Stan’s The Man

Stan loves to hog the limelight. On stage, he luxuriates in the spotlight and disco lights. He is as attractive as a live lobster in the aquarium of my local Chinese restaurant. Big and big-headed, its movement emperor-like, and terribly expensive. Unaffordable, he’s the exact opposite of the slippery eel squirming around in the adjacent smelly, mud-filled aquarium. His movement on stage is as smooth as the eel’s though, not that the stage is his mud. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with mud, for that is where the water lilies and lotus spring out from to dazzle us with their colour and beauty. From where I sit, the microphone appears to be a bionic extension of his hand. It does not leave his hand all night. A slick performer, natural and totally at home on stage. Some people are like that, some are born to lead, and some just love to talk and talk, and talk some more. Stan is both, he exudes leadership and loves talking, all night. He commands full attention from the stage. He is not short but appears to be due to the girth of his frame. Solidly built, the tenacity and steeliness in his eyes deter many from disagreeing with him; it is safer to defer to his command. The party of over one hundred revellers adored his performance earlier in the evening, but he could never be a good stand up comedian unless he borrows some punch lines from somewhere. A very poor imitation of Dave Allen with a perpetually replenished glass of whisky in his hand, I got to witness first-hand the rumours of his tendency to be inebriated whilst reading his script on stage. But, he has my full respect, not everyone can speak publicly so well and with such clarity. The confident man speaks the loudest. As the evening progresses, it becomes obvious it is time for Stan to leave his stage; his grip on the restless crowd is slackening, they begin to talk over his lengthy speech. So, he raises his voice to be heard, and the microphone begins to screech in protest at the increasing decibels. Luckily, the microphone is often held against his mouth, the smoker’s melanosis that he suffers from is mostly hidden from view. Likewise, it offers us partial relief from his nicotine-stained teeth. Stan loves anything and everything blue. He is often seen in mid-blue shirts, or dark blue ones with white polka dots. The tight short sleeves reveal a pair of solid full biceps which show the brute strength that Stan obviously possesses. His body-hugging shirt does not hide the man’s solid physique, but with his shirt tucked into his executive style trousers, and his ample waist decorated with a Pierre Cardin black leather belt, he appears corpulent and bulky rather than fit and strong. His demeanour is exaggerated and his swagger deliberate, accentuating his portrayal of success and prosperity. His 18 carat gold ring harbours a huge piece of green jade, enhancing the subliminal message he teleports to his audience. Stan’s the man. No one is allowed to outshine him, not that anyone wants to or can, as he will have you believe. Any perceived threat to his dominance in the sphere he resides in, will be stomped into oblivion. That is the nature of the man. Some describe him as arrogant, bombastic, unforgiving, a fake. He owns a patch of rather sparse hair. Combed meticulously, the crop on his head is thin and balding. The follicles are still unusually black despite his age, it is fair to suspect they were dyed only a few days earlier. The strands of hair are so sparse they appear to form thin black lines that barely cover his scalp. A receding hairline exacerbates his impending baldness. To be fair, the one positive about his hair is that there is only a faint trace of dandruff. Beads of sweat grow and swell from his forehead and cheeks, his constant action to wipe them off with his damp blue handkerchief seemingly unproductive. His brows are a small replica of MacDonald’s famous logo, the arches grey instead of golden and less tidy. The brows caress his once bright shining happiness-laden eyes. Now they appear as droopy as his heavy jowls. His prominent chin so proud it has grown another, a sign of abundance in his life.

When Stan is not on stage, he packs away his joviality and frivolity. He becomes assertive, less friendly but still loud. Unknowingly or purposely – I am not sure – he loves to celebrate his football team’s successes loudly and heartily even to the degree of “rubbing salt” on the supporters of the vanquished opposing teams. He loves blue. So it is easy to guess that he barracks for Chelsea Football Club, a great EPL club that calls Stamford Bridge their home. Every Chelsea win will be accompanied by loud hollers and ridiculously lengthy and rowdy celebrations from the man. It’s perfectly fine of course; we do not begrudge a man his fun and happiness. Stan lacks any inclination to comfort his subdued friends when their team loses. I suppose that is why the sports is a religion to many. There is no middle ground, either you’re a Chelsea believer or you are the anti-Christ. And since some of us are not Chelsea fans, we begin to bear the brunt of his taunts and torment the more our team, the Red Devils, lose.

Last weekend, my team did not lose to Liverpool. Another old friend, with the Greek name Stevros, had predicted we would be clobbered. Why Greek, you have to wonder. When asked for his prediction, he said 0-2. That is either the extent of Stevros’ understanding of the word “clobbered”, or a two nil defeat is a heavy defeat for him. “Hey Stevros, we didn’t get clobbered!” I invited him to pour scorn at my team. Sure enough, Stevros took my bait. “Aiyah..so eaten up by such nitty gritty..yes..they should have clobbered them.”

“Like sand, it’s the nitty gritty that makes us grit our teeth ” I replied.

“You can grit for all you want….your team should have been clobbered last night ..maybe the next return match..then you can GRIT YOUR TEETH even more.”

Uh oh, words in capital letters indicate Stevros is raising his voice. But in my moment of silly playfulness, I did not notice it. And then I made a mistake. “Yes, we supporters are the TRUE GRIT. Let’s hope your teeth have not receded from the grit.”

That’s fatal, Stan explained later. Too late! Stevros has begun his personal tirade at me.

“Why so personal ah..my teeth..? Why does it matter to you..you want to talk about your ASS..huh..?

And when you talk..talk in SIMPLE ENGLISH.. lah..many do not want to hear your gibberish talk..ok..??

If you want to be personal..I CAN be personal too..but I think it so CHILDISH to do so..

No need to SHOW OFF..keep it humble and simple..maybe that is all you have to show..?”

Quite taken aback, I meekly offered a quick apology. “Anyway, we are supposed to have light hearted banter here. If I somehow, somewhere offended anyone, let me be the first to apologise. I do not know when I showed off to you ….. anyway, life is short, bro. To some, sharing is showing off. I’m only sharing, there is nothing to show off from my side. I already publicly declared I was once almost bankrupt. Is that showing off ? Let’s refrain from judging others so readily. Friendly banter amongst brothers should be ok, right?”

Yes, we 61 year-olds call one another brothers, this is a legacy of the Lasallian and Xavierian education system. We all hail from the Irish connection of Lasalle Brothers but the supremo who began the schooling system in Penang was Br Charles Levin aka Br Karl Wolff, a grandson of Germany’s 19th century “sugar king”.

Stevros had not finished his bombardment. “…. you mentioned about my..receding teeth..that is not personal..? If you attack me personally..I WILL retaliate appropriately..yes..we can share and bant (sic) all we want but refrain from personal attacks…its ok..I hope we are good..just be mindful of our statements moving forward..I apologise too for any personal attacks..that’s something we should avoid..keep it simple and humble..thats my motto..”

Privately, Stan told me to shut up. “Don’t egg him on. He will want to have the last say. He always thinks he is right. Why did you attack his teeth anyway?!”

Sorry!! How was I to know someone will get upset over nothing. Such a tantrum over a set of teeth? Maybe he suffers from teeth erosion, but gosh, there is no such thing as receding teeth! He made it up but accused me of saying it. “Receding teeth” is more fake than dentures. I said I hope his teeth have not receded from the grit, i.e. TRUE GRIT guys do not shy away or retreat from the grit. We do not need reminders that at our age, it is common to experience features that recede. Gums, hairline, even self importance. In today’s society, the aged sadly recede into the background, they (sic) no longer command attention, they (sic) are hardly visible, often unnoticed and unheard. But teeth do not recede! So, why would anyone feel personally aggrieved over something that is fake, that doesn’t exist in their person? Urghhling!

This morning, I was woken up by the noisy birds in the park opposite. They must think it’s a market place to trade in worms. The furious tweeting and chirping are not conducive for non early risers. As I opened my eyes, it suddenly dawned on me that Stan the man could simply be a figment of my imagination. Maybe Stevros does not exist either, as fake as his “receding teeth”. But, I want to cling on to the romantic idea that all is true and well with the “Lasaints” brotherhood. A truly caring and friendly brotherhood of the boys from Penang’s Lasalle and St Xavier’s Institution. 

Stan, almost the standup comedian

I was advised to add the following disclaimer:

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Humble, He Mumbled

At the time of writing, donations for three student students of SJK Chung Hwa School have reached RM13,600, and that’s just from the small chat group of fellow alumni of Penang’s Lasaints (combined from La Salle and SXI) that I belong to. There will be monies raised from other larger groups that I am unaware of, some including the then beautiful girls from Form 6. For the past two weeks, the constant ding, ding, ding on my phone sounded like my old cash register. Every ding a progress report, as another donation increases the collection a little. Every ding also represents a rejection of my view that everyone of us is an urghhling. Urghh, ugly earthlings. The three siblings recently lost both parents. There is universal concern for their wellbeing, what would be more important for them once their meagre living expenses are taken care of? Education, of course. That has been the reason for our impetus to raise more money. Sweet. It does not matter how much each contributes, every little bit helps and is loudly appreciated; but noticeably, on the list are two names, Anonymous and Anonymous 2. In local parlance, it’s Bo Mia and Bo Mia 2. They raise many questions in my mind. Why not reveal their name? After all, it is for a great cause, generous, caring, considerate, therapeutic, maybe even holistic. Why not disclose their identities? Are they serving a penance in Penang? Are they embarrassed by the paltry size of their contribution? Are they contrite about a wrong doing but too proud to admit wrong and this is their path to reduce guilt? “Humble”, Ty-Phoon rumbled. “They are just humble.” Humble is his go-to word this week. Humble meal, humble outlook, humble abode, this all came about due to his confusion about the correct application of the words austere and frugal. Maybe they want to give, full stop. They do not see a need for disclosure; maybe they don’t derive any pleasure from being mentioned or is it to avoid being tainted as selfish, extending a kind hand to extend one’s reputation? They want to feel the purity of giving? In a way then, that will also become a selfish act. To give in order to gain a benefit isn’t so righteous, right? The urghhling in me says it could be they want to keep it out of Their Mrs’ prying eyes. Which reminds me. The comments about my “honest (although cynical) and authentic writing” from yet another friend yesterday floored me. I flippantly disregarded the opinion about my cynicism a few weeks ago but another one?! It made me sit up and pause. The ugliness of humans is obvious and undeniable. History tells us about the never ending wars around the world, massacres, genocides, rapes and plunder, child sexual abuse especially by holy preachers, torture and capital punishment endorsed and executed by the state, the indiscriminate killing eg e.g. Agent Orange in Vietnam, and at the forefront of recent news, the US abandonment and betrayal of their long time ally, the Kurds. I can go on and on and on about man’s many atrocities and animal cruelty. Ugly urghhling stories are everywhere, we hardly have to go looking for them. They easily pop up during everyday conversations and dominate our daily news bulletin. It is not true that I focus on talking about them. I prefer not to dwell on ugliness, it’s not cynicism that makes me feel the exasperation about the bad choices we humans make. Are we so short-sighted we can’t even accept greed is not good?

A friend suggested I have positive thoughts before I transform my jumbled ideas into meaningful words. “Hey! I’m writing about urghhlings, how to be positive?” I protested before deciding to make a conscious effort to write about the good side of humans. I must placate my readers’ growing impatience with my cynicism – perceived or otherwise – about the ugliness of earthlings. It’s timely that I put on my Libran hat and prove to the doubters I do possess the dominant Libran traits of balance and harmony. I have a fixation on balance and fairness, to the frequent chagrin of The Mrs. Many a time, all she wants is my blind bias for her. “It matters not if you don’t agree with me! Just publicly stand by me!”, she often chastises me. But, that’s like squeezing blood out of stone for a Libran. Which is totally illogical. After all, the Libra is the only zodiac sign that is inanimate, no blood can be gotten from a set of weighing scales.

Anyway, do not let me digress, let me stay the course and think of the positives. I am fearful this will be a rather short blog, so I may have to resort to ramble on about nothing of consequence. Usually, when I write, my fingers can’t keep up with the torrent of outpouring ideas that flood the page. “Why don’t you use Siri to help you type? Your mind won’t be unduly slowed down by your fingers.” a helpful friend suggested. “Nah, I’m old-fashioned yet old without fashion.” I offered a truthful analysis of myself. For this blog, I think my fingers will manage easily. “There won’t be a tsunami of positives to swamp me” I countered. “Ouch, am I being cynical again?”

Alright, let me write about some recent positives. The Mrs is scheduled to go for her hip operation the day after tomorrow. A few caring friends have started the cacophony of good wishes and prayers for her. A beautiful friend with the same initials as Louis Vuitton, has been suffering from excruciating pain from all sorts of ailments. He had both his knees replaced earlier this year but is again traumatised by severe neck pain arising from cervical arthritis. We have been concerned about his mental health too, having been weighed down by long spells of debilitating pain. Yet, LV sent a message to let me know he is praying for The Mrs. “May the Lord grant her a smooth operation and a speedy recovery.” LV prayed. A beautiful human being, praying for others when he deserves all the good tidings himself. Selfless, thoughtful and caring. Of course, I promptly thanked him for his kind thoughts. So, why did I rattle off a series of silly remarks that detract and distract from his thoughtful prayers? “Would God know it’s her right hip this time?” “Thanks so much LV but please first make sure God is not preoccupied with more pressing issues.” “Honestly, we should be more considerate about God’s free time and respite. Can’t afford for the Old Bloke to work for eternity without enjoying a ‘me time’ hobby or immersing Himself in a relaxing respite.” “Seriously, I do think we are very gung-ho to automatically ask for favours whenever we feel like it. That’s not being considerate I think. There are others more in need, why should we jump the queue. Can you not see God madly juggling at trying to fulfil every single Urghhling’s requests?” I should be ashamed of myself. Why be so unthinkingly brutal to fire off a litany of questions? Why not be gracious and acknowledge LV’s kindness with a simple Thank You and stop there? WA Gan’s remark was short but instructive. “I have noticed that Bro LV prays hard for others but not for himself.” LV’s reply was equally damning of me “Others are more important than me……” Both remarks shut me up. I am so ugly. The Mrs has been right all along, since 1979. “You’re ugly and only fit to appear as a bandit 土匪 (Thu Fei) in Run Run Shaw movies.” LV, I am sorry for my bad behaviour. I truly am an urghhling.

There is always beauty around us – sometimes we just need to look for them – unless we are in a rose garden. 

My favourite climbing roses, the Climbing Cinderella.

The heavily perfumed Mr Lincoln

Sometimes we don’t need to look for beauty. The door knocks and when you open it, beauty sails in, as it did just now. Geoff, a good friend who used to be a chef in his previous life in Beijing, brought his famed Nanjing duck and a platter of pork and crab buns for us. A long drive to get here, he prepared them knowing that The Mrs will be getting her hip replaced in two days’ time. How beautiful, how thoughtful and caring. He knew I’d be home alone for the next few days, what can be more comforting than his Nanjing duck and special buns in the absence of The Mrs?

Which should I go for first?

Geoff with his platter of delicious buns and famed Nanjing Duck

Thank you, to all of you for opening my eyes to the beauty around us and pointing out the flaws in this urghhling. The cynic in me unfortunately still says that there is much more ugliness in this world and the world can not recover its pristine and virgin qualities unless all, if not most, urghhlings are gone.