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June 30th, 2006

The cat, part 2

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I'm feeling catty these days.




My folks bought me a cat when I was a kid.

To teach me the meaning of life, said my mother. We couldn't afford many things in those days. So my parents had hoped that a cat would teach me life skills that the neighbourhood school wouldn't. Like caring for another. Like art appreciation. Like epistemology. Like sign language. And golf. And witchcraft. And lobotomy. My learning journey would be slow and painful at first. Then, as time went by, it would be just painful. For the cat, of course.

It's tough growing up poor. For one thing, you can't afford many books. My parents could only buy black-and-white textbooks for me. So, lacking the vivid illustrations of coloured textbooks, I could never tell apart a frog and a toad, or a horse and a pony. Try spotting the difference between red and blue in a black-and-white textbook. My mom wanted to buy me a colour wheel for my tenth birthday, if only so that I could carry it around to identify colours properly. My dad vetoed the idea, saying that other kids would make fun of me. So my mom taught me to look at the sky if I needed to know what blue was. Quite often, blue was blue. At other times, blue was grey. And at night, blue was black.

I named my cat Cathy. It was a boy-cat, but I couldn't think of a boy's name with the word cat in it. Cathy was not your usual mewing cat. He wasn't even a talking cat (you can imagine how hard it was for me to learn French from him). He was more like a low purry-growl kind of cat. The kind that scares other cats away. But Cathy wasn't an anti-social cat. He'd bounce around and play tennis with my neighbours, read to the blind and make dinner when my mom was unwell. He would even pick out clothes for me so that I wouldn't go out of the house in mismatched colours.

One day, after my weekly blood transfusion exercise with him, Cathy lay on my bed much longer than usual and refused to get up for our tightrope walking lesson. I was surprised. He was always a bundle of energy. Did he need an iron pill? Was he in love? Had he found yet another proof to Fermat's last theorem? I was utterly puzzled. He looked back at me like a shark looks back at a fisherman who's just slain off its fins and was throwing it back into the water.

"Woof."

June 27th, 2006

Three

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There was a man who had three eyes. Two spoke English, one spoke Thai.

The man's grandmother had three hairs. One smelt like apples, two smelt like pears.

The man's own daughter had three ears. Two wept honey, one wept tears.

The girl had a friend who had three chins. One had a tail, two had fins.

The friend had a brother who had three lips. One had a moustache with hair clips.

The brother's classmate had three heads. They argued and slept on different beds.

The classmate's mother had three arms. Two worked factories, one worked farms.

The mother's bicycle had three wheels. It was called a tricycle.

Catwoman

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There's a catwoman in every neighbourhood.

You know, the one who feeds the cats? I guess there could be worse things than feeding cats. Like elephants.

Stray cats are happy to laze on car bonnets or just lie along the street and watch the world pass by. Stray elephants need things to keep them busy. Like uprooting trees or obstructing traffic - neither activity which I care for. I'm not an elephant-hater, mind you. I just think that there's a proper place for elephants. Like slung over the shoulder of a large woman as some sort of hairy grey tote.

I'm glad the catwoman doesn't feed cannibals either. Can you imagine what she'd be feeding them? Not wild monkeys, for sure. Too hairy. Cannibals are fussy eaters. I know. I watched the Silence of the Lambs. I'm not afraid of getting eaten by cannibals. I'm too thin. Like game hen, except I'm a guy.

One evening, on my way home, I ran into my neighbourhood catwoman on her way home from a round of feeding. She looked like she'd seen a dead cat. What happened? Did one of her cats get run over by a car? Did she feed her own son to one of the cats by mistake? Was it a talking cat? She shook her head as she held up an empty sack of cat food to me.

"I let the cat out of the bag."

June 26th, 2006

The school

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I remember my school days growing up.

I didn't attend one of those fancy boarding schools that they have nowadays. In my time, staying overnight in school was a privilege reserved for scouts, security guards and homeless people. These days, scouts go hunting in actual mangrove swamps, security guards go home before nightfall, and homeless people are in prison.

Mine wasn't a particularly famous school either. We had a few good swimmers, I think. But we certainly didn't produce the record-beating shooters that Columbine did.

One day in school, we were singing Que Sera Sera and I wondered what I would be when I grew up. It's one of those typical bilingual songs that you hear six year-olds sing in school. Except that we were twelve year-olds who didn't speak Spanish, and our teacher dressed herself up as Doris Day carping lines from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. That's mildly creepy in any language.

"Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Will I be President of the United States of America?" My teacher looked back at me with kindness and pity. You know, the way a slaughterhouse might look kindly and pitifully upon a sleepy cow if a slaughterhouse had eyes.

"No, dear. You won't. You're a fish."

June 24th, 2006

The fly

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I once tried a dish of fruit flies deep-fried in butter.

"They're four for a dollar, sir," said the lady who was frying them, delicately. No wonder that they're called delicacies. If she even sneezed, she might lose half her day's earnings just like that.

"I'll take two, please." I wondered whether she caught the flies herself or simply left a piece of fruit out to rot. I imagined her children chasing after flies with swats. Did her ancestors really eat insects? Or was it a cruel joke that the third world was playing on wealthy tourists?

"Here you go, sir." She handed my two flies to me, delicately. I popped one into my mouth, but I wasn't sure if it got stuck between my teeth. So there I was, the tourist, obviously swirling my tongue inside my mouth to catch the taste of the morsel. The lady who sold me the flies looked unsurprised.

Just then, my mobile phone rang. Who might be calling me on my vacation? Was it the Nobel or the Macarthur committee? Was it the queen? Was it a telemarketer? I was so reluctant to answer the phone, lest my uneaten fly fell out of my mouth.

It was my mom. She sounded distraught. There was a hurricane approaching, and she was rushing to bring in the laundry that she had just hung out to dry. She sounded annoyed. You know, in the way that a woman might sound annoyed if the sky suddenly turned dark on her.

But then she said something that completely surprised me. She asked me not to eat the second fly! Did she have spies halfway around the world? Was she telepathic? How could she know what I was eating? And why would she want me to stop? As all these thoughts ran through my head, the lady who sold me the fruit flies deep-fried in butter lifted her head up and smiled at me.

"Don't you know, sir," she said. "It's called the butter fly effect."

June 23rd, 2006

The bird

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I dreamt that I was a bird.

A sparrow. A singing sparrow. Not a talking sparrow or a chirping sparrow. Not a clucking sparrow or a quacking sparrow either. Certainly not a mooing sparrow or a barking sparrow.

I was a singing sparrow that sang English songs. I particularly enjoyed singing songs about birds. Like the one about the Kookaburra that sat in the old gum tree. Like "Blackbird" by the Beatles. Like "I'm Like a Bird" by Nelly Furtado. Except that I was a bird already. A sparrow. A singing sparrow. So I'd get strange looks from other animals whenever I sang that song.

Occasionally, I'd sing songs about other animals. But I'd substitute birds into the lyrics. Like "The Owl Sleeps Tonight" instead of the lion. Like "Baa Baa Black Bird". Except that birds don't bleat or produce black wool. Although I knew of a vulture that had ash brown wool. In my dream, of course.

One day, in my dream (bird time passes a lot more quickly than dream time), I was singing Simon and Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa". And it struck me - why would I rather be a sparrow than a snail? Snails are cute. They have two antennae above their heads. I think one is for radio, the other is for television. Snails don't need mobilephones. They're mute. What would they call their friends about, anyway? "I'm gonna be late. As usual. What do you expect? I'm a snail." I guess I wouldn't mind being a snail. So I went to the wisest bird I knew in dreamland, Mr Owl.

"Why would I rather be a sparrow than a snail, Mr Owl? Is it because sparrows eat snails? Does the early bird catch the worm," I sang to him in my most beautiful voice. The owl blinked deliberately. It was nearly sunrise, almost time for him to sleep.

"Yes. And during tea time, the stork brings babies."

The pen

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I never had a good head for directions.

The doctors said that I had dyslexia. My mom had dropped me on my head when I was young. Literally, she gave birth to me standing up. Something in the room made the gynaecologist sneeze, I don't know what. Might have been a fart that my mom let out during all that pushing. But just as the gynae turned his head away to sneeze, my mom gave one final push and flung me out of her body. The gynae missed catching me, and I landed right on my head. I cried, of course. No, I wailed. But the gynae insisted that it was normal for girls to wail like that. Even though I was a boy.

"You write with your right hand," repeated my mom. It was a homily that she had taught me since young, and it helped me to tell between left and right. It would have been dreadful if I had been born left-handed. It's hard enough to be left-handed in a right-handed world. The knife is always on the wrong side and you have to get left-handed scissors and golf clubs. It's even worse having to be left-handed and dyslexic - what kind of catchy phrase would you use to remember which was your left hand?

So I carried a pen wherever I went. If I ever needed to know right from left, I would reach for my pen with my writing hand and know with some confidence that it was my right hand. The pen followed me to school, to the park, and even to the pool. The pool was probably the hardest place to carry a pen around. But my mom helped me sew a small pocket onto my swimming trunks, just for my trusty ballpoint pen.

Fortunately, you can get away without needing to write much these days. Computers are helpful. You don't really need to know which is left and right, which is clockwise and counterclockwise. You just follow the arrows. But I still carried my trusty ballpoint pen in my pocket when I was typing on a computer. You know, just in case I needed to press the right shift key instead of the left shift key.

Today, my trusty ballpoint pen is following me to Queens College, Cambridge. It's my first day at college, and my mom wanted to take me to college herself. She was afraid I'd get lost. Don't be silly, I told her. In some countries, women aren't even allowed to drive.

As I got out of the train, I breathed in deeply. So this is what British people smell like. Kind of like Fench people, but muskier. I climbed onto the escalator leading upstairs. "Please stand on the right," said the sign, and I reached for my trusty ball-point pen.

When I got out of the station, I walked over to a friendly-looking lady to ask for the way to Queen's College. She didn't know the answer. Nor did the next two people whom I spoke with.

"This is Cambridge, isn't it," I asked, bewildered.

"Yes, it is Cambridge. Cambridge, Massachusetts."

June 22nd, 2006

The tree

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Once upon a time, in the 1600s, there was a tree.

It wasn't a particuarly special tree. It wasn't a tall tree, nor was it a colourful tree. It wasn't a talking tree, for sure. But it was a thinking tree.

"I think. Therefore, I am," thought the thinking tree, silently.

And the thinking tree thought about many things. It thought about the weighty issues of its time - the Battle of Kinsale, the Dutch tulip mania, Shivaji's Maratha empire and the Salem witch trials. The thinking tree also thought about simple things, like how many leaves it had on its branches. But it never finished counting them, because some leaves would have fallen off or grown inevitably while it was counting.

One day, the thinking tree thought about conducting an experiment. It leaned heavily to one side, and then to the other. And it continued this over several weeks, rocking left and right, left and right, left and right. If the thinking tree were human, it would have developed very large abdominal oblique muscles. But it was not human. It was a tree. It was a thinking tree, and it had an experiment to conduct.

The thinking tree eventually fell down in the forest. Just at that moment, a woodsman walked by. The thinking tree, which was not a talking tree, entered the woodsman's consciousness (it was also a telepathic tree, apparently).

"Did you hear me fall, Mr Woodsman? Did I make a sound," telepathed the thinking tree, silently.

"I wouldn't know. I'm deaf."

June 21st, 2006

The cat

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Apparently, I was a cat in my previous life.

I was at a petting zoo one day when a cow slapped me with its tail.

"Why did you slap me with your tail, Mr Cow?" And I immediately realised how silly I was, for I was talking to a cow. But I brushed my silly behaviour off, knowing that I don't have an internal monologue.

"I slapped you because you ate me in your past life," said the cow. Lo and behold, I had in front of me a talking cow. Should I tell the zookeeper that he had a talking cow? Should I bring the talking cow home and charge people money to hear it tell their fortunes? All of Rhode Island will be abuzz!

"I ate you? Was I a ferocious lion, king of the jungle, lord of ten thousand years?" Curiosity killed the...oh don't get me started! The talking cow slapped me again with its tail.

"No, silly. You were a cat." Me? A cat? A talking cat? How many lives did I have?

"I was a cat that ate a cow?" I must have been one hungry cat. A fat cat. Or she must have been one skinny cow.

"Of course not. I was a sack of cat food."

June 19th, 2006

Orang Samoa Pontianak

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So, Singapore's MediaCorp Raintree Pictures (what a mouthful... are they the film equivalent of the tongue-twisting Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ?) and New Zealand's Eyeworks Touchdown are going to make a $5 million movie about an American tattooist who is harrassed by a Samoan ghost.

Meanwhile, Ah Meng continues to beat orang utan lifespan estimates (35-40 years in the wild) by turning 46 years last week. The Samoan government waits patiently to award her post-humous citizenship, while Richard Simmons practises screaming like a schoolgirl.

I would love to see a movie made just like that.
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