Darlie For Charlie

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau landed in hot soup yesterday over a prank from two decades ago. He bowed down to political correctness and apologised for wearing brownface to look like a blackface at a 2001 “Arabian Nights” party. What seemed appropriate then is not deemed appropriate now. Donning an Aladdin costume and darkening one’s skin for a fancy dress party can potentially bring down a Prime Minister of a major developed country. The attacks on him were scathing. “Will you resign, Prime Minister?” The Opposition Leader expressed shock and disappointment. “You’re not fit to lead Canada. It was racist in 2001 and it is racist now.” Why is it racist to dress up as a coloured person? White is also a colour, right? Urghhlings, we are all coloured, with different shades. Recognising this fact cannot make us racist. When I was a kid, there were Hollywood movies with white actors acting as Asian characters. They sounded weird with their broken English and looked funny with their slit eyes and Fu Manchu haircuts, but they were not racist, were they? John Wayne the cowboy played a yellowface Mongol, Genghis Khan no less, and Susan Hayward was a Tartar in The Conqueror. Not a single actor was Asian in this Asian movie. Almost half of those involved in the movie died of cancer; they did not realise the deserts of Utah where they shot the film were covered with radioactive dirt from nuclear bomb tests carried out by the US military. The movie bombed due to the terrible script and bad accents. No one accused them of being racist then and they certainly will not be accused of being racist now. They were just acting in movies; likewise, Justin Trudeau’s brownface was just for a fancy dress party. Many of the actors died from making that movie, let us hope the Canadian Prime Minister won’t end up as a casualty too.

Today, a good friend, Charlie, sent us a photo of himself with a brand new New York cap. The tag says it is made in China. Trump has not been effective in his Trade War with China, a war he claimed is “easy to win”. Charlie has a similar dominant trait like mine; a free gift gets him excited and turns him raucous. “Freebies always nice, ya! Don’t you think it matches my sunnies and blue polo shirt? Feeling good…” he chirpily added.

Feeling good. My good friend, Charlie

It wasn’t his cap that caught my attention though. Rather, it was the smoothness of his face. To send a photo of himself when he possesses such a silky unblemished face at sixty one years of age will simply beg the same question from anyone. “What is your secret?!” “Bedak, right? My grandma said that was all she used” said Chip. Bedak is made from fermented rice, a popular white powder used by locals before the multi-national brands conquered the shopping malls and high streets all over the world. But, Chip did not elaborate, we do not know how smooth his grandma’s skin was. Unconvinced, another friend asked “Is it SK-II Pitera or L’Occitane?” Another big brand perhaps, “it must be Coco.Lab.” Coco.Lab is proudly Malaysian, their main ingredient is VCO, short for virgin coconut oil. Anything that is virginal has to be pure and therefore good, that’s such clever marketing.

“C’mon, Charlie. Tell us your secret! We want a face as smooth as yours! What do you pamper yourself with? Is it every night that you indulge your senses? How do you get that glow on your face?” To encourage him to divulge his secret, I continued, “Look at your even skin tone, the absence of dark spots, the smooth fine lines and no wrinkles?!” Finally, Charlie cracked. “It’s Darlie! Twice weekly.” he cried out. “Darlie? You mean the Chinese brand that was originally called Darkie?” Calling anyone darkie today would get any PM sacked for sure; there is no way a well established brand like Darkie can survive in the West without changing its name. The product was inspired by the Black and White Minstrel show, which featured wide eyed black men with pronounced white lips and flashy white teeth singing and tap dancing in our teevees back in the sixties. But, Darkie has become Darlie. Its meaning is forever lost, but to the Chinese, it will always be “黑人牙膏” (“Black Person Toothpaste”). Not surprisingly, the brand is predominantly sold in Asia. I guess the Asians are not so uptight about political correctness. Phew!

Darlie, a darling for men who want that radiant face. PS Use only those with the green mark on the bottom of the tube.

Surf n Turf, Served And Turfed

The Mrs’ cholesterol reading was over 6.3 two years ago. She became a pescetarian overnight, not because of a sudden ethical awakening, but from the urgent desire to lower the reading. It did not surprise me that her stress level went up from that point on. What is the point of taking a medical checkup if we end up stressed by the results, right? Does that make me smug or stupid not to undergo a similar checkup? The other drawback after her medical checkup is the disappearance of my favourite dishes. Her kitchen stopped serving her famous Hakka dalu ya, sour plum braised duck. The family’s secret recipe was passed down by her father. No one bothered to ask him where he learned it from. Secrecy wasn’t limited to just the ingredients, no one knows whose recipe it is. The Mrs’ kitchen also stopped serving her heart-stopper, honey braised pork belly and the unsurpassable Chinese roast pork. The pleasing sound of the crispy pork skin when the roasted pork is being chopped into bite size portions is now a distant memory. It wasn’t her intention to force me to become a pescetarian. She knew she couldn’t. I love tea smoke duck and rib-eye steak too much; when paired with Barossa Valley’s Greenock Creek shiraz, how do I surrender them? Instead, she regularly served me boiled pork. The tasty soup from the pork, once the side dish, became the main attraction once the boiled pork lost its appeal. Boiled pork dipped in soy sauce served with plain boiled rice cannot excite the palate once it is served with monotonous regularity. That was how The Mrs got me to reduce my meat intake. She served them frequently! I was being induced to reject meat unwittingly. Such a clever and caring woman! There was no bickering, no debate, and no ultimatums. Before too long, her vegetarian dishes were no longer frowned upon. The next favourite dish of mine got turfed out of her kitchen too. Tiger prawns, banana prawns and the best in the world, the Spencer Gulf king prawns disappeared from her menu. Surf n Turf was everyone’s favourite at home. Grilled or BBQ’ed Spencer Gulf king prawns and medium rare grass-fed South Australian Angas beef sizzling on an iron skillet. Simply irresistible, Surf n Turf. Once frequently served, now turfed out of her kitchen.

A fortnight ago, The Mrs had to undergo a series of medical examinations, prior to her hip operation. Many medical experts wanted to see her. Appointments were made with the orthopaedic surgeon, the rehabilitation specialist, the anaesthetist, and of course the general physician. The sudden re-enactment of her student days was particularly unexpected, but undoubtedly thrilling for her. She used to brag about her popularity amongst undergraduates in the medical faculty. In her late teens to early twenties, many a medical student tried to court her. The medical blokes’ enthusiasm to see her did not bother me this time. I was more anxious that there would be more adverse repercussions to our dietary choices. Of course, I was concerned about her well-being and the state of her health. But, I was equally concerned there would be no choice dishes for me to choose when it comes to the daily menu. What am I saying, do I sound delusional? The cook decides the menu at home, there is no choice for choice dishes. I partake in what is served – happily, or at least quietly, otherwise I risk being turfed out. The Mrs’ cholesterol reading has skyrocketed to 9.1 this time, a massive increase from two years ago. All the readings were perfect, for her age. The liver function test, kidney function test, blood sugar and glucose tests showed no trace of any disturbing enzyme markers. Perfect. So was her blood pressure and general fitness. Remarkably, her physician made only one recommendation. His written instruction to her GP was clear. Do not prescribe the patient any statins. Despite the high cholesterol reading, her risk of cardiovascular diseases is low. This may be an indicator that the statin controversy has finally raised sufficient doubt about their efficacy and safety. The Lancet Vol 393, on 2 February 2019 had this conclusion: “Statin therapy produces significant reductions in major vascular events irrespective of age, but there is less direct evidence of benefit among patients older than 75 years who do not already have evidence of occlusive vascular disease.” The Mrs is no where near 75! My interpretation is that The Mrs’ general health is so good that we can stick to our current diet, i.e. no further change to the menu is required. Today is her twelve day after her hip operation. This serf shall serve her his popular Penang Char Koay Teow tonight, he shall not be turfed out anytime soon – while she recuperates anyway.

Pottering With Harry Potter

Last night, Harry Potter was in town with the full backing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. What a spectacle it was too! The Goblet of Fire saw the death of school boy Cedric Diggory in a competition and the rebirth of the Dark Lord. The ASO gave me a tinge of pride – how lucky we are to have a world-class orchestra at our doorstep – whilst Harry Porter made me cringe at the darkness of his world. Isn’t JK Rowling a scary author to young kids? A fascinating world she creates, yet frighteningly dark with the evil, muted but omnipresent. I remember how wide eyed my sons were when they watched her first movie. Last night’s was as fascinating. The Durmstrang ship which resembles a Spanish galleon with two masts sinks into the lake to sail back to Durmstrang. “Oh no!” the older woman next to me cried out. “Did they all drown?” When the music stopped, I told her that was how the ship sails. She must think I am a nutter. No, I didn’t write the story.

The Goblet of Fire in Adelaide

As I potter around the garden with Harry Potter in my mind, I feel so privileged to live in Adelaide. It is enchanting for us to have Potter come to our town. What an extravaganza! It would take a mere twenty four minutes for me to drive westwards to The Adelaide Entertainment Center from home, but to save on car park fees and to reduce our combined carbon print, I picked up four passengers from two other suburbs. The journey took almost twice as long, not so much from the small detour but social niceties and friendly camaraderie require a small investment of time. Harry Potter played to an almost full house, I shall use Trump’s imaginative way of describing the size of crowds. Last night’s audience was the biggest ever, close to 4,000. Spring is in the air and there’s a spring in my step again. Winter isn’t good for my old bones anymore. Take a deep breath and suck in the clean air tainted only with the scent of gum leaves. Look outside my front windows and enjoy the view of a private reserve that is being carefully nurtured by the council. A park is known as a reserve here, maybe because it’s a patch of green reserved for posterity. Or, is it a plan to reserve it for the native flora and fauna? Aussies are seriously protective of their trees. Harry Potter may be a defiant nemesis of Lord Voldemort, but he’s no match against native trees. A niece who is an ardent fan of Harry Potter, missed last night’s show because of one native tree. She flew to Melbourne instead to lend support to a crowd of predominantly native people in a street protest to save one aboriginal tree. I did not know trees belong to different races of people.

The Mrs and I moved from Sydney in 1986, and made Adelaide our home. It was love at first sight, I mean with Adelaide. I love the quaint Federation style houses here with their ubiquitous rose gardens. A well maintained garden hints at a lifestyle that is balanced; people have the luxury of time and energy to enjoy tending to their garden, to literally smell the roses. Yesterday, The Weekend Australian’s front page trumpeted that Adelaide’s secrets are revealed. They took 33 years longer to discover her secrets. Why? Hasn’t it been so obvious? The vastly more relaxed lifestyle, the still pristine environment packed with clean fresh air and unspoilt sea water that money can’t buy in the majority of cities in the world, and the convenience of traveling from A to B without feeling we are wasting precious life being gridlocked. Adelaide has 1.3 million people. I reckon that’s the size of a perfect city. Big enough to support every modern facility that you want to enjoy (including a world class orchestra and art galleries to fill your spare time), and small enough to avoid the traffic jams, high crime rates, unaffordable accommodation, rowdy crowds and long impatient queues, and the air and sound pollution of big cities. Adelaide has had its adversities, at times caused by her adversaries. We had the State Bank fiasco, a collapse that almost made South Australia the rust belt of Australia. We had the Grand Prix stolen by Victoria, the international event replaced by a more parochial one, the Adelaide 500. Closures of car makers Mitsubishi and Holden did not cripple Adelaide, they merely forced the workers to relearn new skills. Mining, defence and agriculture (wine industry) are the new pillars of the state. The carrot to arrest the brain drain from Adelaide is to attract and retain tertiary students. Those from overseas are now eligible to extend their visas and find employment after their graduation. Let’s hope the expected influx of new overseas migrants and a net gain in interstate migration will not affect our lifestyle adversely. I still want to be able to dine in a fine restaurant in the Barossa Valley or be at a favourite McLaren Vale winery by 7pm straight after work on a Friday evening.

Morphine, Not Muffin

The Mrs has been in the recovery room for over an hour. She sounds a bit high still, chirpy and loud. Very loud, as she is being wheeled back into her bedroom. I can hear her well before her bed appears at the doorway, her operation must have gone very well. She giggles loudly, “Thank you so much for pushing me around in my bed.” The male nurse wishes her a quick recovery as he puts the brakes of her bed’s castor wheels on. The female nurse tells her to press the red button if she requires any assistance. “If you feel pain, please let us know, we will top up the morphine.” With a happy voice, The Mrs chirped, “No muffin for me, I’m not hungry.” The Mrs predictably declines the offer of food. After all, she just had her left hip replaced. Hip replacement surgery used to mean the surgeon will make a long incision on the side of the hip, cut through muscles, ligaments and tendons to get to the hip joint. A procedure that would take well over two hours, with the surgeon and his staff more butcher and carpenter-like than medical experts. Today, it involves a much shorter incision on the front of the thigh, thereby avoiding any damage to muscles and tendons, only the damaged arthritic bone and cartilage are removed from the hip joint. A procedure that takes approximately forty minutes. More importantly, full recovery can be as short as three months. The Mrs now has a brand new ceramic socket which houses a brand new ceramic femoral ball. The ball is attached to a titanium stem which is planted into the bone marrow of her femur. “Can I have my old bone back please?” The Mrs asks her doctor. “Why would you want to keep a bone that gave you nothing but severe pain?” The Mrs did not offer a reply but I think she must have been thinking of the son’s puppy, Murray.

Today is the third day since The Mrs was discharged from the hospital. A nurse told her she had to be able to discharge to be discharged. So, she was eager to demonstrate to the nursing staff that she could discharge her wastes naturally, and without difficulty. That meant an extraordinary campaign to drink water incessantly and her affinity for bananas became almost an addiction. It worked, she stayed for only three nights under the care of the nurses. “Phew, am I glad to leave this place!” she exclaimed once she had manoeuvred gingerly into our car. “There was a resident ghost in my room. On the first night, just before daybreak, an unfamiliar pre-1940’s pop song blared out from the built-in speaker of my hand-held remote.” The remote controls only the tv in the room apart from the red button which controls the attention of the nurses. The tv was off, there is no logic for music to be playing when an electronic gadget is switched off. There is no logic for the music to immediately stop blaring when she pressed on the tv’s on-off switch either. A mischievous ghost from the early 20th century who did not learn Physics?

“I am sorry you will have to be my slave whilst I recuperate.” The Mrs shot me a friendly warning on the way home from the hospital. “My doctor said I should have lots of rest, no house-work, no cooking, and definitely, no washing dishes.You will have to look after the garden and the pond too, and don’t forget the chooks and the koi”, she declared, ignoring or forgetting the fact that I was usually the one to look after the yard and pet chores. I was sorely tempted to ask her if being her slave would also include sexual duties. I would be most happy to be her sex slave. Urghhling.

The truth however has to be told. The Mrs’ very supportive sister has been the one to help with all the chores. Luckily for me, my stint as a modern-day slave has been smooth-sailing. The only duty I have been allotted is strictly in the sexual department. So far, there has been no demand from The Mrs.

A modern-day slave for all chores bar one

Shuai Ger’s Swagger

It was about four years ago when I walked with a swagger along the aisles of Fairprice store opposite Jalan Tua Kong in Singapore. The middle-aged woman had stopped me as I entered the shop with my youngest son. “Is your son Wang Leehom?” she asked with pure delight. My son was already ten steps ahead, keen on quickly grabbing his favourite fruits, cereals and milk for the following day’s breakfast. “Wang who?” I asked in return. I hadn’t kept abreast of Asian pop music and movies, and was therefore easily forgivable for my ignorance. “Wang Leehom! Don’t you know who he is? He is the most adorable singer song-writer today!” the woman exclaimed. Only much later did I find out Wang topped the list of most followed Asian mega stars in social media that year. “Oh? And the fellow ten steps ahead looks like him?” I sought her confirmation. She gave me three rapid nods with her round head which was decorated with a tuft of recently dyed shiny black hair. Her gleeful eyes sparkled and her infectious smile changed my gait into a swagger. “Oh yes, well, that young man there, he is my youngest son.” My son looks like Wang Leehom. “Yes, yes! He’s a shuai ger – a damn good-looking young man.” “ See, there he is!” She rushed to a massive banner with Wang’s face hanging from the ceiling, and gestured for me to look up. He was promoting some consumer product that totally escaped my attention. I was too engrossed at admiring the handsome looking prop. Wang possesses a made-in-heaven silky voice, and a wicked smile that would make any fair maiden swoon and surrender. At 180cm, he’s a swanky tall bloke who turns heads with his deep-set almond eyes and high cheekbones. His thick eyebrows complement a high bridged nose that is set perfectly above a pair of full very kissable lips. Look at the confidence he exudes, don’t you think he’s so dapper in his Shanghai Tang jacket with that impeccable tailoring, the stylish embroidery and Chinese knot closures. Who? Oh, I was describing my son, of course! I was never a shuai ger myself but no matter, this shuai ger can still bring out the swagger in me.

Many months ago, another occasion arose that made me walk with an exaggerated swagger once more. “Hey, you remind me of Keanu Reeves!” a friend exclaimed upon receiving a photo of me with my Japanese hairdresser. I tried unsuccessfully to tone down my enthusiastic reply. “Oh, really?! You mean, I have his John Wick demeanour? His striking facial features? Surely you can’t see my swagger? Or is it the facial hair?” The friend brought me down to earth with a thump. “No, the long hair!” I think he planned this gotcha moment. Urghhling.

I’m now past sixty years old. It will be a slippery slide down the slope from here on. Forget the swagger, I am more concerned not to stagger and trip. There will be no way back to our prime once our gait becomes unstable and the cadence markedly slows. This is the time when many look to retirement or become unemployable, from believing we are indispensable to being superfluous. When once we felt we were indestructible and indefatigable, we are now photographed with walking sticks and acupuncture needles up our bottoms. When once we shop for branded spectacle frames, we now pray we won’t make a spectacle of ourselves with walking frames. When once we worry about which Shanghai Tang’s to buy, we now hope we won’t be shanghaied into buying dud investments. This is the age when life’s uncertainties become more certain with each passing year. When the distant hazy future becomes a lot less distant and a lot more predictable. Life for the majority offers only a few guarantees. The only definite guarantees are taxes and death. Taxes can be planned and even avoided upon retirement. The other guarantee will be forced upon us sooner rather than later, as the years roll by. As for me, I know I’ll happily settle down in my twilight years with the knowledge I was once the bread winner who became the bread maker at home.

Ironic, It’s Iconic

Ridley Scott perpetuated the myth about the meaning of the thumbs-up icon in his movie Gladiator. Thumbs up, the vanquished lives, thumbs down, he is not spared, the victorious gladiator will finish him off with a thrust of his sword straight into the loser’s heart. In ancient Rome, the opposite was true. Thumbs down meant put the sword down, the crowd clamours for the defeated gladiator to be spared. He’s worthy enough to fight another day. According to some, thumbs up meant to thrust the sword up into the heart of the combatant, a fatal defeat.

When Novak Djokovic flashed the thumbs-up sign yesterday, some sections of the US Open crowd booed and jeered him, how ironic. The modern-day gladiator retired mid-match in his fourth round match rather than slogged till the end like an ancient fighter. The ancients were not afforded such a privilege. Retired hurt, oh mama, I don’t want to play anymore. The number one ranked player in the world should understand the liberty to give the thumbs-up sign lies with the crowd, they paid good money to see a fight. Many will feel short-changed. What? A match between Stan Wawrinka and The Joker should last five sets over five hours. That’s money well spent. Not this. Two sets down and a game down, and he surrenders? He has no right to raise his thumb up, unless he intends to admonish himself with the ancient Roman gesture. It has to mean more than simply another day in the court. This is a Grand Slam event, one of only four majors, annually. He earned USD117,000 even though he lost his match, USD280,000 in total for four matches. An average worker in Australia would have to work six years to earn that. No wonder he was jeered, despite the injury to his left shoulder. People can be tough when they pass judgement on those they deem disrespectful to or disinterested in their fans.

It is ironic that two iconic symbols, Yin Yang and The Jesus Fish, have their origins so misunderstood. We think of the Yin and Yang as a symbol of the Tao. Chinese philosophy embraces the concept of dualism where seemingly opposing forces are actually complementary. It promotes the idea of going with the flow, finding the balance in all aspects of life. Yin, the feminine symbol of water, softness, shade and passivity which gives the spirit to everything and Yang, the masculine symbol of warmth, light, energy (qi) and action which offers the form to all things. The earliest Chinese characters for yin and yang are found around 1400 B.C.E, in inscriptions made on skeletal remains of various animals used in ancient Chinese divination practices – known as the oracle bones. It is ironic that archaeologists found Cucuteni Trypillian pottery with the Yin-Yang symbol in Moldova, South Ukraine, some two thousand five hundred years earlier than the oracle bones’ discovery.

The Ichthys, or Jesus Fish was a symbol secretly used to represent Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Saviour when early Christianity was still practised underground. They believe he is both man and fully divine. It is ironic that the symbol was first used by previous religions to represent the Goddess of Fertility because it is shaped like the private parts of a woman.

One of the world’s most iconic building is the Sydney Opera House. Designed by the Dane, Jorn Utzon, the sculptural form of his creation resembles the sails of yachts that decorate the harbour, although they remind me more of giant seashells that represent the importance of the beach to the Aussies. It would be nigh impossible to find a tourist in Sydney who is not aware of this iconic building. The irony is Utzon never got to see his design in person, he was vilified by the New South Wales government during its construction due to cost blowout – the engineers were ill-equipped to make the unique structure strong enough to support the roof. The government refused to pay his fees, forcing him to back to his homeland, never to return.

Many would agree there can be no greater iconic band than The Beatles. The pine tree planted in 2004 in memory of Beatle George Harrison died after being infested by beetles. Ironic, isn’t it?

Amass A Mess

What have I done to myself? Is this the sum total of my life? I was 20. My List Of Potentials was long and exciting. It was a list I drafted in my teens, a summary of what I could hope to achieve in my life. That was on a cold dreary, wintry July day in Adelaide, the first winter of my life. It never crossed my mind that my whole life could be a lifetime of winter. A list of potentials that is filled with positive maybes, it promises heaven, not hell. Blue sky, not dark threatening clouds. Gardens in full bloom, not with rampaging weeds. Meandering rivers, not stormy seas. Lovely fertile chaste maidens, not divorcees with heavy baggages.

Life of course offers no guarantees. My life could have been one long winter. But no, I made sure of that. Luckily. But, no one can really make sure life will present us with what we want. I left home when I was 18. Fresh, young, naive and with the world as my oyster. See, I did say I was naive. It was Shakespeare who coined the phrase, a romantic bloke he was. The world as my oyster, a life without adversity, trauma, and threats. Everything I amass will be gold. Every advantage that comes my way will bear fruit, no opportunity will be missed and if it were missed, it would knock a second time. Why an oyster, Mr Shakespeare? The romantic writer could very well have replied that the oyster is the most admirable of all living things. Its hard calcified shell protects what is precious to it, the whole reason for its existence is to keep safe the beautiful pearl with its gorgeous lustre, unblemished thick nacre and perfect round shape. What can be more meaningful to us than to be that oyster, for that pearl?

I was a pescetarian for almost three years immediately prior to leaving home to further my studies in Adelaide. When dinner was being served on my Qantas flight, it suddenly dawned on me that being a pescetarian was going to pose a real problem for me. Aussies are beefcakes, all meat eaters. I was told they don’t drink water. Water is only for plants and cattle. Aussie blokes aren’t that, that’s for sure. They only drink beer and eat steaks. Plants are for animals. Fish? That’s too fishy, sold only in Greek fish and chips shops. That was in the 70’s. Being decisive by nature, I smiled at the middle aged Aussie stewardess with a faint trace of moustache and paper thin lips smudged carelessly with a glossy bright red lipstick. Yes, I’ll have the lamb. Thanks. What this naive boy didn’t realise was that cold lamb served in an aeroplane cannot be aromatic or delicious, and will quickly turn into chunder. Cold lamb was a disastrous choice to reintroduce myself to meat after three years of abstinence.

I landed in Jobs Paradise, found a job as a drinks waiter in a Chinese restaurant after one interview. Yes, I have lots of experience, sir. I can start anytime. I’ll be paid cash? Sure, cheques will too inconvenient, sir. I didn’t understand cash meant under the table money, well below the award rates. Never mind, I lied too, I was surprised the boss was so gullible; he couldn’t tell I was a new arrival. The only experience I had in a proper Chinese restaurant – meaning air-conditioned – was dining in a wedding party that my parents dragged me to, a few years earlier. I arrived in Adelaide on a Tuesday and started my first job as a drinks waiter three days later. As someone advised me, Aussies only drink beer, easy enough job I assured myself. Just grab whatever beer they order and pour! At the first table, all four patrons ordered “Sutthick” beer. Peering high and low inside the wine fridge, I was starting to fidget when I couldn’t find any! So sorry sir, we have run out of Sutthick beer. Will you consider Coopers Pale or Crown Lager? Not possible! It’s as laughable as a pub with no beer, they bellowed. We want to speak to your boss! The boss beckoned to me to follow him to the wine fridge. Which beer did they order? Sutthick, sir. Are you blind, son? He yanked one bottle out, plonked it into my hand and said, here! Help yourself! I was cursing myself, how did I not see them? I opened my hand and it revealed a bottle that says Southwark Bitter Beer. Southwark, why do Aussies pronounce it as Sutthick? Waitering was done with style. I have style, I assured myself. Just watch what the others do. Grab the four bottles of beer and Pilsner glasses, place them on the round tray, palm underneath it, lift it over my shoulder, walk to the table and serve. That’s the easy part, I performed it with style. Pouring the beer into a Pilsner glass whilst balancing the heavy tray needs mental focus. I forgot to remind myself when I pour with my right hand, my left hand ought not to follow the right hand’s pouring angle. Too late! Just that slightest deviation from the perfect horizontal position was enough to prove that gravity although invisible, has its way of making things fall to the ground. In this case, unfortunately for me, the half-filled Pilsner glass fell on the lap of the lady to whom I was serving. Unfortunately for her too, I suppose. What a mess.

The following year, I moved to Sydney. I was accepted into University of New South Wales (UNSW), their Commerce degree was more relevant to me than the Economics degree offered by Uni of Adelaide. I didn’t pause to question why the straight A’s I scored did not qualify me for Dentistry in Adelaide. Unbeknownst to me, my father had torn up the letter of offer from The School of Dentistry. So wise, my father. Totally sensible. It would be a depressing career to be in. Nobody wants to visit you and if they did, they would be terrified of you. You’d be the last place they would want to return to. You’re their worst conversationalist, you’d never get a word out of them. Your day is filled with fillings and crooked teeth. Quite depressing. Anyway, I was happy to join an old school friend from Penang in Sydney. He too had opted to do the same course in UNSW.

Sydney was also a paradise for job seekers. My first interview landed me a job in The Rocks Tavern, as a kitchen hand. Peeling potatoes and onions all day did not faze me. I was proud to wear the all white apron, working in the kitchen was far more interesting than serving customers. What generous tips I missed were compensated by the abundance of food available to kitchen hands. That was where I learned to love blueberry pies with almond topping. Before too long, I was given a white hat, promoted to be in charge of cottage pies. The job required me to push trays of raw cottage pies into the commercial oven and pulling them out perfectly baked when the bell rings. I wear a burn mark on my left biceps with pride. A permanent reminder of a careless moment when my arm briefly touched a hot tray one afternoon. I became a trusted hand of the sous-chef, maybe out of desperation on the night of Christmas Eve. The under-manned kitchen meant I was briefly promoted to present the biggest platter of baked snapper to a rowdy group of Christmas party revellers. The instructions from the sous-chef were clear. Hold the tray underneath with the palm of your hand. Your hand should be at the centre of the tray and hold it up just over your shoulder. Walk straight, keep your face forward. Do not talk over the platter, make sure it is always just over your shoulder! The crowd applauded as I made my entrance into the middle of the cobblestoned square. Aiyah, the sous-chef did not warn me about the cobblestones. Have you carried a platter with the biggest snapper you have ever seen with just the palm of your hand? Try, it isn’t so easy. Especially if you aren’t wearing non-slip shoes. A heavy platter that feels heavier with every step you take and slippery cobblestones can only mean one thing. CRASH! And more applause as the beautifully baked snapper and garnish dressed in Christmas colours slid off the silver platter. The giant snapper glided along the cobblestones like it was still alive. The Sous-chef simply said, do not ever do that again. No four lettered word for once. That showed his anger. Don’t just keep bowing to your audience, clean the mess up quickly!