From Atalanta to Atlanta
In some strange way my birthday seems to have lasted five days, bookended by the Blues and the Reds going at each other.
I woke early on the fourth of November to watch Liverpool FC whip Atalanta FC five zero in a Champions League game, a sublime performance that made a good Italian team look like a schoolboy side.
Watching football these past few months has filled me with conflicting emotions. It’s great that sportspeople are giving us something to cheer about; yet the fact that they are going about their business while others around are entering lockdown seems somewhat strange, incongruous, unfair to all parties.
Liverpool played at Atalanta, in the Lombardy region of Italy, which is known by some as the “Wuhan of the West” and which is experiencing another uptick in cases. If something happened to the players or staff of either team, surely I, sitting safely at home with my muruku and IPA, would bear some tiny responsibility.
No matter. I jumped and screamed and tried to respond to happy birthday messages streaming in on WhatsApp. Great that in Europe the Reds have smashed the Blues, I told some buddies, and now a perfect day will be complete if in the US the Blues beat the Reds.
My objection, of course, is not to the Reds per se, but to the orange-haired buffoon whom they chose to represent and lead them.
And while I am not above acknowledging his ostensible successes—recalibrating relations with China?—I am also always, in every waking moment, with every turn of the newspaper, hyperconscious about the absolute toxicity and divisiveness and disregard for science and truth that has spread from The White House to the far reaches of this planet over these past four years. (I know some anti-vaxxers in Singapore who hang on his every word.)
I have read that nationalists in China have cheered the Trump Presidency for helping boost national consensus around foreign policy and their belief in their own political system. He has done more to discredit democracy, democratic processes, and democratic institutions than anybody else in recent memory.
The level of idiocy that has infected autocrats in Asia is remarkable. I remember those moments after the 2016 elections. Many elites and PAP sycophants in Singapore peddled the “This is why democracy is bad” narrative. For them, democracy is only good when “the demos” agree with their choice, the choice that will protect their elite status and obscene salaries.
Sure enough, the following year Singapore was treated to a presidential election in which only one person in the entire country was deemed eligible to compete.
“Would you rather have Trump? Boris Johnson?” is the trademark retort of the unthinking PAP supporter, as if any critique of their political masters can be batted away with such asinine logic.
No, sad to say, these worldly elites have not heard of Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel, Leo Varadkar, or any of the other impressive politicians Western democracies have produced in recent times.
Trump has been a bloody godsend for Asian autocrats; thank God he’s been fired.
I felt a great sense of relief this afternoon, a long-awaited exhale into the cool November rain.
Only to realise that I’ve got to get ready for the next battle: the Reds of Liverpool against the Blues of Manchester City.
We go again.
Ageing, part I
This has probably been the first year in which I’ve really noticed my body slowing and taking longer to repair and heal. Three weeks ago when I visited Wild Wild Wet in Pasir Ris, I grabbed a blue float at the bottom of the slide, turned and started scampering towards the ladder. I made it about five metres before I slipped and fell, scraping my knee and foot. I jumped back up, putting on a brave face.
Two kids—young, bouncy, their best years ahead—chuckled while their mum smiled in that pitiful, old-guy-past-his-prime way. The physical scars from that day have yet to heal. The emotional ones never will.
This past year I have also for the first time contemplated getting reading glasses. I have always been sensitive about my eyes. In 2004, when I had myopia of some three-hundred-and-fifty degrees, I got Lasik done at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC).
I loved the actual operation: that was the tail end of my raving days, so it felt like a fun light show with a slight burning smell.
When the op was done, the doctor told me that he has good news and bad news. That was not really what I wanted to hear after my first op.
The good news was that my eyesight was now 7/6, even better than 6/6. I could read things from seven metres away for which the average person could only do at six.
Sometimes when we are driving along the PLUS highway in Malaysia, I’ll be like “Johor Bahru, two-hundred and thirty-two kilometres.” It will be a few seconds before the rest of the ride can read the white words on the green signboard.
The bad news was that a tiny dust particle had somehow entered the sterilised operating room and been burned into my sclera. So a bit of dust would forever be a part of me. “The white part of my eye?” No problem, I thought, that’s far less bodily damage than I usually incur at raves.
Over the past month my left knee has acted up. I don’t know why. I’m told knee pain is just part of the ageing process. I have always thought that the first new body part I would want in our Gattaca future is a new liver. Now I’m kinda feeling like a knee…
The one physical blessing this past year has been Yin-Yang Yoga, which Li Ling and I started doing at the Pasir Ris Elias Community Club.
I have never enjoyed yoga. I really can’t stretch. When I was in JC2 (last year of high school), guys had to take a physical fitness test to determine whether we have to serve an extra two months of military service—fail the test, you go in two months early.
I did brilliantly on everything except sit-and-reach. I just can’t do it. My PE teacher, who will forever remain anonymous, knew it would be a travesty if I had to serve an extra two months just because I couldn’t lean forward enough.
But he didn’t want to let me off easy. He wanted me to give it all I had. And so I pushed and pushed and perspired like a mofo and finally he suggested that a buddy of mine just “support me” from the back.
I remember that moment with such clarity. I think that was when I realised that in Singapore there are people willing to bend the rules a bit if they see you trying your best.
So, I’ve tried different kinds of yoga and never really enjoyed them, always found them too difficult.
But I really just love Yin-Yang. You hold each stretch for a really long time. And I often enter a sort of meditative state, similar to when having a really great massage. (Admittedly, I like the “Yin” bit a bit more than the “Yang”.)
I never feel stressed. Or pressured. Or the need to keep up with the LuLu Joneses. I just do my own thing.
What a difference Yin-Yang Yoga has made to my basic agility and mobility. For instance, I find it much easier to sit down on a bench, raise my leg up high, and put on my socks. Much easier to squat, much easier to bend my ankles.
Simple stuff. Important stuff.
Ageing, part II
Video has changed my life in several ways.
First, consider that I hate listening to myself or watching myself. I still haven’t watched the 2017 episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown where I appear. Just can’t do it.
However, stuck at home April-July 2020, part of that in lockdown (circuit breaker), I unfortunately had to spend long hours watching and editing myself.
At first it was tortuous. Then it got a bit easier. And then finally one day Li Ling caught me smiling while watching myself. You’re actually enjoying it now?
If indeed this year heralds some narcissistic turn in my personality, dear reader, I blame you.
Next, video means people recognise me more. Last week I was buying nasi padang at a coffeeshop on Pasir Ris Drive 6 when a middle-aged Chinese lady behind me said “I know you from social media”. It was the first time somebody recognised me with my mask on. I guess she picked up on my voice. I had a good, albeit brief, chat with her.
This sort of thing has been happening more over the past few months, something my friends in television take for granted, something friends have actually asked me to prep for.
It is always nice to meet and hear from readers and viewers, on the streets, over email, through my mum. Boosts my confidence in my work.
But please forgive me if I seem a little awkward! All still new.
Finally, video makes me feel young. I know it may sound trite, but arguably the most fulfilling thing about doing video was just the bare fact of doing something new. The last time I felt that was when I learned kitsurfing in 2016.
From learning to express myself more succinctly and being more conscious of my expressions to understanding workflow with video editors, so much of the process was new. It’s just so different to sitting behind a computer, what I’m doing now, my comfort zone.
Video is daunting; stressful; exhilarating.
So, finally, thanks for the support. Because of you, not quite forty-three.
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the last time I felt like writing a birthday reflections piece was when I turned forty.