|i could go on for 40 days and 40 nights about my blog title and bore you to bits and pieces with 10,000 different ideas i actually had for the name of this blog but because of the 500 characters limit that is imposed upon this mechanism which, by the way, is supposed to promote free speech, i shall shorten it to just two words basically describing what the hell this is all about and who this hell belongs to.|
Monday, June 01, 2009
how i pinked my blue self to Pangkeng and the colleagues (part two)
there are many reasons why the gay community seem to love the X-men series of movies. the tight costumes that seem to be a staple with all our talented superheroes are a good place to start. Hugh Jackman and his biceps are an even better place to start. and i think i will start with that. recently, when the latest Wolverine movie was nearing its launch date, the train station near my workplace had this huge poster of Wolverine and his biceps. actually i would be more than gratified if it was just Hugh Jackman's biceps on the movie poster alone. but point is, it features Hugh Jackman on the front of the movie poster together with the rest of mutants featured in the movie (Sabertooth, Gambit, et cetera).
the poster in question lies right smack in front of the ticket barrier. so much so that whenever i wanted to tap my transit card to get through the barrier, i would usually fluster at the sight of Jackman and his 'come hither' look. well, it's not exactly 'come hither' per se given that Jackman is baring his claws and all, but i swear, the body says otherwise.
'What? Me?' i would say in my imaginary conversations with him on my permanent night shift days. of course, that would be the point when i walk right smack into the ticket barrier, realizing that i have been tapping my transit card on every other place on the barrier other than the card responder. 'I'm okay! I'm okay!' i would say to everyone else, especially to Wolverine.
truth be told however, the pertinent parallels between both the mutant and the gay community never cease to be a source of fascination for the latter. you have a group of seemingly talented individuals, gited even. these people are really good at whatever they are doing. successful, good-looking and most of the them perhaps well-chiselled. they seem like average joes on the surface. but in reality, they have a big secret to hide from the public. if the public knew them for what they really are, some may come to be ostracized. others may be willingly accepted, but perhaps with queer little looks on their faces.
this queer liitle awkward look is one that i've come to be familiar with in my years of telling people that i am gay. and i'm sure most gay people can relate to his. you tell someone that you think would embrace your sexuality with open arms, if not at least without the clenched fist. and the first thing they give you in this weird look on their face that speaks of many things - betrayal or perhaps digust.
the first person whom i ever came out to was a classmate whom i was infatuated with. he was funny and the class joker. and you know how class jokers crave attention. he ended up telling the whole class which really put me off for quite a while. i wasn't ostracized but i got the weird look for the rest of the year. the next person whom i came out to was an outspoken, plus-sized girl who was unabashed about her stand on human rights in its many forms. i really liked her because by just standing beside her for five minutes, you became cleverer already. she always had something good to say that you could accompany with a smirk. it could be a theory, a possiblity a rheteorical question. it helps that she's from the debate team. i told her after we graduated from secondary school in a letter, with which she later replied that given that i knew her stand on such issues, i should have told her so earlier. this encouraged me to tell more people.
and so i told my best friend from secondary school, Sunanthar. she gave me the weird look as well, but i guess she eventually came to embrace it given her studies and work in mass communications and media. the bunch of people that i hung out with in drama club during the nursing school days also came to know eventually. they saw how my ex-boyfriend and i would suspiciously hang around each other for no apparent reason (other than to have sex in school). it was all of this life experience with trying to out myself and slowly leaking the fact that i am gay, that i realized people generally don't take the news too well. well, not if you throw the whole stack of pink documents incriminating yourself out of the blue.
my parents are one such example. they didn't come to know about my sexuality through direct revelation from me. traces of porn that i left behind in the family computer back then, no interest in girls, my obsession for collecting porn in floppy disks (that was way before the existence of external hard disk drives) led them to suspicions. but what really gave me away was one fine day when they came home early one fine day during a Sunday rendezvous with my ex. what gave me away was that my boxers were worn inverted - the label could be seen prominent right under my navel. many years of reprimanding through the bible later, they eventually reached a certain tolerance. i don't tell them about my gay life and they don't ask me anything about it. don't ask, don't tell. as simple as that.
and so, it is through all this limited life experience that i've come up with a set of guidelines for myself when it comes to a social context and whether i should out myself:
1) i really do care about these people enough to want to let them know.
2) these people must have had prior exposure to some form of gay people.
3) if they have not had prior exposure, they must have had a lot of sex (i'm not sure why, but these people seem to take it better than most others).
4) no prudes.
5) no Christians.
6) not at work.
7) ostracized people seem to take it better as well. under-dogs and all that.
in case you think that i'm one of those weird people who write motivational sentences on post-it pads and stick them on my walls, let my clarify that these are guidelines that i keep in my head. i'm thinking that the homosexuality nature of having to hide so many things in life has really coloured my way of life. i keep everything in my head.
for fear of writing something in a pink pen that may poke a hole in my blue way of life.
Pangkeng and i have been working together for so long that there's nothing much about him that i don't know. or even if there's something about him that i don't know, it's most likely he thinks that it's not relevent to our friendship. now that i've got all my bases covered (phew!), let me just tell you that if you asked me a decade back who my best friend would be, the last person in mind would most definitely be a ganster/hooligan (an Ah Beng in local context) sort of chracters. our friendship seems to work for some strange reason. maybe it's becuase we are colleagues. or maybe we just seem to share the same interests - good food, cheap beer, great music - all in the pursuit of leisure. he inspired me to download and entire list of 90s music that we listened through our schooling days (boybands included) whilst i returned the favour with Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged). we bounce interests of each other and we benefit greatly from it.
when it comes to my private life though, i wasn't that inclined to share much about the colourful ex bits. well okay, i do. but i convert all the Johns to Joannas, reassign the orifices i stick my wad into, and generally change the masculine to feminine. at that particular point of time, i was dating an ex whom i did call Charissa. for some strange reason, i've always wanted to date any girl named Charissa. i'm thinking i owe this to watching too many episodes of The O.C. (ALA Marissa). but since i wouldn't even entertain the prospect of a girlfriend, i made with the calling of my ex, Charissa. this was apparently, ex. no. 5. Charissa, was someone that i would frequently tell Kegal Laughs, The Fiddy Cent Model and Pangkeng about during our course of work during the night shifts. it makes me sorely uncomfortable keeping secrets from friends, but i managed to convince myself that it was for a greater good. well, at least my greater good.
so you could imagine how i felt one fine day when The Fiddy Cent Model quickly hurried me to a cigarette break, bursting with news that was 'about Pangkeng and The Porcelain Cleavage (Pangkeng's long-time love interest who had vanished from the ward under administrative pretext). someone at the work place told Kegal Laughs who eventually told The Fiddy Cent Model that (allow me to take a breath)... The Porcelain Cleavage was sighted taking the elevator closest to the maternity ward with a breat pump (i typed breast bump by accident - insert frat boy laugh hur hur) in hand. this other colleague of ours took the same elevator as her and told her 'not to tell anyone what you saw'. i would like to say that she then proceeded to slide a slender finger across her neck with a menacing look on her face, but then, the Porcelain Cleavage just left it at that.
the girls obviously couldn't keep something as juicy as this to themselves. besides, the particular piece of news was of direct relevance to us, after all, it's Pangkeng's girl we're talking about. indeed, intense discussion were carried out throughout the course of that night shift. the facts were that there's a mother involved. there's a baby involved. and it doesn't take a genius to figure out the missing part of the equation - Who's the father? (cue dramatic and suspenseful music). that's one nagging question, the other would be - Is Pangkeng the father? (cue even more dramatic and suspense-laden music)
Pangkeng would have most definitely told me about Porcelain Cleavage's baby if he knew. and though i couldn't really confirm whether he knew, it was through logical assumption to guess that he was being kept in the dark about the whole thing. Porcelain Cleavage after all was seeing three prospective men at that point of time. though it was just a haunch, i had the feeling that Pangkeng wasn't the father.
just for the heck of it, we also came up with a timeline of sorts to give the events a certain chronological order and also to plan our budgets for birthday parties in the future. the only thing left was to figure out when the baby's birthday was. The Fiddy Cent Model had an ingenius idea for this. my hospital apparently, has an SAP application that keeps a census of all patients who have stayed or are currently residing in the hospital. a quick name search of Porcelain Cleavage's real name revealed - 'D/O Porcelain Cleavage' (daughter/of).
'Why is it that she still doesn't have a name?' Kegal Laughs asked.
another haunch in my gut, but it was pretty easy to figure this one out. 'she's a single mom,' i said with a million dollar smirk that said 'oh yeah! i got this one!'.
naming a child for most part, is always a two person thing. daddy bounces ideas off mom. mom would be there to veto most of the ludicrous names like Crystal (sounds like a prostitute), Chantel (sounds like a street worker) or Cherry (ditto). in the end, mom would come up with her own list of names, whitte them down to two and pick one. daddy merely just plays a supporting role with various nods of approval and look of disdain, by the time mommy's water bag bursts, the baby would be named. in this particular equation however, there isn't a daddy. so baby wasn't named. this entire naming thing was a theory, however. for all we know, babies in the system don't have their real names displayed. either way, it was a gut feeling that she was a single mom.
if you asked me, it was actually quite a burden keeping a piece of information that one's best mate should know. yet at the same time, i knew that it would really tear Pangkeng to bit to hear about it. but i figured that it was a matter of sooner or later. and anyways, better to hear it from good friends rather than colleagues. sooner or later, might as well be sooner right? it was thus that i started planning a dinner outing with a night of revelations thrown in.
the whole thing happened at a jazz bar. it was one of those places that was al fresco, had plenty of smoking tables, expats here and there with their foreign wives or local girlfriends, moderately-priced beer and of course, live jazz. it was humid, but the atmosphere was truly warm in terms of company. the staff were really efficient and in good company, it was really the place for an offloading of secrets.
Pangkeng and i met together before the girls. we had already prepared Pangkeng on that particular morning, stating that we had something important to reveal to him that particular night. the girls had a netball practice prior to the jazz bar dinner. so the boys decided to have dinner and drinks first. it was during that dinner and drinks that i decided to whip out a photo of Charissa and me and show it to Pangkeng. i didn't know why i did it. perhaps to cushion the blow that Pangkeng was about to receive later. or maybe i was bursting with my own telling.
i slid the polaroid of my ex and me across the table and said, 'this is the Charissa whom i've been talking about for so long.'
'fucking hell....' was the first thing Pangkeng said. i was crouched and cowering in a fetal position, half-expecting a punch in the face. but hearing Pangkeng, i knew that it was more or less a green light.
'anyways, i knew long ago already lor!' was the second thing Pangkeng said. he proceeded to explain about my blog, something which i have never ever brought up within a working context. apparently, a lot of people gay and non-gay read this blog. and it's somewhat poking a big pink hole in my professional life. not that anyone actually brings it up to me directly. but still, people know. whether this blog is a boon or a bane, i've yet to actually affirm that.
either way, it wasn't till about an hour later that the girls arrived and we broke the news about Procelain Cleavage to Pangkeng. suffice to say, his response was awfully quiet. like i said, hearing aobut a girl that he really likes becoming a single mom was something that would really tear him up. we kept asking questions to confirm certain truths and assumptions about the whole matter. but Pangkeng obviously didn't have his heart in it. he kept giving one-worded answers and responses. i'm not sure if the girls could tell because they kept pressing him with questions.
and that was when i decided to divert the whole topic so as to alleviate Pangkeng's burden. i whipped out my wallet once again and did the polaroid sliding across the table thing. 'This is Charissa...' i began.
the girls both lit a cigarette in response.
it's almost half a year now since the whole revelation and many things have happened. i broke off with Charissa. Pangkeng and Porcelain Cleavage are attached. baby Vera is now nearly a year old (just a fortnight away). Kegal Laughs is getting married (next week). and most importantly, the colleagues are pretty accepting when it comes to me. the strange thing about life is that all the secrets that you keep pretty much lead to assumptions in the minds of others.
and it's these assumptions that lead to perhaps falling outs, grieviences and other moments of misery.
Monday, May 18, 2009
how i decided to out myself to cheer Pangkeng up (part one)
(this story happened towards the end of 2008 and it has been hibernating, like many other stories that i have, for quite some time. i was waiting for the cat to be out of the bag, and since almost everything in this story is common knowledge now, it should and ought and will be told)
everybody loves a little gossip now and then. i mean, in all honesty, even the purest of heart loves to listen to the foulest of deeds.
turth be told, even if you are not a person who really indulges in the actual exchange of malicious information about others, and take great Scahdenfrude in doing so, one would naturally be most curious about it. why is she always so cranky in the morning? why does she always talk with her teeth clenched and dilated pupils? you mean he's the one who left the urine stains on the toiletbowl? you really think her husband left her for another man? with the exception of the last one, these are just some prime examples of gossip that are constantly being whispered in hushed tones around my workplace. the last one was just inspired by a piece of porn i watched recently - Private Man #7 - Desperate Househusbands (i am not making this up!).
well, nurses however are of a slightly different breed. we most certainly don't have a photocopying room stacked full of toner and A4 paper (we survive on a lot of pre-printed pamphlets, forms and booklets). we don't have a pantry to call our own because the hospital decrees that it belongs to the patient (in fact, they call it 'The Patient's Pantry'). we do have a tea room though, that smells of something sour combined with an essence of death and decay (people of various cultures keeping foods in the fridge for too extensive a period of time... say, 2-3 days). what we do have, is a unisex toilet. you can often hear people trading secret from the corridor outside my work place's unisex toilet. and as a proud owner of masculine genitalia, i find that each time i enter the toilet, the women fall into a hushed silence or an exaggerated greeting. i highly doubt that it has to do with the size of my genitalia, come to think of it.
so other than the unisex toilets, where do nurses do it then? you see those curtains hanging beside your loved one's hospital bed? yeap, nurses do it behind closed curtains. while doing nursing-related procedures and routines, no less. i, for one, have personally listened to a colleague complaining about her husband while changing diapers for a patient. gossip, as you can see, is most certainly a dirty business in more ways than one.
from a guy's perspective, working in a female-orientated environment, one just can't help but be constantly bombarded by a barrage of information of what goes in the ward daily. the catfights, the medication errors, the major brouhahas, the moments of idiocy and a million little pieces of other gossipy paraphernalia - all usually traded in between shifts like a score card. i don't often get these bits of information because i'm always all frowny-faced and irritated at the start of my night shifts. Kegal Laughs and The Fiddy Cent Model are different though. on days when they are not menstruating, they are usually chirpy and fresh-faced, looking very much alive. so they always get all the gossip. not that it matters much to me, because all their gossip always ends up with me.
here's the thing about gossip that's really curious. gossip is somewhat like a curse. once someone hears a iece of gossip, the onus falls upon the receiver to technically tell someone else. it is an open secret that gossip has to be spread like wildfire or marmalade. everyone knows that it's usually wrong to do it, and yet, we still do. in a strange way, i think that i'm blessed in the sense that i don't find myself having the need to tell anyone else about whatever i hear at work. okay, maybe i do tell whatever i've learned at work to people outside of work. but in all honesty, gossip at work simple gives me a different perspective of what i perceive certain individuals to be. and yes, perhaps a little leverage over others.
another thing about myself that i discovered about gossip is that for some strange reason, people just tend to tell me things. not at work of course, where i'm mostly as irritated and angry as the bull on the Red Bull logo. but on a social level, i realized that all i have to do is put on a look of aloofness, light up a cigarette and give occasional grunts and nods of affirmation, and people just naturally dole out the fat. what made me come to this conclusion was actually an overnight session with a sex buddy in a local chain of cheap 'transit rate' (2 hours for $30, $10 for each hour thereafter) motels. no glowing neon lights of coconut trees and bikini women, but they do have ESPN, HBO and a free toothbrush. this sex buddy of mine no longer keeps contact with me. okay, he does, but somehow i don't find myself that keen for random sex these days.
anyways, sex buddy and me are usually the $50 sort ($30 + 2 hours x $10). we have sex, smoke cigarettes, consume maybe a vowel (not A, O or U) or two, watch a bit of cable or whatever's showing on TV, discuss about our lives and then proceed on to have more sex. it's usually during the in-betweens that we start sharing stuff and catching up on each other's happenings. and the thing about this particular sex buddy is that he's pretty well-informed about the gay community. he knows which famous guy is bonking with which other toyboy, which famous singer prior to becoming famous was actually for rent, which famous actor is gay and has had plastic surgery done and many other pieces of gossip that can really indict people in the eyes of the law.
it was one fine day though (or more appropriately, one fine night), many months ago, that i decided to ask him out of curiosity, 'Why do you tell me these things? i mean, it's not like i am very familiar with the gay circle and it's actually highly scandalous stuff that you are telling me.'
he did this funny head action that they he always does. it looks like a cross between the ghost in Ju-On (Korean horror movie) and someone thinking really pensive thoughts. actually, i do have the word - 'cocked', as in he 'cocked' his head. but frankly speaking, i don't really like to use the word 'cock' because i mainly use it only when i'm having sex, as in, 'suck on my (insert word)' or 'sit on my (insert word)'. but for general understanding, he did cock his head, which actually makes a pretty good substitute for 'blowjob'. hur hur. but i digress.
'well, i'm thinking that you actually give people that certain sense of trustworthiness. i can't exactly place a finger on it. but you are not exactly affected by the mainstream,' he paused for a moment and now he cocked his head to the other side. if you see the number of times he cocks his head the entire night, you would think that he would need a cervical collar just to keep the neck in proper place. 'this counter-culture nature of yours just sorta makes you immune to this... well, inherent need for gay people to gossip.'
i remember thinking at that point of time whether this was true. i also remember thinking of having sex again.
'so, in other words, i make a good receptacle for gossip?'
'hmmm... *cock*,' he pondered, '*cock*, yes i would say so'.
'well...' i took a last puff of my menthol lights and extinguished it into the all-too-familiar porcelain that cup that i always used as a make-shift ash tray in this particular chain of motels. 'allow me to see whether you make a good receptacle for this as well then...'
a colleague of ours (Kegal Laughs, Pangkeng, The Fiddy Cent Model) whom Pangkeng really loves to bits was sent to the administrative department under orders of senior management. well, at least that was the official story that the supervisors let leak to us. and with enough exposure in the working world, one would know that a colleague would never be suddenly 'upped' from a workplace without any rhyme or reason. but at that point of time, i didn't really think on it (camera zooms forward slightly), pray on it (camera zoom) or sleep on it (last camera zoom), to quote from Boston Legal.
now Pangkeng likes a lot of girls. in fact, he treats every woman with a certain sense of respect that many people just can't see. the respect in question of course, is apparently coated with a lot of lewd jokes and name-calling. for example, he calls a 62-year old Patient-care Assistant with arthritis and heart problems, 'Hot Mama'. he initiated the 'squeeze-your-boobs-for-us' campaign whereby if we night shift boys get bored at work, we get Kegal Laughs and The Fiddy Cent Model to squeeze their boobs for laughs. in actual truth, it's all in the name of harmless fun and he means well. this girl though, she's apparently different.
she's the type of girl that you find in those sappy Taiwanese dramas about love and romance and metrosexuals acted by suspiciously gay men. she's definitely pretty. she's always decked in shorts and a v-neck. and she's very blessed with gigantic boobs, if not at least big. if my blog were an ongoing drama series, i would hire people to turn on electric fan to flow in her direction whenever she enters a room. her hair would fly in all sorts of choreographed directions. of course, so would her skirt. but like i said, she's always wearing shorts. so pretty is she that i sometimes think of her as 'the face of facial wash'. if they ever developed a clevage whitening lotion (i'm sure they must have something like that in the market), hers would be the face (or more appropriately, the chest) of it.
as i mentioned, Pangkeng apparently, has always had a thing for her. Pangkeng mainly being a 'boobs' man, makes me think that it's mostly the v-neck and its contents that presents a certain allure to him. but he usually tells me otherwise.
'she's just very nice to me lor...' Pangkeng said when i once asked him in between a cigarette break at work, why he adored her so much.
Singaporeans seems to define a lot of things as 'nice'. Sex is nice. Coffee is nice. Dogs are nice. Mice are nice. anything indescribably favourable to a person seems to put defined as 'nice'. having always had a need to put indescribable things to words, i therefore decided i just had to probe further. 'i'm sure many other people in this world are equally nice as well,' i paused to exhale, 'but you have to tell me what else about her makes you like her. her character, the small little things she does, the big big things she has on her chest? please, anything but nice.'
and here's the thing about Pangkeng. he's not exactly good with words other than expletives, lewd vocabulary and dialects. so he was most certainly stumped for a moment. two puffs of his Marlboro Lights and silence ensued.
he finally said, 'i think it's mainly because she likes me for who and what i am'.
if you've seen Pangkeng before, you would most definitely know that he's nowhere near good-looking. but like i said before, you need to have worked with him for at least two shifts before you realize that deep beneath all that physical derelict, there's really a heart of gold. having worked for practically two years with Pangkeng with him permenently being my junior and carrying out all the menial tasks that i burden him with, he has never as so much said no. well, okay give and take a few expletives. but it's all just a matter of expression for him. he has had so much contact with patients that they always end up telling him stuff like 'if you ever have need of (insert random service), just call me with this number on the name card'. he has been offered handphone sales at cost price, job offers, discounts at restaurants and litigation services. in fact, just about two months ago, a lawyer offered to write up his will, sans legal fees.
'Divorce leh?' Pangkeng asked.
'half-price for you,' the lawyer replied with a deep chortle.
all that said, prior to her transfer to the administrative department, Pangkeng and Facial Wash Face were so-called 'dating'. they did courtship-ish activities such as walks in the park, drinks at coffee outlets, holding hands in movie theatres and the like. at that point of time however, Facial Wash Face was also simultaneously seeing two other men. not that there's anything technically wrong about that as she never promised these guys anything. and furthermore, she explicitly told these guys about the presence of the other potential men. my guess was that there was nothing in these men as yet, that would tip her decision towards commitment at that point of time.
so you can imagine how big the blow it must have been when Pangkeng heard that Facial Wash Face was suddenly trasnferred to administration. admittedly, the only thing that really cushioned the blow was the fact that she apparently cut contact with her prior to the transfer. she never replied his text messages, never picked up phone calls. it reminds me of Romeo when we first see him in the play, 'private in his chambers pens himself, shuts up windows, locks far daylight out, and makes himself an artificial night'. Pangkeng had indeed withdrawn into his private emotional chambers. no amount of boob self-squeezing (from the girls) and light brushing of his nipple (on my part - he always likes that, it's like charity to me) could rescue him from the darkness that he had perhaps created for himself.
our next encounter with her wasn't till several months later. time has definitely healed wounds. but it takes no more than a mere paper cut to burst open when took months to mend. we bumped into Facial Wash Face somewhere in June or July last year, she, on her way to work while we, back from work. decked in a white dress and blouse, she looked really bloated. fat, actually. but it's rude to call people fat. and you're liable to strung up in a litigation battle. the curious thing though, was that she was holding a huge piece of newspaper over her torso. i don't know whether it was ironic or fat's... i mean, fate's (hur hur) idea of a joke, but there was an equally huge slimming agency ad right smack in front of the portion of the newspaper that we could see. i don't know if the rest of my gang noticed it, but it was the kind of thing that brought a smirk to my face.
for Pangkeng though, it was nowhere close to being a positive encounter for him. i thought whether Pangkeng upon seeing her that bloated, was the type that went for superficials. but i chided myself, thinking again about what he mentioned to me with regards to acceptance on her part for what he truly was. Pangkeng remained quiet for the rest of the day.
(it's a bit wordy, so i'll post part two this coming Saturday)
Monday, October 13, 2008
i've always found that you can tell a lot about people by asking how they spend their Sundays. some people buy groceries. some spend it catching up over brunch. some try to recuperate from Saturday night parties while others are preparing for Sunday night parties. some wake up to breakfast in bed made by a loved one, while others wake up realizing that the one that they made love to has the face of breakfast in bed gone wrong. people like me though, simply find myself thinking up of ways to facilitate sleep in church.
Sunday mornings for me, have never really been my cup of tea. mainly because of church. 'it's only two hours every Sunday, can't you just make the effort?' my father would always lament. true, it's two hours. but time is relative as Einstein once said. two hours of doing things that i have absolutely no interest in other than trying my best to sleep. there was a period of time when i used to hideout in the church toilet, reading comics or playing with my Gameboy till the congregationg started to sing the benediction. unfortunately, my father found out about that one fine day and forced me to sit with him and mother from then on.
so i started to aim for excuses to not even set foot in church. before i went into the permanent night shifts, i would always roster myself for Sunday morning shifts. and this was technically done with the church's blessing even, what with the corporate prayers always mentioning 'people who have to work today, may God give them the strength and serenity to pull through a day's labour'. of course, this being a game of wits with my father, was never ever a bed of roses. eventually, father made the suggestion of attending EVENING services. and for a period of time, that meant going to work at 5am in the morning, finishing at 3.15pm, reaching home at 4.30pm and going to church again at 5pm.
these days, my father doesn't really harp over the fact that i make up flimsy excuses to skip church. maybe he has resigned to the fact that we'll be go different directions in the after life. or maybe he would rather hide the fact that he has a gay son who smokes, wears clothes that are a little to tight for Christianity, and has hair the colour of Satan. or maybe it's just me trying my best to sleep on the Sabbath in church.
after all, the Big Guy up there did declare the Sabbath as the day of rest, no?
as you might already know from previous blog posts, Sunday evenings are always entertaining dinners with the paternal family. there would be the occasional picnic at the Chinese Gardens where the only thing remotely Chinese are the Chinese people wandering around looking for anything that's remotely Chinese (give and take, there's a lone pagoda in the gardens that looks seriously infested with mosquitoes and a musty-smelling imperial gate that serves as an excuse for an oriental-inspired garden).
on more jazzed-up occasions, the family would head to random family-themed restaurants in the western vicinity of Singapore and pig out. when i think about it actually, we are quite possibly the reason why restaurants like these declare their dishes to be 'family favourites'. it fosters a sense of pseudo-kinship and many other random adjectives to describe a general being of closeness to one another.
either way, Sunday dinners in my life are mostly with the relatives, trying my very best to avoid their pesky reminders that as the eldest grandson, i ought to be the first in line to walk the marriage aisle and have little Jonathan Jrs. for my grandparents to entertain themselves with. this is also why Sundays are the only days when i am desperately looking for wine (the only accepted drink with alcoholic content within my paternal family's guarded morals) to help speed up the excruciating process.
we're not rich folks, my paternal family. thus the average Sunday evening dinner would be done at a random relatives place on a weekly rotational basis amongst the various relatives. for some reason, it's always the same type of food at the same relatives place. to begin with, there's my grandmother's place where my gruff, beer-guzzling grandfather would whip up traditional food like soup noodles. it's made up of soup and no surprises here, noodles. the soups is quite the fascinating chicken broth strewn with vegetables and weekday leftovers. it looks and tastes a bit like a culinary casulaty. i didn't have a word to describe this infernal creation when i was much younger. it wasn't until i started reading Dickens' Oliver Twist and discovered 'gruel' (albeit noodles instead of the usual rice or cereals or oats), when everything fell in place. many years down the road, the only reason why i still consume my grandfather's soup noodles i simply because he's the only other person in the family to ingest beer on quite a regular basis. that, and the fact that he has tattoos and once worked as a spirit medium to put my aunties and father through school. respect.
and then there's my father's eldest sister who has quite the interesting place in Bishan. they are what i've always found to be a bizarre family. father's a building contractor. mother's a Mandarin tutor who ensured that every single grandson in the family got at least a 'B' in their mother tongue studies (i got a B3 for my GCSE 'O' levels, thanks to her). son's currently serving his national service while the daughter's an architecture undergrad and the only one whom i can talk art and pop cultural references with.
it is evident from their home that they really like art. an avante-garde painting in the living depicts there people on a bench in some bizarre cubism form. kitsch tribal masks of a face sticking out a tongue, a face with its eyes closed and an indescribable face that prolly says 'i'm sorry for the face but i just had some noodle soup' (though in actual truth, all of those faces could possibly say that as well). a random vase. a random picture. a huge ass modernist mirror in the living room that seems to make the house just that little bigger. the food would usually be anything ranging from Thai to Korean to Japanese to local fare. i always feel like there's something going on at that place, just that i can't place my finger on what it is. metaphorical and literally speaking of course, because the art that they own looks really expensive and fragile.
and there's my favourite place belong to my Robert Kiyosaki of an Uncle where they would always serve up the same coconut rice with random dishes of fried finger foods. they live in this cramped three-roomed condominium apartment in the suburbs of Singapore which they got out of reason to close proximity to my grandparents. them grandparents served as convenient day care for my cousins who are currently primary schooling. it's a really intimate setting, what with the lush orangey lighting, nineteen degrees air-conditioning and uber-plush designer sofas.
since there are only five sofa seats in the entire house, most of the relatives will end up sitting on the chilly marble flooring. despite the entire place being really cosy and all, there's still this underground fight going on for seats that everyone does in true 'forbidden city' style of political assassination and espionage. once someone evacuates a seat, everyone suddenly moves in for the kill like ninjas in the dark of the orangey-lighting night. quite possibly because it's either your ass on the plush designer chair or plush designer floor. and like i always say, God made the buttocks with chairs in mind. if it were up to me, i would make chairs with buttocks in mind (hur hur!).
none the less, dinner at the condominium would always be filled with vivid stories of my pre-school cousins' (John and Grace) antics. John whom some of you might recall, was named after me. and it's through these stories that my Uncle of a Robert Kiyosaki's wife would tell, that i start to think that he's in a lot of ways like me when i was in primary school. he's whiny, he cries a lot, he gets bullied often, he has a bad haircut and he always has a gameboy or a book in tow. and he is crazy about High School Musical. i've always liked visiting their condominium because it's like reading an entire collection of Baby Blue comics, except that i do it under orangey-lighiting, chilly air-conditioning and my l33t ninja ass on chair.
and then well.... there's my place which nobody really enjoys. it's a cramped government-built housing apartment that is bordering on being sterile and aseptic, thanks to my mother's OCD for cleanliness. my home is practically like a safe haven of hygiene when you compare it to the general state of the estate outside of my home. litter is strewn everywhere. you see a disused sofa in the corner, used condoms and cigarette butts on the corridor, dying plants outside apartments and many other various bric-a-brac that basically deters people from visiting.
we are prolly as entertaining as a visit to an elderly retirement home. we don't subscribe to cable. we don't have exciting DVD collections (i do actually, but it's mainly drama serials, arthouse flicks and porn). we don't have high-definition television. we don't have exciting stories to tell ('And did i tell you about the time i walked in on my son having sex with another guy...'). we have excellent food cooked by my mother (in my humble yet biased opinion), but it's quite an acquired taste (cold salad pasta). we actually do have those orangey lightings that make people feel as comfortable as hotel rooms. admittedly though, i'm the only person who uses it when i invite strange foreign men back for a good time. then again, i rarely invite these strange foreign men back even, preferring 'your place' or 'transit rates are thirty bucks for two hours'. for some reason, we always deck our guests in ghostly white lighting and in cramped quarters.
i don't entertain the relatives for fear of those pesky girlfriend questions. and besides, we don't have time to entertain because my brother and i would always be in the kitchen working at our individual stations as Chef de Partie under the tyranny of my Chef de Cuisine of a mother. 'no no NO! you don't slice carrots that way!' she would always scream before proceeding to julienne 7/8 of the carrots herself, leaving me with the head of the carrot to dispose of.
that of course, leaves the father with the job of the Maître d' and provider of entertainment for the evening. it used to be a gracious thing for my father. he would pour drinks, make small talk with the various relatives and attempt to chastise the relatives in a polite way for whatever evils they have succumbed to for the week. it used to be much more prominent during a phase my father went through when he acted as though as his home was the source where all goodness emanated from. thank the goodness that emanated from the source that those days are over.
these days, it's DVD entertainment from our local movie rental. kiddy movies, family movies, anything from Pixar, Disney or Dreamworks. you name it, we prolly have watched it. however, it was with last week's family gathering at my home, that my father apparently upped the ante by introducing the paternal family to home made videos. my father is quite the gadget freak. he owns practically everything electronically-cool from a Macbook to an iPhone to the standard digital camera to a video camera to a DVD recorder to.... okay lah. my whole family is gadget-crazy. my father, mother, brother and me all own iPhones.
still, it's because of the Macbook that my father's creative juices started flowing like the source of goodness. my father managed to single-handedly create a rather professional-looking video of my brother's basic military training graduation parade (in local terms, POP) using the Macbook. it was actually quite good, albeit interspersed with clashing Richard Clayderman music. macho photoshots of my brother with his other camp mates accompanied the irritating tune of Ballade pour Adeline. i don't know if it's just me but Richard Clayderman music always makes me want to go have a tinkle. maybe it's the fact that the only places where i hear it these days are mainly in the lifts or the toilets. the general response to the video though, was that it actually looked quite professional. which basically inspired my father to further heights and a really bizarre conversation which my father and i had later that night.
it was while stacking up the guest chairs together that my father started. 'i hope you don't feel that we love you any lesser just because i did the video for your brother, okay?'
we seldom have conversations like that and i seriously dislike having such conversations. i mean, we don't even touch each other as father and son and now we are talking about sibling jealousy? the truth of the reality was that the video had about as much effect on me as scissors against rock. it's just a family video.
'not really, i would rather have appeared in porn' was the acerbic reply that the sarcastic monster in me wanted to reply and laugh over. but he said it with such seriousness that i felt really bad for actually thinking of such a reply. thus i decided to go with the politically-correct answer, 'i'm didn't think of it as that way,' i replied as i lifted the stack of wooden Ikea guest chairs. 'in fact, feel free to make a video of my POP if you want to.' which i am obviously regretting now.
it was a little peace offering to show that all was cool between us as father and son. except, the only problem was that most of my army photos were not exactly the stuff that you would show your family over dinner. 'okay this is the photo of me in a blonde wig when i dragged for an army function' or 'this is when a bunch of army friends and me in bathrobes acting like we were caught in bed, no no no... it was just a one night thing that happened after too many drinks at the local
bar and besides, we used protection'. after rummaging through my collection of army photos. i only found about twenty that i could safely hand over to my father for proper family entertainment purposes.
it's not a lot. but hey.... Richard Clayderman songs never make people stay for long.
Saturday, August 09, 2008
how i saw God in seven thousand words of academia
'God spoke to me today!' is one sentence that you do not want to be seen shouting along the streets. in fact, the only places where i think one can afford to do so without risking being put into an asylum is at an evangelical meeting or some other place of religious purpose. you see, throughout the history of mankind, humanity has learnt that God usually speaks only to a select few. they include the insane, people on drugs, or people who are simply trying to find a substantial reason to commit mass murder, terrorism, or make a quick buck. of course, that still doesn't stop the multitude from claiming that the almighty creator (or some other higher entity of equal stature) hath thus spoken to them.
Benjamin Folds (better known as Ben Folds) once wrote a song (Not The Same) which features a guy who climbed up a tree while tripping on acid. the next day, he came down saying that God spoke to him while he was up in the tree. he became a born-again Christian since then. then there's Diane Duyser who was touched by the 'holy toast' when she took a bite into a homemade sandwich in 1984 and realized that it had an effigy of the Virgin Mary on it. in 2004, it still hadn't grown mouldy and in fact, she sold it for $28,000 via e-bay1-2. and as if that wasn't enough, George Bush in 2004 declared to a group of 60 Amish in Pennsylvania, that 'God speaks through me.'3 okay okay, to be fair, the whole phrase that he actually said was 'I trust God speaks through me. Without that I couldn't do my job.'4 which brings about the question... 'what job?' either there's something seriously wrong in the communication process or there's something wrong with the listener. a point of irony worth noting would be that God incidentally spoke to Moses through a burning bush in a desert. burning BUSH (hur hur!).
so everyone seems to be hearing or seeing or even eating the voice of God and other God-associated phenomena these days, but i still don't see the light of it. or in this case, 'hear' the voice of God. one of the reasons why i still can't wholeheartedly bring myself to Christianity (despite having been brought up in a Christian home for practically twenty years), is this refusal to believe that God is about as effective as the Bush administration when it comes to global affairs. everything happens for a reason, yes we get that overused point. the wars, the famines, the earthquakes, the droughts, the rise of the Superbugs, the increasing oil prices, ERP increments, all this happens for a darn good reason which we mere mortals just can't see the light of. it would be much appreciated though, if God would actually give a decent explanation as to why shit happens in this world. like a memorandum or a circular or some sort ('Okay okay, i sneezed while i was trying to fix the damn tectonic plates, everyone affected by it has their loved ones restored to life and gets a free beach house in a country of their choice').
this actually makes me contemplate whether the world would be a better place if God actually spoke to us via some method of communications. for one, we would have a hundred lesser versions of the Bible to squabble over. we wouldn't have to scrutinize the scriptures for the exact meaning of things. we wouldn't have so many different denominations believing in the same God yet, having different beliefs. but then again, humanity is equally screwed up as proven through history. i mean, look at the Isrealites that Moses brought out into the Wilderness for forty years. they had a substantially better system of communications with God5. most items of concern went via Moses who spoke and interceded on their behalf. they whined, they complained and they had little faith that God would actually lead them into the Promised Land. yet God accommodated with all their bull. it's actually almost like Singapore. we're 43 this coming 9th of August and still a nation of whiners and complainers. just look at our local newspaper forums.
so mayhaps a direct communicative link to God might not be that great an idea after all. given the thousands of implications that could prolly exist only in an alternative reality, we're better off figuring out why God does the things He does.
after all, what is a faith, without faith?
two thousand words is not a lot of words. that's what i've been trying to convince myself for the past month. comparatively, it's about the size of Genesis Chapter 1-3 (2,124 words). it's half a chapter of Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (the 1st chapter's worth 4,950 words). it's a few hundred Little Misses and Mr. Men books combined together. obviously, two thousand words is not a lot of words to read. but vice-versa, two thousand words is a lot of word to churn out into an academic essay. now throw in the date, 28th July 2008 and four essays worth a total of seven thousand words and you've got the due date and the amount of words i have to generate into four essay of substantial quality.
one part of the pursuit of academia that i've come to love and hate at the same time would be that of essay-writing. admittedly, i love to write. i could sit hunched on a chair, typing and typing and typing for hours on my laptop. and that wouldn't deter me from the qwerty feel of the keyboard, the romantic glare of the laptop screen, the random indie band or trance anthem blasting from my media player. a love for the English language just adds more passion to the whole thing. which basically leads me to declare that writing for me, is like having sex with the English language.
but you know what it's like having too much of something that one likes - it basically kills all pleasure that can be derived from it (which is what's happening to me now, btw). four essays worth seven thousand words which the procrastinator in me refused to even start till the 25th of July. admittedly, it's not even a matter of procrastinating, but rather, a combined effort between laziness, complacency and bad time management.
thus, it was with three days left to the submission date, that i began to write out my random bits of academia substantiated with citations and references. the initial thought was that if i poured my heart and soul into the writing, i could actually churn out those seven thousand words within seventy-hours. besides, my command of the English language was pretty good if not better than average. expressing my opinions about mentorship, qualitative vs quantitative research and a journal article is really easy-peasy when compared to the stuff i write online. but as with most things in life, the reality is always far from the truth.
trawling online for journal articles is indeed not an easy thing to do. one moment, the opinions of the articles seem to sway towards you. and the next, they seem to be going against. before i knew it, i was lost in a sea of articles and quotations that i didn't know how to translate into proper, meaningful words. and thus three days later and many citations such as Oermann6 (1999) claims that the essay 'provides an opportunity for students to select, organize, and present their ideas in writing and to develop creative and original responses to questions' (pooi!), i only managed to generate a total of 1,954 words into the essay titled, 'describe ways in which the mentor can facilitate learning and assessment in the clinical environment'. it's time like these when i wish i could do the damn essay in point form and actually still get marks for it.
so there i was presented with a dilemma. i could either hand up one assignment and pass one module for this semester and retake the other two the next (which on hindsight, is a really stupid idea). or i could try writing something less substantial and less perfect than my allowed standards and make do with mediocre marks for this semester and fall short of getting my first class honours. when i think about it now actually, either way, i'm screwed. so i decided to put on a great amount of humility and head down to the school to ask for an extension. on the day of submission itself, no less.
arriving at the school which was located at a busy corner of the central business district, i saw many of my classmates still struggling to print their assignments. some had forgotten to label page numbers. other had forgotten to print their 'acknowledgement of work' page. all of them had basically finished their assignments. it made me feel rather awkward when they asked me 'hey, you finished all your assignments already?'
alas, the administrator (a nice lady with stylish bangs in her late 30s) refused my request for an extension politely. not helping was the fact that two porky-looking administrators (i received their name cards which simply stated that they were 'Country Managers' for the Singapore branch of the school) kept on going 'oh, you're the boy who got the highest marks for the previous assignment!' and simply added to my shame.
all hope was seemingly lost. that was until i stepped into the classroom to find another classmate still heavily attacking her assignments. when i relate to other people of my experiences of her, i call her the 'Tupperware mother'. she's a little plump, she's dowdy, she sells tupperware (she gives me a Tupperware catalogue every month), she attends PTA meetings, has two young boys and rides a scooter of a colour better described as 'bile' or 'vomitus'. though she's genuinely a nice person and all, she has certain traits that really irk me. she's the type that constantly asks the lecturer to review her assignment in class. and once she has a finished product, she asks the lecturer again. and with the reviewed product, she would do her thang again. so much so, that it's a bit of an act of desperation sometimes. and desperation, is sometimes quite an ugly thing.
none the less, she was my saviour of sorts this time as she gave me a piece of good news when she saw my resigned looks. 'the lecturers in UK have decided to extend the submission date! you can hand in the assignment on Wednesday instead! there's still hope, Jon!' apparently, what transpired was that the online submission was a bit faulty during that particular period of time. many people submitting the assignment at the same time caused the server to crash. the submission date was extended due to this. which basically translates into me having TWO MORE DAYS to finish the damn assignments. the first thought that crossed my mind was 'Oh my God'. the second was 'God, oh my... My God, oh... Oh my God!'
apparently, despite my own ugly acts of resignation and desperation, my mind somehow clicked. it seemed like God decided to just somehow push the assignment submission dates a little further. i looked up and actually smiled. which must have looked really crazy. because all that was available to look at when i looked up was the air-conditioning vent and some crummy-looking ceiling boards. actually, if you look closer, you can see the air-condition vapours swirling around to form what seemed like an effigy of Jesus. but then again, i was in a celestial mood. so i can't vouch for it.
and thus, the rush to type began once again. this time, i managed to finish a thousand word critique of a journal article ('The motive of the study was clearly stated in the abstract' & 'The reference list was very well-presented and organized in chronological order' - imagine a thousand words of such obvious facts) and another two thousand words of comparing and contrasting qualitative and quantitative research methods. the latter could be simply solved by actually drawing a straight line through a piece of paper and then sorting them out into points.
on Wednesday evening, i was near the stipulated time for online submission. i still had one remaining article left which i knew i was doomed to not finish. that one was about a recent healthcare initiative and how it has affected the nursing scene. the only things you actually see about nursing in the Singaporean newspapers revolves mainly around pay raises (rare), complaints about service standards (all the time) and touching chicken soup-styled stories about nurses who go the extra mile. perhaps if i SOMEONE gave me more time.... i could actually finish it... of course, this was an idea that didn't cross my mind at that point of time. i was more obsessed with trying to submit my assignments online in the face of some technical difficulties (the server crashed on me as well).
none the less, everything was done by 7.30pm on Wednesday with the one assignment about healthcare initiatives left untouched. i was too tired to think anymore given that i was post-night shift and didn't sleep a wink, plus i had to be at work by 9pm. interestingly, it was while on the way to work that i got a text message from one of my classmates. apparently, the Singapore branch of the school declared that there was a need to submit a hard copy as well in the event of unreceived soft copies via online submission. those who couldn't hand it up by that night, had to do so by tomorrow morning. i got the message at 8pm. i was well on my way to work by then. so on one hand, i had to print out hard copies of all the assignments i've done, which is quite the hassle. yet on the other hand, i have nearly half a day more to actually finish my last assignment at work. if this is not Divine Intervention, then i dunno what it is.
in the end, i decided to not finish up the assignment at all. it was too rushed, and i don't like to hand up work that is of substandard quality. in fact, because of the last minute nature of asking for all our hard copies, i decided to not even go hand in the hard copies which would be flown to the UK. which basically resulted in the school constantly calling me the entire morning the next day while i was trying to sleep post-night shift. they even called my father because i refused to take their calls. and my father being the great abider of rules, woke me up just as i was about to sleep and offered to send me down to the school to hand in my assignments.
at the school, i was filling up the acknowledgement receipts and talking to the receptionist at the same time. it was through her that i found out that once again, God had a hand in this whole submission business. apparently, i was the only one who had not submitted all the hard copies of my assignments. furthermore, the only reason why they could afford to chase me was because the DHL man could not make it for the agreed collection time of the assignments. 'You're very lucky you know, you're very lucky!' and as if that wasn't enough, it was at that point of time when she said 'lucky', that the DHL man stepped in pushing a large trolley to collect the boxes of assignments. God, truly has quite the sense of humour.
so it was through my seven thousand words of academia that i dunno.... saw God for the first time in my life. not literally, but through the various little things that he did. not that i will become a full-fledged Christian after that whole event. but, at least, i can now believe that someone is watching over me (George Gershwin). of course, who wouldn't wish that they had something physical to cling on to when they believe in something? but that is what faith is about, no?
1. Woman 'blessed by the holy toast'. (2004, Nov 17). Retrieved 1st August, 2008, from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4019295.stm
2. Gilin, E. (2004). Your Own Personal Jesus Toast. Retrieved 1st August, 2008, from http://blacktable.com/gillin041202.htm
3. Bush says "God Speaks Through Me" But what does he really mean?. (n. d.). Retrieved 1st August, 2008, from http://www.irregulartimes.com/godspeaksthroughme.html
4. Kamen, A. (2005, October 14). George W. Bush and the G-Word. Retrieved August 1st, 2008 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/10/13/AR2005101301688.html
5. Moses and the Wilderness. (n. d.). Retrieved 2nd August, 2008, from http://bibletime.com/theory/history/moses/
6. Oermann, M. (1999). Developing and Scoring Essay Tests, Nurse Educator. 24(2), 29-32.
(it's a long and wordy post. but thanks for reading my boring experience)
Saturday, July 19, 2008
shitting and coming
humblest apologies for the lack of posts for nearly a month. and believe you me, i've been trying. there are a lot of drafts drafting about in the deserted realms of my blog at the moment. and all of them have a body, it's just that the opening for each blog post is missing. it's practically like a headless zombie fest in my blog at the moment.
you see, the problem is that i'm going through a bout of constipation at the moment. and it's not the type of constipation that comes about when you've had one too many times of anal sex thus resulting in compacted stools at some unreachable end of your bowels. no. it's the type of constipation that afflicts the average writer at the most inconvenient of times. of course, any time for the writer is an inconvenient time. because the writer is constantly able to churn out what his senses tell him into pieces of flowery speech. it's a bit like a pastry chef taking the most mundane of household ingredients and baking them into connoisseur-worthy pieces of food.
apparently, the need to shit or the want to bake pastries (whichever metaphor is more suitable for your palate) is just not that. being bogged down with work and a major hospital audit is not really helping things. even worse is the threat of four nursing essays looming in the background. these assignments have their heads on, but are 'bodyless' so to say. which is way worse than the state of my headless zombie blog posts. but then again, that's no proper excuse for not blogging just as there is no proper excuse for not shitting.
like i always tell my patients who are on a regular dose of morphine or have just been through a minor operation, shitting is one of those things in life (just like coffee and sex), that simply can't, or at least shouldn't be rushed. when it comes, it simply comes. of course, if it's not coming for a month, then one should start seeking medical attention or buying better coffee or changing a sex partner. rushing would just result in something sub-standard and who likes a sub-standard shit? so i'm just waiting to come (i've always wanted to say that on this blog).
and right now, i think i'm coming (there i've said it).
Sunday, June 22, 2008
how croutons turned into fish food while my grandmother used her secret means of comunication on me
i seriously think that the paternal family seem to be running out of ideas when it comes to the sunday gatherings that i mentioned in two blog posts ago. remember those picnic outings with them in the random parks of Singapore? the humongous portable picnic tables and gaudy Spiderman 3 mats from KFC? the ones that were filled with a weird assortment of foods and tetrapack drinks? the ones where everyone would be talking about their families while my father would be doing his Martin Luther thing while my Robert Kiyosaki of an uncle would be reading his books on politics and anything else that would most likely have a '$$$$' sign on its cover? yeap, those sunday gatherings in the park.
these gatherings, much as i find them morbidly embarrassing, are actually quite enjoyable. given the hustle and bustle of the modern day life, one would actually be quite hard-pressed to find a decent and quiet spot to have a picnic. everyone in Singapore it seems, wants a piece of the green on the weekends. and that includes us. but when we do find some nice spot that is actually quiet for once, it's when i start to appreciate these outings the most. and by 'nice spot that is actually quiet', i mean that everyone else in the park is quiet except for my family who makes as much noise as a political rally. other enjoyable things in the park of course include (but are not limited to) - curiously gay rollerbladers, over-dressed joggers, eccentric old people who exercise in the park with their chinky chunky peripherals, et cetera.
so it was with the saturday that had just passed that i found out that my parents were taking out the disposable plastic cups from one kitchen cabinet. now, when the parents start brandishing the disposable plastic cups around the house, it can only mean two things. one, that we're having the relatives over at our place this coming sunday. two, that we're having the picnic gatherings. i decided to go with the former as i remembered the picnic gathering that we had had just about three sundays ago. it was at a relatively desolate spot of green named, 'Chinese Garden'. there were lots of trees, presumably Chinese-looking rocks, Chinese fishes in a broad lake that doubled up as a reservoir and a pagoda at the end of the garden that over-looked the whole estate. it was a place that was really perfect for an evening's jog or a walk in the park. or as one other gay friend so aptly put it, 'a nocturnal rendezvous for them horny homosexuals'.
cruising aside, it was with the assumption that the paternal family were headed for my place the coming sunday that i started the usual routine of hiding all the carnal stuff in my room. and i know i sound like Mary Alice (of Desperate Housewives fame) when i say this, but indeed, every family has their secrets. my dad would start keeping all my Xbox360 games that has 'unchristian'-like covers inside a discreet-looking cabinet beside the television set. i do my part by hiding that bottle of Baileys and the 42 below from sight. my secret stash of gay porn which i usually keep on a shelf just above my bed would have to vanish as well (Cousin: 'Hmmm.... i wonder what CDs you keep in that CD pouch of yours!' *unzips*).
it was on Sunday morning that i discovered the blatant exposure of the Xbox360 games just beside the gaming console itself. on the top most of the stack was Dead Rising which had a cover of the main character in the game bashing a television set into the face of a zombie. to avoid having to show a demonstration of the various other bric-a-brac that the main character can also bash/slice/dice/impale/dismember into/from/on the many many zombies in the game, i decided to start keeping the entire stack of games into that nondescript cupboard as aforementioned. my very observant father of course noticed this and casually mentioned, 'We're not having nai nai (our affectionate term for the grandmother - literally means paternal granny) and all over today, we're going to Chinese Garden instead.'
i started the not-so-tedious process of replacing the empty voids in my room with all my carnal indulgences again.
the picnic gatherings are always a potluck event. every family unit in the paternal side is deputized to bring a consumable of sorts to the gathering by a quick family discussion. the lucky family of the particular outing would have the wild card of 'drinks'. all they had to do was provide a beverage of some sort rather than cook or buy something that would satisfy the palates of everyone. if it's not a fruit punch or rose syrup, it would be the infamous Yeo's tetrapack drinks or Pokka green tea bottles that are a dime a dozen in the homes of Singaporeans across the island. i have always enjoyed it when one particular family gets the 'drinks' designation. they always provide a bottle of wine or at least some sort of sparkling juice. as the cousin from that particular family once told me, 'Wine is acceptable in the bible context okay!'
unfortunately, my family had had the 'drinks' wild card on the previous outing. so this time, we were designated with a food item instead. my mother, being the other of two members of the paternal family who pushes the boundaries of everyone's palates in the paternal family (the other's the family who brings the wine), decided to try a quick and new mushroom soup with croutons. she normally does baked goods like cinnamon rolls and raisin bread and what-danish-nots, but i guess she's a very exploratory person by nature. none the less, don't be fooled by the simplicity of the name of the dish. because, it may sound really, like the crass stuff you find at western dining restaurants, but the end result is somewhat a work of art. of course, she's my mother and this is quite possibly a biased statement.
it all begins with four can of Campbell's mushroom soup, pour in a fair amount of water and put them all to boil in a pot under a medium flame. it's actually quite entertaining to watch while my mother cooks because she will start singing her church choir songs while she's chopping up unidentified bits of 'things' (which i presume are herbs and mushrooms) that will end up in the pot of mushroom soup. it's as if she's singing the mushroom soup to perfection.
the tedious part however, starts from the croutons. my mother would start by butter a million slice of bread, dice them up into a billion cubes, and bake them into that all-too-familiar crispy, salty excellence that i'm so fond of. of course, along the way, the crispy pieces would start flaking into a zillion bits and specks, which would basically result in a real mess on the kitchen floor. which is why it's so tedious. i'm always the one who vacuums the floor after the baking of the croutons.
and with that, the end results is a steaming pot of creamy mushroom soup with floating bits and pieces of unidentified chunks and croutons. to put it simply, both are just a match made in heaven. admittedly, i have never bothered to ask what else my mother puts in the soup other than the occasional mushrooms. but you know what they say in the culinary world, 'if it looks simple yet tastes curiously good, don't ask what went into the damn thing.' and thus, looking like we're headed to those infamous heartlands Tupperware party traps that sell 'as-seen-on-TV!' infommercial products, my mother packed and sealed the entire mushroom soup and croutons into them air-tight containers. yes indeed, we were ready for another outing at the Chinese Gardens. not forgetting the disposable plastic cups of course.
since the only thing i did contribute to the mushroom soup with croutons was the occasional tasting, some saliva (i can't help but be conditioned to salivate when my mom cooks the soup, blame Pavlov!), and the post-cooking vacuum-ing, i have always tasked myself to help promote my mother's goods. when my mother presented her cinnamon rolls the first time at one paternal gathering, the oriental taste buds of theirs were not that receptive to the whole idea of western baked goods. i facilitated by rummaging through their fridge for a bottle of coconut jam. apparently, they liked it.
based on this success, i have always been the kinda sad guy you see at fun fairs and carnivals trying their utmost to hawk the wares of others. in marketing terms, it's the wrong target group we're looking at. in my mind, it's always like trying to sell platinum bling blings to a group of Chinese aunties. and the only way to make them buy it is if you put in huge chunks of jade into the plat blings.
at this particular gathering, everyone loved the mushroom soup. given that Campbell's chicken soup is pretty much a staple food/soup in my paternal family, their palates were well-versed to their creamy taste of the mushroom soup. my mother's baked croutons however, were left as untouched as a virgin. in fact, the only people who helped themselves to the croutons were the wife of the Robert Kiyosaki uncle, the cousin who believe that wine is acceptable in biblical context, my father, my brother, my mother and me. and believe me, my mother baked A LOT of croutons. it's as if Jesus took the famous five loaves of bread and broke it into a million pieces and one basket of the famous twelve that he broke, was sitting right there in the middle of the Chinese Gardens right beside me.
i tried really hard. believe me. but that wasn't a fridge to rummage into for sauces or coconut jams and thus, it was a hard battle lost when it came to the croutons. unexpectedly, it was at that moment that my grandmother hobbled over to where i was sitting beside the 'basket' of croutons (you do realize that it's not really a basket but merely, a Tupperware right?). my paternal grandmother has been through many orthopaedic surgeries that involve inserting in metal screws and plates to keep her spine upright. i've already lost count of the number of surgeries she has been for apparently. but what i can confirm though, is that she has enough metal in her to build one of those tacky, touristy replicas of the Eiffel Tower. alas, the pain that she constantly experiences upon physical movement is pretty much comparative when i take one of those Eiffel Tower replicas and stab it into your spine and joints. not fun i can assure you, especially when you're already in your late 60s.
which is why she hobbles. and when she's really tired, she needs a hand to hobble up the stairs. which is what she asked me to help her do when we wanted to take a walk around the park to see some of those Chinese fishes as i mentioned at the beginning of this post. it was during this assistance of her hobbling that she always takes the chance to talk to me. she would often ask about my general well-being, my health, whether my father was ill-treating me and stuff of the like. she always knew how violent my dad used to get so she really cared a lot about my parents and me. plus, my father's the only son in a family of daughters, so being the eldest grandson and the only grandson of the only paternal son, i am (IMHO) quite highly-priced in the grand children's market (i must've lost you somewhere in those family connections, haven't i?) opf the paternal family.
so i expected that my paternal grandmother or nai nai as i so fondly call her, would ask how life was in general. instead, she bent low and gripped my hand tight. and she said to me in a sort of forced and hushed whisper yet with a smile in mandarin, 'Ah Than!!' she always calls me by that since i was young. the chinese language apparently, doesn't have a rough approximate pronunciation for the Jona- part of my name. 'Ah Than!!! Don't smoke already lah!!' which came about as shocking as an Eiffel Tower pain in my mind. 'Smoking is bad for health!'
'How did you know ah?' i asked my grandmother in that equally juxtaposed mix of a harsh and forced whisper yet enveloped by a smile.
'How i know doesn't matter! What's really important is that you don't smoke already! Or at least cut down! Bad for health!' that's what i like about the grandmother. she's as Christian as Jesus himself. but she always gives practical, sound and really quite reasonable advice.
alas, the only response my mind managed to conjure up was a flimsy, 'Okay.' there was a quiet, pensive air between nai nai and me after that. as we hobbled back to the table, i couldn't help but wonder who was the missing link in between that led to my grandmother knowing about one of my many carnal vices. was it the cousin who took up the same nursing degree as me? was it one of the relatives who drove past while i was puffing away on a cigarette? after some elimination and mental images of literally eliminating the suspects, i quickly decided that it had to be the cousin. who else really, had the most contact with me outside of the sunday gatherings.
as we hobbled back together to the picnic table, i discovered the 'basket' of croutons missing. i didn't think that the relatives would self-initiate themselves to gobble the whole basket up. it wasn't until i heard the happy screaming and shouting of my youngest cousins, John Chua (the one that was named after me and has curiously effeminate ways) and Grace Chua feeding the fishes in the pond with my mother's croutons. apparently, my cousins saw the other park visitors feeding the fishes the lake with torn pieces of bread from a giant jumbo loaf. so wanting to join in the fun, they searched for the nearest source of baked goods. and being the clever kids that they are, they saw opportunity in my mother's basket of croutons.
and thus, half-gone were my mother's croutons by the time i confronted John and Grace Chua. i decided to let them have the rest of the croutons as my mother didn't really seem to care about her food as well. in fact, she was down on her knees beside the lake with a wooden stick, trying to indulge in a childhood activity of picking water snails from the lake. the icing on the cake was when there were no more croutons left, John and Grace forced me to eat the toppings off a pizza that one of the family members had baked so that they could have the baked pizza itself. pizza = bread in their minds.
clever kids, i say.
Monday, June 16, 2008
why i never endorse the use of restraints on patients
i vividly remember my posting at the Institute of Mental Health during my nursing student days. it was an old building located at one of the most inaccessible parts of Singapore. true, there were buses and taxi and people living in the area, but the nearest train station was about a half-hour's bus ride away. in Singapore where our train stations are constantly expanding their branches and networks, a populated area like this being isolated from a train station is something out of the ordinary.
i recall the whole place giving me the impression of an English countryside. the complex stood proudly on a hill of green, like a grand old dame standing erect and stoically, watching the rest of the world with the eyes of weariness. maybe she's really tired, maybe she's on meds. who knows? what i did know and notice though is that a long winding road led to the main entrance. architecturally and scenery-wise, it looked like the place for a mental patient for a retreat. from a nursing and security perspective, well.... it's a long run down the hill if you're trying to escape. not forgetting the fencing and the security guards armed with tranquillizers. of course, you do realize i'm joking right?
on arrival, the lobby greets you with a very warm and relaxed atmosphere. genially friendly staff are there to guide you to the place you need to go. given that the complex is actually quite big, i daresay that it's a godsend. the aroma of fried noodles from the cafeteria and the scent of antiseptic wafts through the eerily quiet place, giving you the impression of hygiene and good food (which is the only way you want your food to be, no?). i allowed myself a wry smile as i thought to myself, 'i wonder if they serve noodles fried under aseptic technique'.
none the less, i was posted at a general ward which housed a grand total of about thirty male patients. some were truly insane. some were mildly off. some were questionably crazy. it's easy to tell the extremes apart. the really crazy ones and violent ones wore orange t-shirts. the questionably crazy ones wore the blue. but sometimes when i talked to those patients, i found myself wondering if they really deserved an orange after all. not because it's more suitable for their skin tone or it looks better on them, but rather the content in their conversation seems rather.... off+++. for all it's worth, several plastic shields and batons were hung in the nursing offices for emergency uses. and i'm sure those equipment are no respector of t-shirt colour.
one of the patients i talked to was a jovial old man who seemed like a mentally-healthy person. he talked about coffee and he talked about politics. and when he talked about politics, his face had this glowy 'in the zone' kind of look to it. it was obvious that he really enjoyed talking about politics. i wasn't that familiar with the local political scene during those days and i took everything he said at glowy 'in the zone' face-value. i mean, it really made sense and it didn't hurt to actually believe in the governmental conspiracy theory that he was relating about. unfortunately i decided to discard what he said on the second day when i started getting chummy with him. he pulled me to one corner of the psychiatric ward, and he whispered to me in hushed tones.
'Eh boy! since you're so nice to me, i'm going to give you something!'
'And what are you going to give me, uncle?' i replied with a cynical tone.
i was half-expecting some junk or some sweets or something silly. after all, these patients had very few physical possessions to begin with. this was for fear of them injuring others or hurting themselves. it was almost like Prison Break, except that you've got an all-star Asian cast. and the orange and blue t-shirts of course.
'I will give you....' he held his breath as he fumbled in his pockets for the mysterious gift, 'the personal phone number of the president!'
from his pant pocket, he took out a note book. it was the old and ratty type that punters and gamblers used to take down sweepstake numbers, copy down names of winning horses and quite possibly the mobile number of 'Krystal' who offers lapdances at bargain prices. he asked for my pen and proceeded to write down the number on a piece of paper. intermittently, he would look around to see if there were any Internal Security Act Agents standing around to arrest him. he tore the jotted-down number from the punter's notebook and handed it over to me.
'Don't look at it until i've gone away!' he said again in a harsh whisper that was in close proximity to my right ear. unfortunately, my Jackie Chan nose was also in close proximity. i could smell the fetid breath of halitosis as he quickly attempted to mingle with the rest of the patients again.
when i opened the folded piece of paper from the punter's notebook, the following numbers to the president's personal telephone were written down in a somewhat childish and untidy scrawl:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
indeed, government conspiracies. he was really funny though and i enjoyed his company thoroughly.
another highlight of that particular posting in the institute involved a fellow nursing student. this fellow nursing student was the ardent Christian type. the type that says grace before food, the type that drops the name of God intermittently in every two or three sentences. the type that says 'Thank God!' and really means it as 'Thank you God my precious saviour and all that thou hath done for me!' aside from the zelous nature of hers, she's pretty and she has a mole on one cheek that really befitted her. i called her 'The Christian Beauty Spot'. i found her enjoyable to talk to and we shared a lot on how our churches are like and alike.
none the less, Christian Beauty Spot and i were on duty that particular day. she mentioned in the morning that she felt tired and weak. i shrugged it off as a lack of breakfast. and as if to chastise that nonchalance to her general body condition, she fainted right there and then on the spot. i manage to catch her in time just as a few other patients were trying to make a grab for her. according to other nursing students, they had a lecherous look on their face. i can't really tell if that was true though i seriously think they were trying to catch her too.
but that's the problem with mental health: how mad is mad? is eccentric really mad? and can mad be sometimes simply shrugged off as eccentric? the homeless chap whom you pass by everyday - everyone so readily labels the poor chap as insane and mad. but the professor of science and the arts and all his weird little idiosyncrasies is no more than eccentric. there seems to be a bias in place when it comes to the definition of madness.
none the less, over a cup of milo in the tea room, she thanked me. there was a look of adoration in her eyes that i felt really embarrassed about. not helping was that her beauty spot of a mole turned into a dimple when she smiled. charming. over the next few days, she kept would bring up the event and reinforce to me that she had had breakfast in the morning. to which we would have a good laugh over and reenact the moments and snippets when she fainted. at the end of the posting, she gave me a CD of a sermon by a famous preacher in her church. the title was something along the lines of wealth and health.
these days when i see her in the hospital, she still looks pretty. my father inherited the CD which she gave to me and occasionally listens to it with plenty of scorn and cynicism.
the concept of restraining patients in the hospital setting has always been one of questionable ethics. when do you need to restrain a sick person? why do you need to do it? is there no other alternative? what about sedatives? how do you go about doing it then? do you know how to tie a knot? why do they call it 'tying the knot' when the only firm sort of knot that you know of when 'tying the knot' is most likely a 'dead' knot?
rubbishy questions aside, the ongoing understanding from having worked in the hospital for several years coming seems to be that only restrain when the patients is doing something harmful to themselves. then again, how do you define harm? a person slashing their own wrists and doing bodily injuries to themselves or others is definitely within the boundaries of harm. but a 'naughty' patient who tries to remove his blood transfusion cannula and refuses treatment when he's already of a questionably unsound mind and low haemoglobin level seems to fall under that category as well. there's loads of factors to consider when the decision to apply restraints on someone is considered.
even so, application of restraints comes with the proper technique. cotton pads are applied to the wrists when hand restraints are used. charts have to be set up to ensure that the nurses check on the restraints regularly to see if they are too tight. the doctor has to be informed. the relatives have to be informed as well. and there's the fact that most relatives, just like parents who receive news that their child has done something wrong in school, almost always refuse to believe that their loved ones are unmanageable to the point of restraints. i knew of one patient whom a colleague had restrained in the afternoon. throughout the night shift, that particular patient's relative constantly called every hour or two to check on the condition of the patients. she apparently slept peacefully throughout the night.
in my humble opinion and principles (hey, i actually do have some of those okay!), i don't really believe in restraints. it's demeaning and besides, most patients on restraints tend to struggle even more than they previously did when they were unrestrained. this basically ends in really knotty situations whereby you spend even more time undoing the restraints that were enforced on the patient. actually, come to think of it, i'm about as capable with tying restraints as a junior boy scout member. i mean, i can do enough knots to get through a couple of shoes, a neck tie, a wedding gift, a plastic bag of general waste and perhaps a session of light bondage that is not even convincingly tight. but since when was a Windsor applicable to a pair of hands? which is why every knot i tie ends up as easily removable as a shoelace or as permanent as a dead knot. most of the time, i cut the damn thing off with a pair of nursing scissors.
my other colleague whom i work with on the permanent night shifts is a strong advocate of restraints however. she's been in this permanent night business for about three years coming. and believe you me, three years of irregular sleeping hours and horrid colleagues handing over terrible work for you to follow-up during your shifts can really make one bogged down and burned out. she has the dark eye bags and permanently tired look on the face to prove it. six months into this gig and i have already sallow skin and a permanent frown on my face as battle scars.
my colleague usually considers restraints after three warnings to patients against whatever silly things they are doing. some are plainly confused. some are irrational. other are just bordering on pure disobedience and bastardry. why come to the hospital when you're going to refuse treatment and cause so much trouble? either way, i think that the 'three warnings' system is quite possibly the best method to go about hinting at restraints. but then again, i'm stubborn and stick to my principles sometimes like a frozen tongue on an alpine ski lift.
i steadfastly refuse to restrain my patients. so much so that if they are restrained at night, i would secretly untie them in the dark of the night. Pangkeng (whom i have taken to calling 'Xena, Warrior Princess these days due to his overall lack of gentleness) gets extremely pissed when i do that. most of the time, the patients don't really do much damage themselves. they pull out their cannulas, they attempt to climb out of bed (but rarely ever manage to do so). nothing that can't be resolved. in fact, most of them actually sleep better at night when they are unrestrained. but then again, the only patients i usually nurse are men.
now, the reason why i brought this story up was simply because of a lapse in my principles several weeks ago when a patient under the charge of my colleague was admitted for a suspected bleed in the gastro-intestinal tract. her blood count results showed a low of about 7.0mmol/L. couple that with a previous history of a duodenal ulcer and she was thus scheduled for a scope the following day. during the course of the night, she was transfused two bags of bloods to 'top up' her blood supply. according to my colleague, she was really nice and all during the day when the bloods were still transfusing. post-transfusion however, she was caught attempting to leave the bed.
there was nothing wrong with actually leaving the bed, but the fact that she actually leaving and walking all the way down to the other end of the ward corridor - now, that's a worrisome fact. we asked her of course, what she was trying to do by walking down from one end of the corridor to the other. she just said she was looking for her relatives. it was about 3.20am at that point of time. when i thought about it, it was pretty obvious that she was trying to look for an escape route from the ward. she was constantly opening doors and on the lookout for an exit. not helping was that she did the above-mentioned with all the subtlety of a brass band's percussion section.
as nurses, we always attempt to try the nice method first. the more forceful alternative would always remain as a secondary plan. of course, the forceful words always come after we settle whatever issue a patient has at the pantry ('What is wrong with this old man? he wants me to hold his penis so that he can pee properly???' - this is true, i heard it at the tea room before). we attempted to convince the old lady to go back to the bed and take a rest as her blood levels were low and she was at risk of fainting at any moment. we tried helping her by guiding her at the arms. she slapped my hands off and ended up slapping me in the nose. which basically gave my Jackie Chan nose a reason to start up a sinus party. i couldn't stop sniffling after that.
after parking her in her bed, she attempted three more 'escapes'. 'escape' is in inverted commas as there was absolutely no stealth in her attempts. you could hear the loud click as she undid her bed rails. the flip-flops she was wearing truly lived up to their noisy names. one bizarre thing though that made us question whether she was of sound mind or not was that she didn't even try to run or walk briskly. she was actually must sauntering about and looking about for that elusive escape route of hers.
and thus a final warning laced with a hint of restraints was issued to the lady before we enforced on her the inevitable. i couldn't bring myself to do it as i was just being a real prick with me and my principles. but one could really hear it was a tough job despite the fact that Pangkeng was there to help. bloodcurling screams and shouts pierced through the quiet night air. and Pangkeng was occasionally spewing vulgarities. he only uses vulgarities when he's with me or when violence ensues. so he was obviously getting physically abused. it was either my friend getting kicked or my principles. i decided to screw them for once and help Pangkeng.
at the bedside, it was truly an ugly scene. gauze wrappers were strewn all over the floor. blood could be seen trickling out from an ex-cannula site that the lady had forcefully ripped out from a vein. the lady was screaming, shouting and kicking everything and everyone in sight. the rest of the patients in the same room as her had woken up and wondering what the commotion was all about. she had even managed to pull her pyjama top open. a button lay at the side of the bed and she had one breast exposed. she looked savage and she looked vicious. in my mind, i made the mental connection between the lady and the harpies in Van Helsing. my colleagues got bitten and pinched. i got kicked twice in the chin. Pangkeng, the warrior princess got slap on the face and his balls kicked. but he's resilient.
it was with all that violence that we decided to reinforce the entire set of restraints - a body vest, a pair of hand restraints and a pair of leg ones. Pangkeng did the ultimate of plonking his entire hulking 98kg frame on her legs to stop the kicking. and it's really ugly to see a woman scream and shout when you usually see them very well in control of their emotions. i felt bad as throughout the whole ordeal, she was screaming and appealing to us not to tie her. she mentioned that we were bullying her as there were four nurses tying her up. she stated that she was old and that tying her up was a sign of disrespect. being Chinese and having a father who imbued me with respect for the elderly, i really felt that the whole thing was... demeaning or disrespectful or well, i can't pinpoint an exact word. but i hoped that i was doing the wrong thing for at least the right reasons.
and restrain the lady we finally did. exhausted, Pangkeng and i decided to head to our secret spot in the hospital for a quick smoke. when we came back an estimated fifteen minutes later, we found that the entire bed had been shifted out to the ward corridor in front of the nurses' counter.
'She actually managed to undo her restraints!' my colleague exclaimed in exasperation.
upon closer inspection, 'undo' was not really the correct word. she actually ripped out her restraints. and those weren't soft, cottony gauze restraints. we used linen restraints that were double sewn at the seams and connecting points for extra strength. as we did her restraints again, she got even more violent and abusive this time. somehow or other, she managed to get hold of a bottle of Chinese medicated oil that she stashed underneath her pillow. she start sprinkling the entire vial of mentholated fluid at us. it was burning. it was hot. and resolved all of us nurses to quickly get the job done.
when we managed to restrain her the second time she suddenly started singing a bizarre song in Hokkien. there were some old Hokkien words in there that i couldn't understand and my Hokkien is l33t. but what i did grasp was that she was trying to call upon the spirit of her in-laws to destroy us. and being Chinese, calling your in-laws for help is sorta like the last resort, given that most Chinese in-laws are quite the horrible bunch. we were kinda freaked out as her unnatural strength, her loud screams and shouts, her Hokkien in-law song... we were thinking along the lines of demonic possession actually.
suffice to say, when she was more settled down and asleep from all the physical exertion (or maybe the demon left her, who knows?), i managed to catch a breather with my colleague.
i asked her, 'you think it's worth it to tie her up after all that kicking and scratching?'
she was scratching at the already inflammed area on her arm where the medicated oil had landed. on her other arm was a slight hint of a bruise. the other arm was a redness that came about from a pinch from the patient.
'maybe,' she said, 'i mean, it was either her or us.'
was the lady with the low Hb condition mad to begin with? or was she just plain 'naughty'? those thoughts made me pensive for the rest of the evening.
but i'm thinking it's mainly due to me being really anal about my principles.
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