. It’s just that Pan seemed so healthy and was always the stronger one.

Life often deals the unexpected hand.

Still, I wonder what went through Pan’s mind when he was on the surgery table. Was he looking forward to getting back home so he can play with Bentley and tussle with him over who get the choicest morsel of vegetable (preferably broccoli)? Or was he just concentrating on trying to get in that precious, precious molecule of oxygen into his scarred lungs? Either way, I have no idea. But I do know that Pan, despite the critical situation, was probably not too upset that I wasn’t there.

To be honest, Pan and I had a complicated relationship (yes, pet rats and humans do bond together). When I first got Pan and Bentley, I preferred Pan. He had a rather cool and affable temperament. He didn’t panicked when I held him. He was always the first one out of the cage to take treats from my hand. Bentley was much more jumpy and much more willing to bite. Pan was gentle and relaxed. He was one chilled rat.

But Pan was quite an adventurer too. He was always the first to explore his surroundings. I had a stack of milk crates in my previous apartment and Pan loved climbing them. If there’s one thing that Pan loved more than anything in the world, it was heights. He loved to climb and he was okay with sitting on my shoulder, unlike Bentley. It was also another reason why I bought so many hammocks. Pan loved sleeping on high ground where he can survey his surroundings.

But his courageousness also belied a stubborn streak. When I moved to my current place, I let Pan and Bentley run around on my bed. As befitting of his curiosity, Pan jumped off the bed and began exploring my bedroom. I was fine with that as I usually left my door closed. On some nights when I was up late, Pan would climb up my legs and sit on my lap, surveying his surroundings before jumping off and exploring some hidden nook that caught his interest.

It went on for a month before I had to put a stop to Pan’s exploring. Pan was chewing most of my stuff. And with Pan’s encouragement, Bentley decided to join in the fun. At one time, they both managed to annihilate my electric beard trimmer. It was one reason why I decided to be clean-shaven.

I don’t blame them. Rats are hardwired to chew on stuff. But still… an electric beard trimmer.

Bentley stopped jumping off the bed after he received a few scoldings from me. I think Bentley stopped partly because he was much smaller and so had a harder time jumping off the bed, and partly because he was very close to me by then. So he probably felt guilty.

But Pan.

Pan’s not stupid, that’s for sure. Sometimes, I call them both Pinky and the Brain, with Pinky referring to Bentley and the Brain referring to Pan. I think the reason why Pan had such a strong stubborn streak was because he very smart. In his worldview, I was just a big rat that fed him, bathed him and provided him with all the necessary comforts. I was basically a rat butler to him.

So Pan felt very offended each time I caught him jumping off my bed. In a way, he thought it was his right to explore the very area the three of us inhabited and that I was taking away his right.

Weeks after weeks, I would picked up Pan and scold him whenever I found him running on the floor. Weeks after weeks, he would jumped off the bed the moment I let him out of the cage. In the end, I decided to play the hard way and only let Bentley out to play. It was only after fifteen minutes later would I let Pan out. But Pan still persisted in jumping off my bed. I thought it would never end.

I can’t remember when it was, but I think around May or June last year, Pan finally got the hint and stopped jumping off my bed. It took almost three months.

The other reason why Pan stopped his intrepid exploring was that he got less active. While he still liked running up and down my bed, I noticed Pan started sleeping more. Bentley retained his usual hyperactive self. But Pan, already one chilled rat, became even more chilled. I’m not sure if he knew what was coming or if it was just old age catching up with him.

The funny thing about Pan is that despite his laidback attitude, he had a strict no-cuddling policy. Pan will tolerate me holding him, but not for more than five minutes. And God forbid I should ever cuddle him like the big fur-ball he is. Even when I let Pan and Bentley sleep on the bed with me, Pan will choose to sleep at my feet. When he’s feeling generous, he’ll splay himself over my feet. But no more. Bentley, on the other hand, will sometimes sleep on my chest or curl up near my face.

There was one time though, where I did manage to make Pan sleep beside me for fifteen minutes. I was on my bed reading a book and noticed that Pan had buried himself deep within my blanket. Afraid that he might unwillingly suffocate himself, I peeled off the layers of blanket, scoop him up, and lay across my chest. With my left army encircling him, Pan peacefully snoozed while I continued reading my book.

At first, I thought it was a fluke. But then three minutes passed. Four minutes. Five minutes. Six minutes. Seven minutes. Pan continued his peaceful slumber. So I continued reading my book with Pan curled up on my chest.

It was the most peaceful fifteen minutes we had together.

Then Bentley bounded over with a “HEY GUYS WHAT’S UP” expression on his face and shook Pan awake. Pan was a little miffed and went back to cage to sleep on the hammock.

That was one of the few times Pan allowed me to have prolonged close contact with him.

But for all his stubbornness and independent streak, without Pan, I would never be able to calm Bentley. In the beginning, Pan taught, or rather demonstrated, to Bentley that I was not going to hurt them. Instead, I was to give them the life of nobility and be their lifelong butler. Without Pan, the extremely close bond between Bentley and I would probably not have existed.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to bid Bentley goodbye too.

It’s not because Bentley’s sick. It’s because of Pan.

Pan and Bentley have been together since birth. They were litter brothers. On top of that, rats are social creatures and need to have some rat companions. Although Bentley and I are very close, I cannot leave Bentley alone in the cage without any rat friends. So get more rats then! Well, the thing is, I’m not going to get any more rats. I don’t think I can handle another heartbreak of watching another bunch of rats dying from their brief lifespan. I had Pan and Bentley for a year and already, I feel that a tiny part of me had died when Pan passed on. As much as I want to take Bentley back, I cannot let him lived out the rest of his life as a lonely rat. It would be selfish on my part and a torture for Bentley.

So I asked T to adopt Bentley. She has two rats herself and Bentley had been with them for a month and half. Even with Pan gone, at least Bentley still has other rat companions to play with. T was happy to adopt Bentley but told me that I could have Bentley back anytime I wanted.

In a few days, I’m going to see Bentley for the last time to let him know that I didn’t forget him and to see that he’s settling down. I may not be with Pan for his last moments, but the least I can do is to make sure Bentley is happy for the rest of his days. As usual, doing the best thing for your pets means going through a personal sacrifice. I knew what I signed up for when I got Pan and Bentley. But I guess I dealt with it flippantly until it came for the actual sacrifice to take place.

Even with my severe hearing loss, I feel an immense silence in my room. Sometimes, I can still feel Pan and Bentley’s presences, their tiny feet pattering as they walk and climb around the cage. Sometimes, I turn around and see the empty table where their cage used to occupy, only to feel a sense of emptiness inside me.

But like some people say, this too shall pass.

Until then, Pan will be living in place where a carbon copy of my bedroom exists. A bedroom where there’s no cage and where he can jump of the bed, run on the floor, climb milk crates, chew on beard trimmers, nibble on carrots and broccoli, and sleep on hammocks while he waits for Bentley.

 

 

My favourite photo of Pan. I took this after I had a nightmare where he lost half his face. I wrote a post on this. Look at the smirk on his face.

 

Bentley takes over the hammock watch.

 

When we were still in the previous apartment. At that point, Pan liked using Bentley’s head as a pillow. Later on, they switched roles.

 

As per his strict no-cuddling policy, Pan hated the stuffed toy. He would always push the toy into the litter pan. Only Bentley was allowed to cuddle with Pan.

 

Pan and his milk crates

 

Pan and his gravity-defying crossing. I first posted this picture on my blog here.

 

Pan surveying my bedroom floor.

 

Pan making himself comfy in my blanket.

 

I’ll definitely miss Bentley’s grooming.

 

And I’ll miss him waking me up.

 

Bentley chilling on my pillows.

 

The first day I brought them home.

 

Last, but no least, the best photo taken of them. A high school friend who was visiting me snapped this photo of them. Bentley is on the left, while Pan is on the right.

 
Other blog posts about Pan and Bentley: Post 1 (the very first post), Post 2 and Post 3.

 
 

The Blogfather Mission Part 3 and Vivid Sydney 2011

Warning: long blog post ahead. But some pictures to entertain you too.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about the Blogfather mission.

For those who have no idea what the mission is about, read Part 1 and Part 2 before continuing with this final chapter.

For those who are in the know, read on.

So what happened to the Blogfather? The answer lies below

















Taken from Kryxx on Reddit.com



The Blogfather is dead.

I had to put a picture of a gummy bear because the real one was too grisly. But you get the idea.

In his place, will be my blog and I will reign supreme. I shall be the Ah Long of all Ah Longs, the Bak Chor Mee man of all Bak Chor Mee men and women and the new emeritus junior Blogfather  (I’m not that old yet. Still in my early twenties).

I shall be the new l’infantile terrible of Singapore.

Now kneel down and kiss my hand.

But how? How did mrbrown, one of the apex Singaporean bloggers, fall into the hands of a young upstart? 

Well…






















Actually, he never did.

I was the one who failed the mission. No shooting, stabbing, manslaughter or murder ever took place.

So what happened?

First, let’s backtrack to Monday:

Locating mrbrown’s place of accommodation.

On Monday afternoon/ evening, mrbrown uploaded a twitpic showing a clock tower. When I saw the picture, I went into overdrive mode. I knew I’ve seen that clock tower somewhere. I knew it was somewhere in the Sydney CBD but I just could not remember where it was.

Stumped, I asked my housemate for help. At first, she was bemused that after staying near the Sydney CBD for nearly 2 years, I still did not know the location of the damn clock. So she made me guess.

After half hour of guessing, I gave up. I still did not know the location of the clock.

My housemate finally relented and told me that mrbrown was probably staying at the Westin Sydney, since from the angle of the photo, that was the only place where he could have took a photo of the clock.

Fired up by that clue, I started Googling for all hotels, apartments and hostels around Martin Place (where the clock is located). I went to this website and they listed five hotels (the Westin included) around Martin Place. 

To make sure that the Westin was indeed the hotel mrbrown was staying at, I fired up Google Maps and started comparing the locations of all five hotels in respective to the location of the clock tower.

After about 45 minutes of scrutinizing the maps, I came to a conclusion that the Westin was the right place. 10 minutes later, my housemate told me that she show the twitpic to a friend that did hospitality and hotel management. When her friend saw the twitpic, the friend told my housemate that from the angle of the pic, there was only one possible place:

The Westin Sydney.

So I decided to head over to the Westin Sydney the next day.

The hunt is on.


Tuesday:

So after waking up at noon, instead of 6am like I intended, I headed over to the Westin, but not before having a fulfilling lunch at Hungry Jacks. I think it was sometime around 3pm when I got to the Westin.  However, I ran into an obstacle: there were two exits.

While I was loitering around the main entrance, which exited onto Pitt Street, I could not keep an eye on the second, smaller door which exited onto George Street, as my line of sight was blocked by a restaurant. But I decided to take my chance and wait at the main entrance.

So I loitered around the lobby for about 20 minutes, watching the lifts and the exits. After 20 minutes, I came to a conclusion that mrbrown was not in the Westin and probably went for the SPARC 2011 convention at Darling Island Wharf. I checked the SPARC official website last night and knew the location of the convention.

I left the Westin and started walking towards Darling Island. Walking there from Martin Place would take me half hour. But I didn’t want to take the bus as the CDB’s roads was always jammed.

I made it to Darling Island and saw the convention going on in full swing. There were crowds and crowds of people in casual business suits and smart casual attire. I spent half hour outside the convention, tolerating the winter wind, while trying to keep a lookout for mrbrown. I checked mrbrown’s tweets to make sure he was still in the convention. He was there, but hiding in the convention room.

Smart man.

I wasn’t chased away from the staff since the convention took place next to a wharf and a small park. So I was more or less on public grounds. Furthermore, in order to reduce suspicious, I behaved like a tourist and snapped a few photos:



Sydney’s skyline. Click on pic for a larger image.




Sydney Harbour Bridge in the distance. Click on pic for a larger image.



After waiting in the blustery winter evening, with no sight of mrbrown, I gave up and rushed to Starbucks to have some hot mocha to warm myself up. Another reason for not staying longer was that I was going to meet my friends at Circular Quay to experience Vivid Sydney 2011. Walking from Darling Island to Circular Quay will probably take me about 40 minutes.

To add insult to my wounded pride, mrbrown tweeted about having dinner at the Flying Fish Restaurant when I was approaching Circular Quay. If only I stayed longer, I could have caught him. But no… mrbrown chose to come out of the convention when I was a 40 minutes walk away.

So I didn’t get mrbrown on Tuesday. But I did have a pretty awesome time at Vivid Sydney. Here are some crappy, blurry photos I took:



Circular Quay Station all lit up, in red.



 


Some fire dancing to Katy Perry’s “Fireworks”. More info here.



 


An exhibit at Vivid about the moon.



 





 



This is a cool one. It’s powered by solar energy. So if you use your camera flash, the bells will light up with colourful light and music.






 

 

The Custom House decorated in light.




 

My friend and I on a lit bench.



It is the same bench that mrbrown planked on. I wanted to plank on the bench but there were too many people around. Sigh, I can’t even copycat mrbrown.



 

Some wire car next to Sydney Opera House.



So after Vivid Sydney, I went to Max Brenner’s cafe with two friends of mine who were visiting, before heading home. But before I went home, I loitered around the Westin, hoping that mrbrown would turn up. He never did. Dejected, my weary feet dragged my sorry ass back home.

I complained to my housemate who told me what my problem was: staying at one place for an extremely short amount of time. She said that true stalkers camp at one place for hours at time. She told me that to improve my chances of bumping into him, I should go to the hotel at 7am in the morning and camp there.

Like hell I am.

But she did make a good point, so I made a mental note to try and wake up as early as possible. Before I went to bed, mrbrown tweeted about being in Chinatown. I stay pretty close to Chinatown and it was only about 20 minutes walk. I stood next to my bed, debating whether I should go to Chinatown and hunt mrbrown down.

Fuck it, I thought, I’m cold, tired and spent half the day walking around the entire Sydney’s CBD. I’m not going to spend another hour chasing mrbrown around Chinatown. So I went to bed.


Wednesday:

I woke up at 11am. Late again. Feeling a bit dejected, I went to SPARC website to check out the itinerary for the day. Apparently lunch was from 1300hrs to 1350hrs. I had a hurried brunch, fed my rats, took a quick shower and changed into something proper.

As everyone at the convention was in casual business attire or smart casual, I decided to dress smart casual in order to blend in. So I dressed up, looking every inch like a yuppie.

It was about a half hour walk from my place to Darling Island. I reached there around 1345 hrs (1:45pm) and there were still people milling outside the convention. I took a slow, unhurried walk among them. Unfortunately, mrbrown was not among the lunch crowd.

A smart, cautious man.

Not deterred, I went to a cafe next to the convention and ordered a large mocha. I sat outside the cafe for two hours, trying to make the mocha last. In that two hours, I saw no signs of mrbrown.

Frustrated, I finished up my mocha and dallied in front of the convention entrance.

Then I saw him.

Or I think I saw him.

I’m not sure if it was him though, I was standing about 50 metres away and he was surrounded by business-looking people. The only thing I could see was his side profile. As I hesitated, he turned and walked down the side of the building.

I hesitated, unsure of what to do.

So I called my housemate.

“I think I saw mrbrown!”

“Oh. You saw mrbrown. So did you take a photo?”

“No, I didn’t. I said I think I saw him. It may be him. It may not be him.”

“So is mrbrown there?”

“Yes, he is. Wait, are you in the library? Never mind, I call you back.”

I decided to chase after mrbrown, so I brisk-walked to the side of the building. But mrbrown was no where to be seen. Somehow he vanished.

What the…

Goddamn it, I’ve lost him.

I knew mrbrown would be around the convention, but I didn’t want to hang around any longer. It was very cold that day, and suit jacket was not giving enough warmth. Frustrated, I went home, hid under my blanket and took a nap.

My housemate came back in the evening and asked if I managed to get mrbrown.

“No. I though I saw him and when I finally went after him, he disappeared.”

“Oh, you could have went straight up to him when you saw him.”

I shrugged my shoulder, “Well, I don’t think I’m going to chase him down anymore.”

My housemate laughed, “So you broke your Twitter virginity for nothing.”

Damn right.

Despite two days of walking around Sydney’s CBD and obsessive twittering, I failed in my mission.

So I admitted defeat and took the easiest way out: tweeting him directly.


Saturday, 12:37am:





Today, I tweeted mrbrown asking if I could get a photo and his autograph. If you can’t beat the Blogfather, join him. And save your Twitter virginity for someone better.

Therefore, I leave you with the final debriefing on the Blogfather mission:



Debriefing on identifying mrbrown’s locations in Sydney, NSW

Selected point man: Zareth Lim

Target: mrbrown

Target’s last known location: Don’t give a fuck anymore.

Mission goal: Get mrbrown’s photo and autograph.

Current status: Case pending closure.

Method: Tweeted mrbrown directly.



There, all done.

Jokes aside, I want to let everyone know that this was just done for fun. People may think “Yeah, right, you’re stalker, Zareth. Admit it.”

You know what, I did notice by the end of the first day that I was bordering on stalkerish, creepy behaviour. When I first told my housemate that I was going to chase after mrbrown, she told me I was a stalker. When I told my friend at Vivid that I was chasing mrbrown, she said: “wow, you really idolized him.”

Although mrbrown is one of my favourite bloggers, I don’t idolize him to the point where I have his pictures on my wall and underwear. Truth.

On Tuesday night, as I was debating whether I should camp outside the Westin early in the morning, what struck me was how this simple joke could become such an obsession for me. It was frightening, really. It didn’t felt like me but my Twitter updates only confirmed this obsession:





On Tuesday alone, I twitted 7 tweets about mrbrown.

What the fuck.

So I want to state again, that this whole thing was just for fun. And if mrbrown somehow read this blog, I just want to say that I never intended to intrude into your personal privacy.

So I’m calling this so-called ‘mission’ to a close. I know I just twitted mrbrown that I want his photo and autograph. But that was more to let him be aware and to seek for his permission. Even if he said yes, I probably would not meet up him because, really, as much as I admire him, I have better things to do. This whole mrbrown affair, in my opinion, just became a farce.

So yep, no more blogfather mission or “somebody else” mission for that matter. Nope, nada, zilch.

___________________________________________



I want to remind you that the voting for best WTH blog is still ongoing until 3rd July!

So vote for me! Voters will get to win prizes too!

You’ll need to sign in or register before you can vote. (Just a quick FYI: only Singaporeans and Singapore PR eligible to vote, part of the competition’s rules).

Some of my friends said they couldn’t find the voting button. I suggest using Mozilla Firefox browser if you have trouble finding the button.

The link to vote for me is here and you should see this:






So get your voting mojo on!

While you’re voting for me, vote for Estelle’s blog too! She blogged about me (I’m under “Mr Toilet Seat Welcomes You”) and is asking her readers and friends to vote for me (Thanks!). Vote for her blog in the Best Lifestyle category.

And vote for the Cambelles in the Best Social Media Integrated Blog.

That’s all folks. Now quit stalking me.