Tomorrow, at long last, after days of sweaty phone calls and gut-wrenching hand-wringing, I collect my visa to the land of Mounties, maple syrup and moose. In contrast to the Wild West nation south of the border, the procedure was a breeze and from the looks of it at the mission, applicants are not subject to humiliating strip-downs and motivic questioning out of fear and suspicion that they intend to sow the seeds of terror or worse, pursue the American Dream sans social security.
Oh why do I have to end up in countries with steadily appreciating currencies? Now I must hop over to Mustafa's for some loonie tunes and euromarks to sustain this duck's fall migration northwards. Thermal underwear is also on the agenda.
I also need a hotel in Paris in December. My first choice, a little joint by the Seine in Bercy Village, is fully booked. Does any Francophile here have recommendations, preferably by the Canal St-Martin? I wonder if Monica Bellucci has room to spare??
On my way home, I stopped at a busy junction where an ah pek was standing by the pedestrian light indicators. Against my better judgement, I decided that he had already pressed the button that triggers the flashing green man. Apparently, he didn't, and I had to cross the stubborn junction to the fury of drivers who could see that the red man was still in position. As for the ah pek, he simply stepped onto the road and held up a feeble hand, hailing every vehicle in this path to a jerky stop. This is not the first time I have outsourced my street smarts. Is there not a middle ground between acts that show up deficits of thought and restrained actions that betray a misguided trust?
John Larkin sent me the link to the following Sydney Morning Post article, which captures the doublethink currently prevalent in Singablogosphere rather better than attempts at Skadianite tar-brushing. If you ask me, only a blur sotong would fail to see the writing on the virtual wall in the present campaign of psychological warfare for the minds of heartlanders.
Writing's on the wall for Asia's risque bloggers
September 27, 2005
Malaysia and Singapore are cracking down on outspoken citizens who hide behind the anonymity that the internet offers, writes Sean Yoong.
Bloggers, beware. Big Brother is watching.
The recent arrest of three Singaporeans accused of making racial slurs on internet message boards has sparked concerns of a cyberspace crackdown by authorities in Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia, where strict laws suppress outspokenness.
Web logs, or blogs, a global online phenomenon, are seen as the high-tech equivalent of personal diaries, but they've also become a public forum for free speech in Singapore and Malaysia, where the media are tightly controlled and provocative views rarely heard.
Now, bloggers in both countries fear they'll have to watch their words, following the arrest of Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, and Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, in Singapore on September 12 for allegedly posting comments insulting the country's Muslim Malay minority. A third Singaporean, a 17-year-old, was charged separately on September 16, the Singapore Straits Times reported.
Charged with sedition, all three face prison terms of up to three years if convicted.
While some bloggers say they deserve little sympathy because their remarks were repugnant, the case has triggered concern that Singapore's Government might be tightening social controls.
"A part of me is fairly exultant at the fact that two people who . . . made extremely racist comments are being punished," wrote blogger "MercerMachine". "The other part of me is sick at the fact that there isn't even a pretence of free speech now."
Koh and Lim are the first bloggers to be arrested and charged in Singapore.
In May, Chen Jiahao, a Singaporean studying in the US was threatened with a lawsuit for allegedly defamatory criticism about Singapore's scholarship policies. Mr Chen was spared after he apologised and removed his website.
International press freedom group Reporters Without Borders decried the lawsuit as "intimidation" that "could make the country's blogs as timid and obedient as the traditional media".
The racial element to the blogs was bound to raise hackles in Singapore, where ethnic Chinese comprise 80 per cent of the city-state's 4.2 million populace, with Malays making up about 15 per cent and ethnic Indians some 5 per cent.
Neighbouring Malaysia has a similarly delicate ethnic mix among its 25 million people, with nearly 60 per cent Malays, 25 per cent Chinese, 10 per cent Indians and the remainder of other races.
Both nations pride themselves on racial harmony and rank among South-East Asia's most peaceful places, but critics say the apparent racial order is forced by governments. Malaysian laws provide for maximum one-year prison sentences for web users posting false, indecent or offensive material.
Malaysian bloggers have faced no legal repercussions so far, but many have been worried since the Government threatened one popular web author with jail after a racially provocative comment was posted on his website. Jeff Ooi was warned that he could be jailed under a security law that allows imprisonment without trial if he was found to be encouraging debate on contentious issues after a reader published a comment that offended Muslims.
Most of the tens of thousands of bloggers in Malaysia and Singapore are teenagers and young adults who use free blog hosting sites such as Livejournal and Blogspot simply to document their everyday lives, steering away from political commentary.
But blogging also has political implications in Malaysia, and even the country's opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, started a blog last month to air his complaints. Many anonymous web users have made strikingly bold statements.
Mr Ooi, who is ethnic Chinese, monitors everything from the Prime Minister's anti-corruption campaign to national car maker Proton's problems.
He voiced hopes that the Malaysian Government would not penalise people who raise legitimate grievances. But he reproached some bloggers for becoming "online agitators" who make inflammatory or slanderous comments.
"Everyone can become an instant blogger, but we need to understand that bloggers cannot be above the law," Mr Ooi said. "Freedom of expression shouldn't mean that bloggers are free from social responsibilities."
My mum called on Saturday, anxious to know whether my passport had been successfully renewed. At my feet, Angel clambered and chirped, and I wondered if her busy cries could be heard all the way in Batu Pahat.
At a petshop last weekend, I checked out a particular brand of catfood that has been advertising heavily on public transport placards. It turned out that the main ingredient in this chow is something called 'possum'. I never knew there are actually farms out there which breed animals that play-dead for the purpose of feeding felines! The thought of giving Angel the chunkified flesh of fellow furry little mammals led me to buy a tin containing salmon instead. Unfortunately, chinook doesn't seem to agree with her as much as albacore. Maybe I should have finished the fish for her. What a waste!
Unfinished catfood (as well as pruned water plants) also serves as excellent fertiliser for houseplants! Unfortunately, it also attracts ants. Audrey doesn't complain though...
I usually rank myself as a veteran aquarist, but one elementary problem is bugging me. A slender leg of bogwood newly adorned with fronds and ferns refuses to sink despite days of emmersion in the cool, dank waters of my study tank. It bobs and twirls on the surface like a brown slice of flotsam, giving shelter to the pygmy gouramis and frustrating a duck who'd rather see this driftwood descend into the boggy sediment. Alas, it's too late to use the ol' boiling water trick, and besides, mrs budak doesn't have a pot long enough to fit this stick!
- - - - - - -
More cat stuff: those strange people who can't stand real cats can now enjoy the purrs of a cybernetic companion in Omron Corp's Tama, a marvel of industrial automation and human disingeniosity. The horrid, blaring TV in the bus added to my dire straits yesterday by showing how life-like and responsive this robokitty is in its mimicry of feline inflections and pussy-footing ways. It doesn't need feeding, won't spray and won't ever use the bed as a litter pan. But it does need recharging every hour or so, and unlike Angel, will never approach me in a fit of spontaneity, armed with liquid eyes and chirpy calls that cry out for a cuddle, hug and
whiskered moustached kiss. And furthermore, when Little Timmy tires of this toy, he can simply deny it of batteries or fling it into the nearest dumpster. One can't do that with real cats, can we? After all, it's so much easier to kill them off, painlessly.
J.M. Coetzee is a deserving writer with whom I have yet to acquaint my literary neurons. For one, the tone of his tomes (despite my penchant for the melancholic) reeks visibly of deep despair and the cruelest cuts that life could dish out. But Laughing Cow prompts my curiosity anew and stirs my heart with her excerpt from Disgrace that mourns the dismal existence of those who must give their lives as well as those who must ease the passage into the furnace of judgement. The long hours of claustrophobic tightness I expect to spend in midair next week should be an apt opportunity to delve into Coetzee's world of dignified sufferers.
Cats big and small alike seem adept at earning the disfavour of men. In an endnote to the silent passing of the International Tiger Day, the World Wildlife Fund notes that Ol' Stripes may well join the pantheon of legendary beasts (and ExxonMobil will have to find a new mascot) sooner than later, if a certain culture with 5,000 proud years of elevated achievements persists in turning tiger thighs into cock-teasers for tumescently-challenged manhoods. For all their appeal to zoological fancies and reputed powers of survival, and even (or perhaps thanks to) their ascribed embodiment of strength, virility, longevity and speed, tigers, bears, civets, sharks, turtles, rhinos and other creatures of culinary attraction seem doomed to the death knell of Oriental kitchen bells and their insatiable quest for the animal-enhanced money shot. And when they are done with the big cats, might our modest miao miaos, who in their noisy nocturnal trysts surely indicate a promise of potency, be the next entrée on the masculine menu?
First: let me bitch a bit... how can some parents sip their kopi-o in seated bliss while their sprogs scream at each other at the top of their voices at so loud a volume that one can't even make out what they are yelling about?! Are they so deafened from such untempered noise at home that nothing less than an ill-mannered screech is audible to their ear-drums? Or have they become so accustomed to their offsprings' shrieks that every holler and howl from their obese cheeks reeks of paternal pride and audible kinship?
Next: to remind myself. There are forms to be filled, drafts to be drawn out, currency to be changed, stamps to be sought and ports to be passed. All these and more (don't forget to drop by the harbour on Thursday as well as unsettled business with a cute puppy) in the next few days. It was perhaps a blessing in disguise, but the past week's bureaucratic impasse has meant that I will miss a not-entirely-welcome jaunt to the Muddy Confluence, though the thought of having to let L face the coated cohort there leaves me a little ill at ease.
Instead, I now brace myself for a three week sojourn in the Northern Hemisphere, starting from the banks of the Rhein and thereafter crossing the Atlantic to the capital of liberal parades. Ville de Québec, Montreal, Winnipeg and Saskatoon are further stopovers and I hope the flight across the Rockies offers some monumental views. Thanks to a booking quirk, I will end my mission on the Pacific coast only to head back eastwards on a mother of all detours, transiting once more in Mainhatten before heading home. It adds up to nearly 24 hours in the air, but hey, just think of all the miles!
Despite (or owing to) mrs budak's absence, the weekend was rather less productive than I had hoped for. My throat continued to bog my nights down, putting to rest all hopes of hearing jam sessions round midnight or sitting out the doom-laden hammer-blows of Mahler's Sixth. Thus, this duck remained domestic, whispering sweet nothings in hoarse mezzo piano to Angel, who in her mistress's absence dogs my steps and emits chirrups of empathy.
mrs budak's absence did give me leeway for some personal indulgence. I am reluctant to playback the polyphonic themes of Baroque counterpoint in her presence, and thus, this weekend offered me free reign of my choice of preludes, fugues and inventions on both the hifi and keyboard. Edwin Fischer offered scratchy mono tutelage on the sublime Forty-Eight, while Andras Schiff navigated me through the contrapuntal dances of the English Suites. At times, I tempt myself with the thought of an afternoon devoted to cataloguing and classifying my decade-old CD collection. But its current state of random disorder has its merits, in dishing out the haphazard thrill of rediscovering serendipitous sounds from archived volumes purchased in the distant past.
Today is also International Tiger Day. There is little to celebrate though, as the lord of the jungle finds his domain in tattered retreat. The glorious Caspian, the lithe Balinese and the subtle Javanese subspecies have gone the way of the dodo, and next to go might be the South Chinese cat, which numbers barely 30 in the wild. Such is the desperation that some have transplanted the cats to South Africa, where a future generation might be trained to recapture their past glories. In slightly better state are the Amur Tigers, the largest cat in the world and arguably the most magnificent, a long-coated beast of fiery stripes that rules the easternmost forests of Siberia. Only in the land of Shere Khan does old Pak Belang maintain a steady foothold in muddy swamps disdained by most men.
Paleontologists have long mourned the Chinese bone-digger's practice of pounding the mineralised bones of terrible lizards into powdered balms. Even in extinction, the mightiest creature of the eastern zodiac fails to escapes the appetites of Sinic culture. And it seems that my astrological taxon may well join the ranks of mythical beasts in the near future, should demand for its spined genitalia and lush coat of arms continues unabated. Nature may be red in tooth and claw, but the naked ape trumps every predator (though not parasite) in his quest to subdue and subsume every creature that dwells in planetary sympatry. The hunt is still on and Nimrod's heirs pursue their prey with relentless fury, knowing not to what end will the killing fall.
A creepy ah pek sat beside me at the bus-stop on the way home. Much too near he placed himself, shattering my invisible zone of sacred space. He had assorted bags of unidentifiable objects and some small pieces of paper which he diligently studied. Abruptly, he turned and asked, "Use yur phone can?" I replied, "Sorry," wondering if my refusal fed on fear or mere suspicion. "I wan to tell my brother I here aledy. Pay you ok?" he added.
Aren't there public phones around the area in which he can feed his coins? I offered a demur and he continued his shrugs that brushed uneasily against my arm. It was clear he wasn't waiting for any bus.
I boarded the bus. From my seat I could see him meandering around the stop, shuffling in his stained cloth and clinging to his precious cargo. Shall Godot come and relieve him of his troubles? Or have I turned away an angel in need? Dare I claim a certain, not-entirely welcome trait that seems to draw the queries and supplications of strangers seeking aid in hostile crowds? To what end is my faith in fellow men tested so?