Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Anthropology Of Cliché

OK, I know I suck at chess. I can never get above a 1400 rating on Gameknot, and they have the friendliest rating system ever. (1200 is absolute beginner.)

But what I excel at is buying books, and buying chess books has been not been exempt from the weird behavioural quirk that, I find out today, might be termed my illusio. ("It's the investment people make in the activities that give meaning to their lives, their committment to them." Something beyond receiving blowjobs I guess.) I think my interest and skills in chess may have more of the dellusio to them than any illusio, ho ho, however.

Part of my 4,000 point plan in reducing my dependency upon the physical, hard-cover, soft-cover, awkward to hold, printed word (I just can't fire up the passion for my Kindle, it's so fucking impersonal. Handy. But fucking impersonal.) is to... Stop. Buying. Books. Point 354 is to buy fewer books.

It's like when you're on a diet (I am on a diet) and you see a cookie. You know that that cookie is jammed packed with 1200 calories of evil deliciousness, right? So if you eat it, wham bam, straight through your overly-efficient starvation-keyed metabolism and it's on your waistline (if you still have any part of your body that can be reasonably identified as a waist.) There should be a calorie trading scheme. Or a some spooky mystic weird universe in which not eating that cookie that you have in front of you, not just results in zero calories added but also is calorie-traded in such a way that you lose the fat version of 1200 calories just by not eating it.

So you eat it one time; you don't eat it the next time. Balances out, right?

With books the same. You see a book you absolutely must have (the complete poems of Sappho, for example) even though there is zero chance of you ever opening it again after those few seconds of browsing in the Paragon Kinokuniya, and thinking how cool, but you don't buy it… and some space appears on your ridiculously orverflowing shelves. That makes room for the purchase that you do make - Counterplay, An Anthropologist At The Chessboard, by Robert Desjarlais (and I am presuming that Desjarlais is the anthropologist in question) - OK becasue now there is space. Oops the fucking Sappho anthology got in there as well. Lesbians, can't stop 'em. As in people form Lesbos. According to some of these verses, it was men that got her going! (Ah, no was thinking of the Lesbia lady of Catullus's poems - you know, "the words of women should be writ on running water" guy, and yes I have an anthology of his as well. Know fuck all about poetry. Right up there with chess. Plenty of books though.)

Anthropology. Chess. Cool.


I've been working on a particularly difficult presentation for most of today - I have no idea how the machine works, and I have to explain it to 37 others for most of Monday - when I wasn't buying and not buying books and definitely not eating cookies. Saturday. In Bangkok. Working. Sigh. Again.

At 11pm I drop down to the 24hr restaurant at the front of my hotel, say hello to the old experienced hooker who sits there all day with a large glass of red wine in front of her, poised like Shelob (only Shelob didn't drink wine or fuck people for money), grab a table overlooking the seventh level of Sukhomvit (which Hell can only aspire to) and order a low-carb steak salad and a happy hour, high-carb, beer. Which means two beers. I tear the plastic wrapping from the book, spend three minutes trying to get the statically charged film from my arm hairs (it's like a sticky booger you've rolled up into a ball, just won't flick off your fingertips, just keeps swapping from one to the other) and settle down to enjoy some significant anthropological insights concerning 16 pieces on a 64 square board.

The book seems OK, sure, and after only a few pages I have picked up a few nice quotations and that line about illusio, which I like. We've had Tibetan Buddhist death rites, Philippine head-hunters (from Makati or Anglese City?), Nepalese shamans, GZA from Wu-Tang Clan penning lyrics for his song Queen's Gambit, Marcel Duchamp who "needs a good game of chess like a baby needs a bottle", Simone Weil saying "Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer", Joe the IT engineer who thinks "you've got to be a masochist to want to play competitive chess, T.S Eliot (speaking of poetry), and more... by page 26. Phew.

One slightly sour note hit my (failing) ears back on p9, and that was the phrase: "nexus of people." I felt sure that the idiom was mostly right (I think of nexus as a hub or axis of relationships) it just seemed like an overly twee expression for a guy who had to inform us earlier that illusio is a Latin word. Well, d'uh, so is nexus. Ah, it is probably just me. He also says "cyborgian", so what the hell. Nexus, schme… whatever.


However - get that gird on your loins people - on p23, this… this… DISASTER of E@L exploding proportions:

"But you don't want to avoid it like the plague, either."


[My emphasis, btw.] Can you believe that this anthropologist was given a book contract? This is 2012, yeah? (I have trouble with dates.) People are smarter now, right? Apart from the logic in the sentence sounding somewhat strange - sort of a double negative* - the fact that he has just used the biggest, worsest, mostest blatantest, fucking cliché EVER is completely stunning (which is why, several sentences ago, I was stunned.)

This is the cliché they warned you about at school, that your mother told you not to accept sweets from. From Strunk and White (I am guessing) to Fowler and Gowers, from Funk and Wagnell's to Beavis and Butthead, the warning is shouted from the tops of various tall places that would act to promote transmission of the voice, this is the cliché to avoid like the, wait for it, plaque on my dentist's wall.

From "nexus" (see, I am a brainy writer) to "avoid it like the plague" (I am the dumbest fuck writer ever and my editor should be sacked.) That is right up there with Dan Brown's classic: "he was beginning to think it was going to be a long night." (Two clichés for the price of several hundred.)

That drunken farang screaming abuse at the sex-workers of the world in a passing tuk-tuk nearly received a free copy of "Counterplay." Not completely free, as I did have to pay for it.

Sigh. Should I stop reading now? Should I quit the book, quaff my beer(s) and get back to my overdue Powerpoint nexus? Sigh.

Well there have been some gems in there. Maybe I'll give the guy another chance, he is only an anthropologist after all. (Recall that in 'Waiting For Godot" the most offensive term Ponzo (was it?) could come up with was 'architect!')


Bang. Page 27. "…But step inside the place on any weekend and you'll happen upon [groan] a cramped but vital domain of chess praxis."

Is praxis a Latin word, I wonder. (Yes.) (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Praxis.)

Nexus, followed closely by Praxis. Praxis I shouldn't complain about, it is a word from the soft sciences, but it's all these X words he spouts. They're so unexpected. Inexplicably so.

But I complain, inexorably, I complain. Complaining is my illusio, my praxio, my nexio.

And I buy books. Sometimes I read them. And I fail at chess. Fail badly. Fail more badderly next time. But I hope like hell that as a writer (stop laughing) intractable blogger I am able to step around or subvert many of the major clichés. When I do spot myself using them at face value (I mean, at the value of a face) that is.


And it's late, and I do be grumpy and the book is OK, I guess, I'm just in a mood because despite telling my colleagues three weeks ago we needed to get stuck into these PPTs… I hadn't done a nexus thing. I'd been, you know, avoiding it.


* well yeah, it's meant to be a double negative in context. You don't want to skip playing Blitz Chess forever, but, seriously, do you want to chase it like the plague?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Shadow And The Shadow

It is almost 1 pm. The sun is shining as bright as is astronomically possible. It is a cloudless day. The pale blue water of the swimming pool looks refreshing, cool, inviting, as clear as chlorine and the reflected sky can turn it. Every now and then I leave the shade of the umbrella over the table where I write this. (The text uploads to the Evernote servers automatically, my unmatched prose duplicated into the - impossible 10-years ago, surely - computing cloud, already transported to whatever computers are running at home or at work. Magic really.) I stand at the pool's edge and prepare to disturb the near perfect stillness. The pumps are bubbling small ripples, their tiny coruscations are mirrored through refractions of sunlight to dance on the bottom.

I throw no shadow. Turning my head up so my that vision is vertical, I confirm that the sun is directly overhead. It is the equinox tomorrow. We are ready for the second half of the year, identical but reversed. Six months with the sun casting shadows to the south, six months casting them north.

I dive in with a large splash and my breath stops for a second. It is cool alright. It is refreshing. I surface and gasp a lung full of air. Calmly I swim to the edge and rest my arms on the tiles, lay my head on my elbows and let my body float. It is a fast pool, the water level breaches the edge and trickles past the first row into the slotted drainage tiles that circle the pool, like another perimeter. After my dive they have some heavy work to do.

I am not up to doing laps today. I just want to cool down. I want to get some sun.

I am prepared to allow my body to be bombarded with radiation, happy to have my melanin suck in a barrage of UV. I want a better suntan, not cancer, so there is another layer of absorptive agent, some low-wattage water-resistant sunscreen that takes away most of the UV-B and UV-C, and it shines off my skin, at least those parts I could reach.

As well as punching the keys here, I have been re-reading The Prestige and am still confounded by Christopher Preist's amazing legerdemain. Can Borden (grand-pere - Christian Bale in the movie - and/or grand-fils) bi-locate or does he have an identical twin? Which is The Prestige? Artifice or sorcery?

The movie was on cable the other night and was better than I remember it. Good in fact. (Christopher Nolan, what do you expect?) But it answers the question clearly, which i found disappointing. The novel, as I remember, leaves it tantalizingly ambiguous. Both answers seem correct. This is Priest, his specialty is split and duplicated realities. (And The Affirmation is also about twins.) But I read the novel a while before the film was made and want to brush up on The Pledge, The Pact and The Prestige. (I think is that what they are called. Memory 0, Making It Up 1.) I want to see if I was right about the movie being wrong. If you've been reading here, you know these things are my peeve at the moment.


As an aside, both my testicles are being crushed by a combination of the twisted polyester trunks that contain them and the hard cushion-less seat. I think I shall get back into the pool when I finish writing these words and sort them out...


Sunday. And I am out of my bedroom before noon. Unheard of.

I didn't wake to the church bells at 10am, nor to the couple in the flat above going at it - regular as the bells - for their weekly bout of horizontal folk-dancing. But I am awake nevertheless near eleven. There is a sound outside my door. The flat-mate and his girlfriend. I doff the CPAP, turn down the humidifier and off the air-con. (n.b.: Singlish is creeping into my vocab. Lah.) With these domestic ambient-sound generators quiet, I can hear outside my room more clearly. Not that I am eavesdropping, I getting up for my shower and I can hear, that's all.

The girlfriend says something in her high voice, the slightly echoing accent of a Chinese mainlander who has learned her English at a village school and refined it with American boyfriends in Shanghai and now Singapore. Unmistakable. (We've spoken about it around the dinner table before: she is quite aware of its uniqueness and finds our discussions amusing.) I hear the click of her heels as she puts on her shoes, then a clunk as the door closes and I hear my flatmate's footsteps - he has come back in alone. The door to his room closes.

When I come out from my shower to make breakfast, his door is still closed. I crush up some Weet-bix for fibre, lay on a hefty sprinkle of blueberries for their antioxidants, scoop two spoons of unsweetened yoghurt against the looming immanent diabetes and to feed the bowel parasites, and finally a generous trickle of honey because, as mentioned, the yoghurt is unsweetened. I top the bowl with low-fat milk and mush it all together. I see that it is a lovely day. I decide that, in a minute, I will lie by the pool.


In the water it is majestically pleasant as I rest half-in half-out and contemplate life. Employment. Leisure. Vast wealth and political influence. I have about three of these. I am alive, have a well-paying job and am lost in relaxing reverie in a beautiful swimming pool on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in the tropics. On the equator, on the split between north and side, two halves of a global orange. I am not don't-care-what-I-spend wealthy but 5%, you know what I mean. I am smiling, almost laughing at how good I have it. Health? Not so much, admittedly. Enough of that. Denial.

Urine. Back-up. Urgent. I needed to pee. I am too old to let it go here like a child, so I climb out, take a brief de-chlorinating pool-side shower - the pole which holds the shower rose has no shadow either - dry my legs and trunks to minimize dripping (and the possibility of slipping) on the 'marble' floor of the flat and head to the lobby door.

A fat man with thin legs walks towards me. My heart drops a beat, but metaphorically only. The two of us pause. It is my reflection in the glass walls of the condominium's gym. I always surprise myself with this body. I hardly ever recognize it as my own. This unreal reality is not me, for inside is my perception of me and looking out my eyes, these eyes that I can touch (as does the reflection, mimicking me, parodying me) is a strong lad, nineteen, fit from several years of surfing who boasts a large-breasted girl-friend and locks of long springy blonde hair. The ethereal creature in fornt of me now is a lonely, sad old man, albeit with job, alive, good money and otherwise relaxed.

I am in the process of making a new myself in this gym. I have lost nearly 10kgs. I'll never bring that young man back to existence, I know. I am merely trying to reassemble myself as a person who might live longer than the guy on my side of the reflection, as a person who might outlast the current dangerously unfit version of me.

There are a pair of lady's shoes on the stand at the door when I re-enter the apartment. I am struck by this. Where they there when I left to go, ahem, swimming 45 minutes before? I seem to recollect they were, they might have been, but who can trust my memory? They certainly look like the flatmate's girlfriend's shoes. Slight heel, thin straps and sparkly girlish adornments to support her lithe acrobat's body. She must have left them there. Gone off in flip-flops? Unlikely. She only ever came in one pair of shoes, I am sure. I had never seen her in anything but heels like these. One pair at a time. Either she had brought another pair, a twin set, or someone else had left earlier. Who was it? Someone with her voice? Impossible.

I reason that she might have come back while I was at the pool, (submerged or resting, swimming, absorbed my writing or lost in my reading) but the path by the pool was her only access. I hadn't seen her. I'd seen others: the fortunate and rare maids with a day off, heading to Lucky Plaza or to Golden Mile; hookers doing the walk of shame; mum and dad leading the triplets off to their ballet lesson, the identical girls cute as buttons in tutus and white tights - they all wave; but not her.

No, she could not have come back this way. Then, I reason again, less convincingly this time, that she might still be there and it was someone else who had left. But it was her voice at the door earlier, I could swear it on a dozen copies of The Origin Of The Species.

I go into the en-suite of my room, and take a brief, dribbling, unsatisfying piss. My trunks are already wet, so what. Prostate, sigh.

When I come out of my room the flatmate and his girlfriend, whom you will understand I am surprised to see, are at the kitchen door. They smile and say good morning. The flatmate's smile is exceptionally broad. The girlfriend's is more tentative. Is she embarrassed about something?

I say good morning, hesitating for almost a moment too long, and come back out to the pool all confused.

And I have a slight shadow now.

How could she still have been in the room (as the evidence now says she was) and yet outside it as well, leaving the apartment? Was this a trick? Maybe she could bi-locate like Borden in the novel? Ha! Did she have a twin, a sister also trained in the family circus troupe in China since a toddler? Able to fold herself to fit into an impossibly small tube, able to bend backwards way over to touch her feet on the floor in front of her smiling face with her arse resting on the back of her head?

I think of the flatmate's exaggerated smile, a cat and cream smile, and I curse him. That must be it! The perfect threesome!

I dive firmly into the pool making an enormous splash, and underwater I scream into a stream of bubbles all of my envy and frustration.

(OK it was raining the day I took the photo, this is not today. Though of course it rained today as well.)


[Hey flatmate. You know the girlfriend I made up for this story is not the girlfriend lying on the couch with you now, right? Or her twin. Not either of them. Don't hit me!]

Monday, March 12, 2012

I <3 Singapore - ish.

This post is not *just* a shameless piece of self-aggrandizement (see prevous post) but after nearly 8 years here, E@L is forced to admit that he agrees with the opinions expressed in the following article.

Ten Reasons Why I Love Singapore.


Six or seven years ago E@L would have ripped this article to shreds or at least rewritten it, emphasizing the negative aspects of the Singapore attributes that have been given a jocularly positive spin in this article.

Something like:

1. Efficiency
Yes, slave labour, stimulated by the threat of being burned with a hot iron or thrown out a 19th floor window, or merely by the promise from a snakehead people-trafficker of a salary marginally above the starvation levels of poverty you have left your family to wallow in at home (c.f. Slumdog Milionaire), will give you that.

2. Late-night Singapore
Late? LATE? You've never been to Hong Kong then. E@L once heard the expression: "If New York is the city that never sleeps, Hong Kong is the city that doesn't even blink." Singapore, even at its liveliest - when kids in pyjamas are playing in the Clarke Quay fountain at 11pm - can't match it.

3. Anytime, anywhere
Nothing that you want. Everything that you already have. Such as "Singapore is a Fine City" fridge magnets. Grant you the omnipresent hookers though.

4. The small details matter
Like the 20c charge for the wet napkin, whether you use it or not.

5. Cheap parking
OK, parking is cheaper than Sydney, but that's not saying much. The COE ensures that rational people avoid private transport. Only the poor are gullible enough to go into massive debt to buy a status symbol at twice its actual price, whereas the comfortably well off (i.e. E@L) call a taxi.

6. Reliable service
Reliably rude, off-hand and dismissive.

7. Changi Airport
Terminal 3. WTF. Built on a scale that anticipates the days when humans will be 30ft tall and can walk 2km in 7.8secs from a standing start. Ever lost luggage coming into Singapore? The people in the miniscule Lost Luggage Cupboard are usually asleep or absent or both. Never encountered such an inefficient bunch, and E@L has had lost luggage all over the place.

8. Predictable weather
God is laughing. Ha.

10. A multi-cultural city
Bloody whingeing Australians everywhere you look.


Sunday, March 11, 2012


E@L was wondering recently about where all the Singapore Expat blogs had gone, the few that were extant back when we all (MercerMachine and E@L) attended the Blogger.SG.2005 seem to have evaporated. Just as have many of his favorite political bloggers (MollyMeek and Xenoboy). He was looking for other Singapore blogs for that earlier post and found this site: sgBlogs for what it is worth.

He is not sure if people still troll for new blogs. E@L for one has enough to read already thank very much. But nevertheless Expatalarge is not their list so maybe a few potential abusers and flamers are missing to chance to call him a racist, xenophobic, foreign-talent sponger.

It's true that Singapore is not main focus these days. Nothing is: E@L is both myopic and...the other one...exophthalmic? no!...presbyopic, when it comes to blog topics. Eclectic, that's the word. No, unfocussed is the word. However, as he has noted earlier, his documentation of Orchard Towers with Bruce on the prowl is one of his most popular posts, and that's about Singapore.

Now that SarongPartyGirl=Izzy is no longer his flatmate, has moved to Holland and effectively stopped blogging there's not so much second-hand sexual excitement going down at E@LGHQ either.

E@L is not sure if he will meet the criteria of being Singapore "focused" anymore. In his employment E@L is responsible for the entire South-East Asian region, with very little Singapore contact these days (not that he ever had much), so he is more likely to find things that shock and horrify him elsewhere in SEA. He has abused Singapore enough for the moment and is quite inured to many of its peccadilloes. These only grate when people are new to town (nearly 8 years thank you very much, send flowers if you will) or, for him, whenever there is an elect...[sneeze - aaahh-ahfascism]...ion looming

So anyway, if the editors are agreeable that the historically Singaporean focus early on in E@L's blog, particularly in its early incarnation, Expat-at-large, back when all things Singaporean irritated him, qualify him, they might, just might, let him onto the list, and ye who search for blogs from this region might find E@L and send his stats way up there... to somewhere just below Xiaxue...

Not that he gives a rat's arse. (Then how come so many of his recent blogs have stats focused?)



E@L is attempting once again to get onto his extended semi-fictional documentation of the last 14 years. BTW.


[Addendum: all I've got out of this so far is getting Xiaxue on my FB feed.]

Friday, March 09, 2012

Brains Of The Family

-- My brother - you know Charles? - he comes up so many crack-pot ideas, I just don't listen to him anymore. He's...

-- Yes, so you've said.

-- He's always finding some new thing or other, going to change the world, make his fortune. He knows...

-- Indeed.

-- He knows I love him dearly, he's doing his best with limited resources, but I try to not take any notice of his silly talk. Today, guess what he came at me with? He told me had invented a device for cleaning the brain. Can you believe it! Cleaning the brain!

-- Whatever next? Cleaning the brain!

-- When he goes on with this rot, I pretend I can't hear him... Just let it wash over me.... He can talk if he wants, but I'm not listening...

-- Did he tell you how it works?

-- Just goes in one ear and out the other...


I tried really, really hard not to press "publish", but I yam whose I yam... and that's


Tuesday, March 06, 2012


Exactly what 54yo E@L didn't need to read after 5 weeks of dieting (down 6 kgs) and massively increased exercise regime. From nothing to 1:30hr in the gym four times a week and 1hr+ walking in the off days and 30mins swimming when the sun is shining and he is working from home. Long term benefits, according to this article - fuck all.


Cardiac Risk: Late repentance is useless

Whoever cuts their cardiac risk factors often believes that they are then on the safe side. Yet this sense of safety is a deception for the middle-aged: according to U.S. authors, five-or ten-year cardiac risk may then be reduced, but over a lifetime period it isn't.

Excess body weight, lack of exercise, stress, smoking and more – in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, each risk factor that can be eliminated counts. As long as physical changes and damage are not as yet detectable, nothing has as yet happened – a process of rethinking and behavioral changes made towards a healthy lifestyle are the best guarantee of longevity.

This is wrong: such is the opinion of cardiologists working under Jarret Barry of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, because the current approach in the prevention of heart problems is to identify only the short-term cardiac risk. Only a few studies, such as one investigation done in 2006 with participants in the Framingham study, shed some light on the long term risk. Early life decisions might have a major impact on the rest of one's life and this rule would not apply any differently to the heart. Risk factors for the young and middle aged have an impact on one's total lifetime, says one analysis of studies from the scientists published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Each risk factor counts

Data based on the analysis of the lifetime risks for the heart has been collected from 18 cohort studies making up the Cardiovascular Lifetime Risk Pooling Project. The data is part of a 50-year-long investigation. Risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and smoking were recorded for more than 250,000 people – men and women – at 45, 55, 65 and 75 years of age as well as cardiovascular disease status. For each age category, the risk of cardiovascular events was determined.

An optimal risk profile was defined as having cholesterol at <180 mg/dl, blood pressure lower than120/80 mmHg, non-smoking status, and no diabetes. For this optimal risk profile at the age of 55 years, the lifetime risk (up to age 80 years) of dying due to cardiovascular disease, with figures being 4.7 percent for men and 6.4 percent for women, is low. With two or more risk factors present, the risk of death due to vascular disease increases to 29.6 percent in men and 20.5 percent for women. Coronary heart disease or nonfatal heart attack is suffered by 3.6 percent of men and less than one percent of women, when they have no risk factors. For those with two or more risk factors, those figures are 37.5 percent for men and 18.3 percent for women.

Who has no risk factor?

Even more dramatic is the comparison of the risks for 45-year-olds. A man of that age not having risk factors only carries a risk of 1.4 percent of dying up to the age of 80 years from cardiovascular disease. With two or more risk factors, the risk increased to 50 percent. For women, the difference is 4.1 versus 31 percent.

Taking into consideration – as is done in most studies – only the five-or ten-year risks, where the risks for 50-year-old risk factor-carriers then become rather small, is something the study's authors have criticised. In addition, only a slight increase in risk factors – such as slightly elevated cholesterol levels or blood pressure – can increase the risk significantly. Most study participants presented at least one risk factor.

With regard to the prevention of cardiovascular events, the results show that only the avoidance of risk factors in young and middle age was able to considerably reduce cardiovascular disease. When discovered and treated only in middle age, risks can only be slightly reduced and disease only slowed down in progression. [My emphasis]

Dr. Julia Hofmann
Medical Journalist



Start slim and healthy, stay slim and healthy, and one day you'll be a slim and healthy person with Altzeimers is the lesson here.

This why you don't see a really old fat people. They've had a brilliant life, spared themselves nothing, and got out before the rot set in. Maybe not so much good sex, unless they flash the Charisma card and stock up on the Viagra (headache!) and Cialis, and hence they are a valid target demographic for up-country Thai girls.


[Precis of the original article available on-line at NEJM.

Some Old E@L Opinions, Observations and Tales

E@L was contemplating the implications for himself of the previous post so he went hunting for some of his previously stated opinions. Found these from his abandoned blog (it was crashing all the time locking people out, even E@L - moved to Blogger in 2008). Most of these snippets, if not all, are from posts in 2004 and 2005.


One comment, not about hookers but about the legal system: Expat Nation - Farang Affairs

Ah Thailand. It'd be tragic, if it wasn't so tragic.

Just seemed appropriate.


A classic. One of E@L's first concerning the scene... The Charisma Card

You see, with any (valid) credit card, E@L and the thousands like him, acquire the neon-halogen glow of true SuperStars, of party animals out to bring it all down! He pulls out the card and *Charisma* comes to him and flows from him, billowing behind like a cloak. Charm wraps itself all over his body - he is Mr Popular, he is Johnny Love. The crowds part, the band stops playing, the most beautiful girls turn to him, wonder who he is, whether they’ll be lucky enough to go home with him tonight. Their voices rise, entranced at the power of his presence, to call out in an irrestible song of the sirens...

"Hello. Welcome! What you like drink? Beer, Carsbuck, Hinick?"


This post from 2004, Expatriatism! Easier to spell than antidisestablishmentarianismistically, (stupid title) is in response to the review (by Pico Ayer) of a book by an American expat in Japan. Pico, presumably paraphrasing, spoke of the expat who complained that wherever he was, he was not at home. E@L (who can count only to five in about four, no three, Asian languages [the number six just won't stay in the LTM!]) took umbrage at this, somewhat unfairly in retrospect.

Expatriatism! It's our favorite 'ism!

What does it mean for the E@L? It means a chance to experience and explore different attitudes to life, to traffic, to sexual mores, to food, to work, to worry, to family, to pretty much everything. To see things being done differently and for different reasons. To realize that an incomprehensibly varied range of motives drive the people in those countries that are not our home reference point (if we have one!) It's not in order to become like a native, for that's merely exchanging one limited world view for another. As Joyce might say, to exchange a rational and coherent mistake for an irrational and incoherent one. (Not that Australia is rational and coherent, but I had to get that quote in somehow, somewhere in my life!) The idea is to gain experience and glean insight - not necessarily to judge, though one might criticize (just might!) - maybe in order to make some more sense of why things are as they are at everybody's version of home.


Apropos that, here's E@L complaining that Singapore is not Hong Kong (let alone Australia). Going Troppo - it had to happen!".

The fact that the restaurants and nightspots he wants to go to are shut on the weekend! The fact that it takes 7 mintues between trains and not 2 minutes. The fact that they say "6th Storey", and not "6th Floor". The fact that "Mannings" is "Guardian." The fact that taxis disappear after 10pm. The fact that Singlish is nowhere NEAR English. The fact that those taxis have manual transmission and every drive-chain in Singapore is ruined because the drivers don't understand how to use a clutch! The fact that there is nothing but a sticky, sweaty summer here. The fact that the ground is all horizontal and not vertical (there are no views!) The fact that it has the death penalty and the cane and no-one cares. The fact that the entire place looks like a golf course - step out of bounds and it's a two stroke penalty. The fact that everyone is only concerned with getting E@L's money...

The touts come at him... "Like some more?" says the one at the next restaurant ... " Have an Indian dessert., sir" ... "Chinese, Thai, Chili crab." ...

"Get ... out ... of .. my ... WAY!"

His voice rises...


He hasn't? He has. He has vocalised that. He said that out loud. Out VERY loud.

He smiles at some tourists, walking towards him, slowing down, staring at him... He frowns.

The touts step back. They've witnessed such breakdowns before.

Tourists think: "Mmm. The local madman. Gone troppo, not doubt. Every town out here has one. Yes, the humid charm of the Quaint Orient takes it toll and here is one of it's victims! It's all that gin, to fight the malaria, destroys the brain too! Say, let's buy some chili crab, as this honest looking waitress is offering a meal at what promises to be a discount rate!"

Woah, stand back from this lunatic. No, it's OK it's safe to near him now, he won't bite. His medication, not Inderal as mentioned in the post, but the mood stabiliser Lamitrogine, which fortunately and off-label kills 95% of his peripheral neuropathy agony, and perhaps seven years of acculturation have tamed this beast down. Mostly. Unfortunately for the popularity of this blog, he has calmed down a lot since then.


This post, A common HK expat pastime..., is also from 2004 (when E@L was almost articulate). Not so much in Singapore as domestic helpers do not necessarily get a day off (you should read some the tales told by domestics looking for new employment - damn, lost the link) as they do in Hong Kong, the following is more applicable up there. E@L has now heard of it as called The Tea-Party (nothing related to that misguided bunch of billionaire-funded tax-avoiders in USA - Note: E@L is legitimately not required to pay tax in Australia).

A good part of the Sunday afternoon and early evening of many a Hong Kong male expat is taken up with prowling Neptune II, New Makati, Fenwicks, Dusk Till Dawn and the like in Wanchai for prospective replacement maids. ...

This sort of behaviour of the male expat does entail a fair whack of double-think, because he knows he is being used, just as he knows that he is doing a great deal of the traditional colonial-style, white-man's-burden "using". It's not so much repicrocal altruism as mutual exploitation. No money changes hands in the usual scenario, but there is a debt incurred and a debt repaid. The girl gets a day in a decent flat, even if she does have to clean it up, she gets a bit of (let's face it, girls need their lovin') sexual attention and simulated affection - which is a lot more than she gets during the rest of the week (unless "Madam" has a headache and "Sir" is feeling horny) - and she gets the chance to plead her case for rescue. The guy gets his flat cleaned up and his seminiferous tubules purged. Win-win.

And so the world advances. Well it rotates anyway.

Never was successful there, never tried very hard. All that conversation... As the pundits sing: "You couldn't score in Wanchai!"


Here are E@L and Bruce, um, E@L means Bruce and another Bruce, trudging through Bintan in search of a mythical pub and finding an Indonesian version of the fish-bowl: The Quest,

L-G[aka Bruce], being a more hardened campaigner, checks out the age, looks, and size of the women on offer. He asks the eventual question and is shocked. Here in this grimy, peeling-paint, malodorous sex-slave camp, the broken-smiled, cigarette-reeking, oily-haired boys-in-charge are asking tourists such us E@L [aka Bruce] and L-G to pay for a forced shag on some stained and uncomfortable mattress in a noisome room upstairs a price that could be easily be negotiated in the comfort and sophistication (tongue-in-cheek) of Orchard Towers in Singapore and for much prettier, more intelligent and enthusiastic (the benefit of free-enterprise) companions de nuit at the accommodation of your choice. Even L-G abandons the idea of utilizing this offensive and unethical establishment and comes outside to find E@L seeking further enlightenment as to where the more conventional and somehow less tacky and exploitative local outlets of the Assisted Ejaculation Industry are located.


E@L is again pinpointed as a sex-tourist. And he's only at the airport! Scenes Of The Crimes:

Walking up to the counter for a Limo-taxi, the girl immediately asked "Taxi, Pattaya?" Yep, even disguised with a long-sleeve shirt, long trousers, socks and shoes, E@L still exudes the aura of a depraved sex-tourist.

Ah, the ineluctable tyranny of stereotyping for the foreign fat-man.

He fired her a rather fierce look and said, "Klong Tooee, Conrad Hotel, karp koon krap."

"Oh, you bin Thailand before? Speak Thai?"

"Nit noi," he mumbled, rapidly approaching the end of the line for his Thai language 'skills'... He paid his 700Bht for instant access to a clean car that shouldn't break down, and took off for town.


[Addendum] OK. One more. Unscientific Research (slight return)

And so. Here he is. Fat, forty-something, bald, single. In a sexually charged environment. He is a stereotype. A cliche. Someone's vision of all that's wrong with Asia. His own vision from not that many years ago, in fact. He has become his own worst nightmare. At least he is not cheating on a wife somewhere. The X said recently to him that she was amazed that he could even contemplate doing the things he does now. He would never have gone into a brothel, she says, when she knew him. And she was right. There are early E@L stories of transactions declined, and anecdotes of great mirth concerning such exploits. He hates himself for exploiting women; he hates men who exploit women; he hates how men can cheat on their girlfriends and wives so easily so blatantly. He knows that sex is not good enough reason, no matter how one rationalizes it. Deep down he knows this. Is he right? Or is Dr Kinsey? ...

... Anyone can look quickly into a crowd here and only see the old, fat guys with their chicks, because they are the ones that fit your prejudice, that fit your anticipated result... But if you try hard and actually COUNT them...

So, here are the stats for the first six guys that walk past with a slim, semi-dressed local girl :

20s - 3,
30s - 2,
40s or higher - 1

Slim - 5,
Pudgy - 0,
Fat - 1

Normal - 4,
Little Bit Weird - 1,
Out There - 1 (Kris Kristofferson in Blade look-alike)


Aiya, Jesus wept... E@L is crying here. OK, you get the idea. Giving up at this point, it's lunch-time. How many of these post are there? Too many? Not enough? Put 'em into a book man!


"My Boyfriend The Sex Tourist."

Something of a stereotype breaker - at least as far as the "trafficking" situation of some of the working girls in places that cater to mostly westerners is concerned.

At least you can see that not every bar-girl in Bangkok has been dragged off the farm by marauding snakeheads and chained to their beds in a cardboard dungeon. Well, yes, no, not every bar-girl...



It would be an interesting exercise to study the expectations, feelings and motivations of these boyfriends in more depth (say, to the bottom of three bottles of Hennessy) and in a less stereotypical way... If that is, um, like, possible. Nah.


Bruce of course has had some experience of less salubrious working conditions...


It is depressing and frustrating to wander the streets by yourself in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Phuket, browsing in the shopping malls or checking out the temples. You are old, fat, bald, generally unattractive. You are wearing cargo shorts, a loose shirt or tee, and sandals. You know that everyone in the world is making the assumption that you a sex tourist.

It is even more depressing and frustrating when you admit to yourself that this is exactly what you are.

Bruce (in a more contemplative mood than we are used to.)


Gustave Flaubert, the man who was able to look so profoundly and convincingly into a woman's heart, was a completely sleazy sex-tourist on his trips to Egypt, reveling in his debauchery... Not that this is any form of excuse...


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Poverty Porn IV

You think of travelers as bold, but our guilty secret is that travel is one the laziest ways on earth of passing the time. Travel is not merely the business of being bone-idle, but also an elaborate bumming evasion, allowing us to call attention to ourselves with our conspicuous absence while we intrude upon other people's privacy - being actively offensive as fugitive freeloaders.
Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star. [Opening sentences. My emphahsis.]



“Everybody in the slum wants to work, and everybody wants to make themselves better,” he said.

Quote via NYT.


Friday, March 02, 2012


Everything that isn't autobiographical is plagiarism.

Paco Umbral* (usually, and mistakenly, attributed to Pedro Almódovar)

That's Pedro on the left for sure, maybe Paco on the right?


* whoever the fuck he/she is.

Listen - New Yorker Fiction Podcasts

E@L subscribes to this podcast. One of two, the other being polymath, or at least poly-listener, poly-interviewer, poly-pre-reader, Melvyn Bragg's amazing In Our Time from the BBC. But back to the New Yorker.

E@L was working out on the gym (IKYN) in Bangkok last week and was listening to what he thinks now is a very good short story, Thomas Beller’s "A Different Kind of Imperfection,” and was also intent on following the discussions between the reader, Said(umlaut over 'i') Sayrafiezadeh, and fiction editor Deborah Treisman at the beginning and end of the reading. This is a great way to learn about how short stories work E@L has found. He hasn't done anything with any of this knowledge, but he has found it.

You can still listen to or download the podcast on the New Yorker website. A Different Kind of Imperfection. It's 42 minutes, 30 being the story itself... Please do so.

If you don't listen to you it or reread it, if you have the collection (E@L doesn't, he has to keep jumping around the podcast to confirm things), the following small essay won't make one iota of sense. Move along, nothing to read here.


E@L was not so impressed with the story initially, it was vague and inconclusive (traits E@L generally admires in entertainment ) because the relationship of Alex with his mother seemed to be unexplored (intentionally, E@L now realizes), however the discussion was moderately excellent. And Said(umlaut over 'i')'s narration is a bit anNOYing.

Turns out Said(umlaut over 'i') is a friend of Beller, and the story reminded him of his own childhood, etc... Yada yada. He spoke about how Beller's writing fascinates him and they both note how he reminds them of Salinger (and did they mention Kafka? No I am thinking of another podcast) and that the solipsistic protagonist, Alexander home from college for the Xmas holidays, may be Holden Caulfield a few years older.

They don't miss much. Good point: The Oedipal undertones are now as bright as the morning sun in Singapore and just as easy to spot, in retrospect - E@L didn't pick them up at first.

Alexander is always commenting on his mother's outstanding beauty. He describes her eyes as liquid, as a hazel which sometimes turns to green, her delicate high cheekbones, all with a barely suppressed sensuality. She looks like a goddess. Yep, Oedipus, front and center. (One of the Seven Basic Plots - well, not actually, Booker only gives it half of Chapter 30. Coleridge however calls OdRex one of the three perfect plots . Not sure about the other two.)

But E@L was now making other observations to augment those of Said(umlaut over 'i') and Deborah.

Masterly, Beller distracts you from the implications of this Oedipal lust, and instead makes you think the story is about; firstly the break-up of Alexander and his girlfriend, Sloane. This is what is making him depressed (imperfectly his friend tells him), lethargic, what keeps him at home with his mother, what prevents him from going skiing with his friend and chasing girls up and down those slopes.

Secondly the search for the secret, in a sense, identity of his dead father (a drawn out case of cancer, died when Alex was 10 [drawn out over 8 yrs, give me a break!*]). A fading photo shows his handsome but monkey-faced (huh?), absent father. Mother is beautiful, father is merely good looking. Alexander becomes obsessed with the objects in the house that might have been his father's. The Wolfschmidt whiskey, the cigarettes; he drinks them, smokes them - patently, Herr Dr Freud, he wants to replace, to become his father. Note that the father was a psychiatrist and has the, ahem, complete works of Freud on his shelves - Alex opens a page of one of the book, reads the word "incest" and shuts the book quickly. (Can't you hear Bernard Herrmann's score reach a screeching crescendo here?)

And, hey, what's that over there? There are hundreds and hundreds of other books scattered all round the apartment, piles of books on the floor, "spilling over everywhere." Alexander sees them again with fresh eyes, it is like he has not noticed them before. (He mentioned them earlier, casually.) He blithely assumes that these are his father's books and becomes fascinated and obsessed. He is looking through the books and he finds that some passages are underlined and with annotations that Alexander assumes to be his father's as, hmm, the handwriting resembles his own . Then he finds some words underlined (but not annotated) that strike him powerfully. He wonders why his father would be reading To The Lighthouse (Wolff, Wolfschmidt!) and marking passages like this:.

"She had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness."

This phrase keeps reappearing. He is baffled, "disturbed and moved", by his father underlining these words. It is not the words themselves he finds powerful, he can't even see them, but the surprising fact that his father underlined them. What was going on in his father's life that this phrase would mean something important. He feels that his father (the psychiatrist, remember) had discovered something, a secret that Alex isn't a party to. There is some mystery, there is a truth between the lines, a key. The answer is behind a wall he can't get past, beneath an impenetrable surface.

Yep, the story seems to be about Alex and his failure to comprehend his father.

And yet...

Crucially, the ambivalent Alex always pushes away from his mother's affection in what he calls "the unwilling retreat." It was like she loved him too much, he says. When he was young he felt that his parent's attention demanded more from him than he could supply. He can't talk to his beautiful mother, can't answer her questions. He isn't worthy.

At the very end of the story, Alexander, out for a walk, sees his mother walking back from shopping with her head down lost in thought (or crazy). When she sees him and fails to recognize him at first (her "look used to warm him"), she is for some reason shocked (OMG it's my husband reborn! we presume), but then she smiles when she does, and he rushes to her with a great, cathartic hug. He hugs her tightly, holds her tightly to him, because that expression on her face, that smile, makes him think she has an answer to something, as if "a secret, which only she knew, would slip away."


E@L gets it. Mum gets it. Alexander doesn't get it. Said(umlaut over 'i') Sayrafiezadeh and Deborah Treisman don't get it. And in failing to grasp the meaning of this secret, the final, unspoken, irony of the story, the only satisfying conclusion in my opinion, they failed in their responsibility to explain to us how this is not merely a good story but, how E@L sees it now, a VERY good story.

The main unsaid thing in E@L's opinion... the crucial thing... the unmentioned point of the fucken' story...

Their discussion didn't mention it. It was unnoticed. I was stunned. These smart people had missed the point. They got so far but failed to take the next step and so failed to find the brilliance of the story.


The secret? The key? Here's what I think.

Those were Alexander's mother's books.

Those were her notes and her underlining.

She was the one who thought that Virginia Wolff had nailed it. The books, the wisdom they contain had brought her solace, they were the therapy she needed to keep going. Fortunately for Alexander, she didn't drink the Wolfschmidt, but went running with the Wolff...

It was her who had known happiness, exquisite happiness, intense happiness. When her husband was alive, when she was in love. She never remarried.

Yep, mother had been depressed since her beloved husband died. Look at the state of the house. She had not had the apartment walls painted since her husband's death; chairs have broken wicker seats; the books are strewn untidily. She hardly ever had guests. She, like Sloane, is a professional at depression. Is this parallel what attracted Alex to Sloane in the first place?

That smile. She knows that Alex loves her, even thought he never says it explicitly, even though he has, shy, embarrassed, feeling inadequate, avoided answering her motherly questions all these years. She knows that he is disgusted with himself for his incestuous feelings.

His mother holds the secret, not his father. It is not his father he should have been looking for after all, it is his mother. And she was right there in front him. Part of him has been blocking this knowledge. Id, ego, superego. He has been afraid to find her, to reveal his love for her, because he doesn't deserve it. Pure Freud. If he looks like his father, then he too has a monkey face.

And so, at the end, when she is old and fading, no longer the beauty she once was, it is safe for him to give her love now and safe to accept her love for him, for she does love him and he does deserve her love. It is safe to give her that immensely affecting bear hug. A hug that should have been given years ago... Tears from E@L.


Please listen to the podcast, and tell me if you think this Oedipal stuff with the Chekhovian, O.Henry'ish twist is really there, or if E@L is imagining it, psychoanalysing himself Alexander into it. After which we can discuss the story and disagree (i.e. you can be wrong) or agree: let me know.

As most readers will realize, E@L is expecting only Savmarshmama to help him on this. Everyone else: Surprise me.


Of course I could send an email to Beller himself to see if confirm that he agrees with me.


Why am I feeling obsessed by this? Because I am meeting Mercermachine tomorrow for a coffee and to look at the draft his latest story and to bring something of my own to show to him. And I am therefore running away from this responsibility and am distracting myself with this frivolous post.

Class dismissed.


* this sort of scientifically impossible stuff turns me off story and films. MMmm, wonder if that 8 years cancer is a metaphor of 8 years with Alex? If so, it's OK.

[Not saying this is a great review and/or discussion, but E@L enjoyed writing it and wishes he had been able to get so impassioned and have such briliant insights (!) when he was at university.]

[The fact that E@L's father died when he was young and that his mother never remarried is not to be considered relevant here.]

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Poverty Porn III

One of the few snaps we took on the infamous Poverty Porn cruise in Si Phan Don, southern Laos, last month.

Odette grabbed his phone and snapped this one of E@L after he had voiced his disapproval once he realised that they were entering, not just a tourist trap, but the murky treacherous realm of 1st-World perversity. It was sold to us as a sunset boat-ride, however the solar action was behind us all the time. Sunset? Wah? Ah no, there was another agenda. Perhaps we were supposed to get it?

Yep instead we were expected instead to watch and take photos of people who were nearly naked, the children certainly were [you couldn't help but think 'pedophile alert'], as they engaged in their daily wash.

It was in the river, yada yada, ooh wow, but it was their daily fucken' ablutions. After a minute of not being sure what the fuck, E@L refused to look let alone take any Kodak moment memories.

But they looked at us as the boat slowed down, cruised past. Their looks flung back were a mixture of reluctant toleration and seething disdain, as we had been receiving for our whole time in Si Phan Don - not just "Get the fuck out of my bathroom," but, "Get the fuck off my fucken' island!"

And E@L fucken' well agrees with them.

As would you, should strangers people came into your shower and started taking pictures of you soaping up your nethers. Even friends!


E@L is not feigning that decidedly unimpressed mien. He was feeling bad, angry, disgusted with everyone, not excluding himself. You can almost see him writing that post in his head.


Yada yada, tourist money, gradual improvement, fine but not this cultural pornography. Laos would not be in such a state if we had not dropped millions of tonnes of bombs and incendiaries, intentionally and specifically to set children on fire.

Children like this. "Yay," they said. "Burn the gooks!"


[I thought I had a Flickr thingummy at the side, seems to have disappeared. Here is the link to Flickr if you are interested in seeing what a crap photographer I am.]

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