Chairman of the Bored: The week my girlfriend went away

“I have to go to London for work. But I’ll be back in a week, babe. I won’t be gone for long.”

My girlfriend left on a Saturday night for a business trip and tied in a visit to her best friend who has been living in London for a few years. She often travels for work and while I’ve become accustomed to her absences, I always blow the opportunity to enjoy some productive ‘me time’ by slobbering on the couch in a drunken funk and watching television till 3am before eventually dragging myself off to bed to watch the roof spin sickeningly before I sleep.

“Not this time!” I told myself. “I’m going to seize the day! I’m going to reacquaint myself with Singapore and do some exploring, I’m going to hit the gym, stick to my diet, play some golf, catch up with friends and start blogging again. I’m going to use time, not kill time, damn it! I’m not going to just sit on the couch drinking beer and playing games on my Playstation in my underwear. I am going to carpe the living hell out of every bloody diem!

Day 1 – Sunday

3.04pm: Been drinking beer and playing Playstation in my underwear since I got up four hours ago. I hate the way that toothpaste makes beer taste. Going to have to stop brushing my teeth in the morning.

5.49pm: Killing time by trawling YouTube videos for TV commercials from the 80’s. Saw that old infomercial for spray-on hair-in-a-can. The audiences in those infomercials are awful actors. I could feign surprise and awe far better than any them. Going to practice my affectations then contact my agent to get some acting work.

5.50pm: Remembered that I don’t have an agent.

5.51pm: Remembered that I can’t act.

8.33pm: Closest thing to food in the apartment is that blob of mayonnaise I left on the counter after using the last of the tuna and mayo for a sandwich three hours ago. Went to the 7-11 across the street and got some beer and something akin to dinner yet completely unlike food. Finally bought one of those Ballgus ready-to-eat sausages they always have on the counter. Always wondered if it was beef, pork or chicken. Tastes like eyes, lips and arseholes from a circus animal.

11.58pm: Woke up this morning with a mild tingle in my throat. The tingle has developed into a raspy cough. Was sick last week so I can’t possibly be sick again. Trudge off to my cold, empty bed.

Day 2 – Monday

7.10am: I feel like death but not in a sexy, “I’m a gleaming, glittery vampire who visits a sensual demise upon his adoring victims” kind of way; more in a “I’m about to cough up a gleaming, gelatinous pleura before dying alone in my apartment wearing nothing but old underwear and a three-day growth” kind of way. Drag myself off to work.

11.37am: Went to the office and coughed spasmodically all the way through Monday’s team breakfast. Told my boss that a slow, pneumonic death was imminent. No one likes the sound of a phlegmy cough when they’re trying to eat brekky. He took pity on me (or felt utter disgust – take your pick) and sent me home.

3.49pm: Air conditioner has started leaking very heavily. Water splashing everywhere. Perfect.

3.50pm: Tried logging onto Facebook but internet is down

3.51pm: F#ck.

4.28pm: Remembered that life existed – in some form, at least – before the internet. Decided to immerse myself in the rich literary works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Pulled out my favourite book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and settled into the couch for a solid reading session.

4.29pm: Fell asleep.

4.55pm: Woke up. Bent the hell out of the book’s cover after falling asleep on it. Drool stain on page two. Opened my book up again and started in on my reading session.

7.13pm: No food in the house but I need sustenance so I have to get creative. Learned that there is no combination of honey, month-old cheddar cheese and cloves that works in a sandwich, particularly when the only two pieces of bread left in the packet are those unwanted, friendless end pieces. Maybe if I toasted it…

7.15pm: Toasting did not go well. Ring McDonalds home delivery.

9.16pm: Painfully bored. Mind wandered aimlessly until it drifted into that void in man’s collective knowledge, that place where the truly great, timeless questions hover like unexplored worlds over our heads: Why the hell does Donald Duck, who wears no pants, bother to wrap a towel around his waist when he gets out of the shower? Then he puts on a shirt, rips off the towel and struts down the street, sans pants, duck dick waving in the wind. What the hell is that? Someone at Disney really dropped the ball on that one.

11.12pm: Fitful sleep.

Day 3 – Tuesday

7.12am: Got up for work but there’s no way I can go. My cough is making me sound like a dying dog after a botched tracheostomy.

4.39pm: Got up and watched The Dark Knight Rises on DVD. Wondered why the Blu-Ray looked so poor. After having had the Playstation for a year, finally realised that it has a HDMI port (I know, mega-noob). Reacted like Jodie Foster’s Sagan-esque character in Contact after she was transported into space and witnessed the spectacular birth of a galaxy: “It’s a… celestial event… (awe envelopes her) no… no words… (unhinged sob)… poetry… (another wild, joyful sob)… they should have sent a poet!”

4.41pm: Played my new Playstation game, The Last Of Us, in HD for the first time. If I had found the HDMI port and this game before meeting my girlfriend, I might’ve still been single and living like Howard Hughes: never leaving my room, peeing into bottles and beyond any and all personal grooming. Hopelessly addicted.

10.33pm: Still playing the Playstation. Can’t stop coughing. Nose is running like a Kenyan Olympian.

11.01am: Sleep. I hate crashing in an empty bed.

Day 4 – Wednesday

7.01am: Not sure if I’m hot or cold but I can definitely say, without doubt, that I’m hot and cold. Cough and phlegm are worse. Each guttural hack sounds like a rusty chainsaw being started in a bucket of yoghurt.

10.42am: So hungry. Ate what can only be described as cardboard-based, flavour-free, party-in-your-mouth-and-no-one’s-invited bran flakes that my girlfriend bought when we started dieting. No milk, mind you. So low on energy, feeling so sleepyyyyyyyaasdfassdds[[asdayyyyyyyyyyyyya;'[==-oiko211rewsdfjjj

11.13am: Woke up on top of the laptop.

2.03pm: Went to see my GP. Doc says I have a chest infection. Impossible, I tell him. I was sick last week, I explain to him, and there is no way I could have fallen ill for a second time in two weeks. Doctor’s retort: “You haven’t been sick twice in two weeks. You’ve been sick once for an entire fortnight, you daft Australian dingo-herder. Take some antibiotics and get the hell out of my office.” (Gross liberties taken while paraphrasing).

7.56pm: Reading a book I bought recently by a hilarious writer who’s begun playing golf again after a couple of decades away from the game. It’s easy to believe you’re the worst golfer in the world when your swing resembles a man trying to hold onto a greased broomstick as he’s falling down a flight of stairs. Reading about his struggles made me feel like I’m not alone.

10.05pm: Bed time. I’m over sleeping alone.

Day 5: Thursday

7.01am: Woke up feeling pretty shady but I can’t have another day off. Drag myself off to work.

8.45am: My desk is right under an air con vent that could stop the polar ice caps from melting. I’m sick as a dog and I’m freezing. Now is the winter of my discontent and I don’t even have a scarf.

8.46am: Check my inbox and the pile of work I have to catch up on.

8.47am: F#ck.

6.00pm: Finally heading home. Boarded a packed MRT train. People kept their distance from me as I coughed wildly. Couldn’t help but play up to it. Leaned in and told a stranger “…and that’s all it took, six months in a Turkish gulag and BANG! Tuberculosis. What are the chances…” People reel away from me in barely-disguised horror. The upside to being sick has revealed itself on the train as I enjoy some rare peak-hour elbow room.

10.02pm: Reluctantly head off to bed. Not reluctantly because I’m not tired but because I never miss my girlfriend as much as I do when I’m lying alone in our bed.

Day 6 – Friday

7.01am: Not feeling 100% but I’m better. Remembered that today is payday. Started making plans to enjoy a few beers tonight before I’d even brushed my teeth.

6.00pm: Friday afternoon. Pay day. Just left the office. This is as close to heaven as you’ll ever get in Changi Business Park (otherwise known as The Place Where Naughty Singaporean Corporate Citizens Go To Die).

7.13pm: Hit the bar downstairs from our condo. Haven’t had a scotch in weeks. Love my single malt so ordered a double. I drink it like it was the cure to my life’s ills.

7.28pm: One more scotch for the road.

7.39pm: One more scotch for the road just down the road.

7.53pm: Roads seem to be wobbling a little.

7.54pm: Walk to Gerry’s to pick up a South Western feast: a full slab of juicy, saucy, waist-line-destroying ribs with potato salad on the side.

9.11pm: On the couch. Barbecue sauce smeared on my fingers and face. Empty beer cans crowd around my feet. A plastic bag full of clean rib bones is resting next to the couch. Stupid grin on my face. This feeling is the reason the word ‘satisfied’ was invented. Best time I’ve had all week.

10.49pm: I feel a little like one of those pitiful kids in the movies who’s sitting alone, in front of a birthday cake with a blower in this mouth and a party hat on his head, to whose birthday party not one person has come. But those kids can’t drink. I can. Burn, pitiful kids. Burn.

Day 7 – Saturday

11.37am: My girlfriend gets home tomorrow so I clean up the house. Spend the rest of the afternoon playing The Last Of Us on the Playstation.

3.17pm: Get a message from some friends inviting me out on a Halloween pub crawl. “We’re going to hit a few pubs. Want to come out drinking with us?” Yes. Yes, I do.

10.29am: My friends were all in costume. I dressed as a drunk expat, I told them, but it was the best costume there because it was the only one that improved organically throughout the night. We’ve hit three pubs and clubs already. Blown about $150 and have had too many drinks to remember.

11.43pm: China One night club. Ordered a double scotch and the bartender leaned in and said “It’s not worth it. You should just order a single.” Incredulity. I work, I thought to myself. I have money and I can blow it however I see fit, even on an extraordinarily expensive drink, if I so feel inclined! “How much is a double?” I asked him, with a derisive “psshhh, give me the double” at the ready. Straight-faced, he tells me that it costs seventy four #$%&ing dollars.

11.44pm: F#ck.

11.45pm: Ordered a single and left the club a few minutes later. Sitting outside having beers and some food.

3.42am: Just got home. Despite Clarke Quay being as packed as I’ve ever seen it, I enjoyed being there more than I have in a long time. I was with some good friends, the atmosphere was fun, swarms of revelers in Halloween costumes were crowding the strip, we were joined by old friend we hadn’t seen in months and we had some laughs and a good chat. It was good to have finally done something fun that week.

Day 8 – Sunday

3.01pm: It’s finally over. I’m at the airport and my girlfriend will be coming through the gates any moment now. I reflected on my week alone. I didn’t get out very much, I hadn’t become any more familiar with Singapore than I was at the start of the week, I didn’t have any really good meals or play golf or start blogging again and I didn’t visit the gym or stick to my diet. I spent the entire week feeling quite ill and still have several more days to go on a course of antibiotics. I didn’t carpe one single bloody diem, I did nothing productive, I probably weigh more now than when my girlfriend left but, quite frankly, none of that matters anymore because I know that the memory of the (almost) entirely dismal week is going to dissolve as soon as she strides through customs.

3.16pm: I saw her and my spirits lifted immeasurably. My best friend is home. She came out, let go of her trolley and gave me a rib-crushing hug. We kissed and I told her how much I had missed her. I grabbed the trolley and started pushing it towards the taxi stand. My love is home, back to normal, back to the way things should be. My heart swells with joy. “How was your trip?” I asked her. “So hectic but got lots of work done, it was really productive. Had lots of fun, too. Caught up with my bestie, we had a big night out. It was great seeing her again. Had such a good week. Oh, by the way, I have to go to on a business trip to Bangkok for five days next week.”

3.17pm: F#ck.

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Relationships: Share and put in daily (not ‘Share your pudding, baby’)

Relationships aren’t always easy, especially when the two of you are forging a new life in a new country. Work, money and bills can become an iron-fisted triumvirate that, given the chance, will rule your relationship cruelly and bring it crashing down around you. Communication is the only real key to understanding each other. You have to compromise and meet in the middle sometimes and complete acceptance is crucial. But no matter what happens, no matter how high or low you get, no matter what things promise to bind you forever or threaten to divide you in a flash, you should always – ALWAYS – get your own bloody dessert.

Three facts to get this post rolling:

1. Desserts never look as good to my girlfriend when they’re sitting in a cafe’s counter as they do when they’re sitting in my hand.

2. Being acutely aware of this, I always take preemptive action when we buy dinner by asking her if she would like some dessert, then asking her if she’s sure that she doesn’t want some and by finally telling her that I’m not going to give her half of mine if she changes her mind later.

3. My girlfriend knows that her loving boyfriend is wrapped around her little finger and she isn’t above pulling the ol’ ‘puppy dog eyes’ routine to get at my sweets. Consequently, she doesn’t give a #@&% about anything I’ve said in points one or two.

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“Where’s the other half of my…… BAAAAAABE!!!”

The best part of my working day happens when I get home from the office. My girlfriend and I will sit down to enjoy dinner together. We’ll talk about how our day went, we’ll lift each other up if we’ve had a hard one, we’ll watch some TV together, read on the couch, catch up with our mates back home on Facebook and chat the whole way through.

But something sinister takes place most nights right after dinner. A tension settles over us where many a sideways glance is exchanged. We’ll engage in a saccharine struggle for sweets, a showdown for sugar, a taut battle for torte.

The problem is that it’s always my dessert we’re fighting over.

SPR MRKT, the cafe across the road, make some fantastic cakes and tarts including a lip-smacking bread pudding with vanilla sauce (free plug, hook me up with a bread pudding, guys!) that I just can’t say no to. My girlfriend doesn’t really have a sweet tooth but I have an entire mouth full of them so when we grab dinner there, I’ll always pick up some dessert and, more often than not, it’s their warm, soft, scrumptious bread pudding.

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“No, I don’t want one. I’ll just have some of yours.” Wrong, my love. Wrong.

My girlfriend often says that she isn’t in the mood but, if experience has taught me anything, it’s that she will suddenly find herself in the mood for dessert the second she sees me about to tuck into mine. For some reason, sweets appeal to her much more when they’re in my hands than when they’re behind a glass counter. For some reason, they suddenly become irresistible.

And, for some reason – largely a lack of testicular fortitude on my part when it comes to her – she’ll always manage to get some.

I’m not saying she can’t have any of my dessert, because love is about sharing. And I’m not saying that I don’t like sharing with her, because love is also about enjoying things together. And I’m not saying that people can’t change their minds because no one’s perfect.

I’m simply saying to the love of my life: Get your own bloody dessert xo

Fine. You can have some.

Bloody testicular fortitude.

Coincidences, the number 50 and one small lie to wrap things up nicely

Fifty is an amazing number. The ol’ half-century, the big fiddy, the… uh…

Wow. There is a gaping dearth of slang terms for the big five-oh. Strange, because it’s such an amazing number.

Fifty is the number of cents it apparently takes to be a famous rapper. It’s approximately the number of awful new TV shows that my girlfriend discovers and tortures me with every month. If they walked that many miles, The Proclaimers would’ve been a tenth of the way to that door they’d so eagerly fall at. Unless they walked five hundred more.

Most notably – for me, anyway – is that fifty is the score I shot when I played nine holes of golf this weekend past at Green Fairways.

I’m not a great golfer. I’m not even a good golfer. My swing bears an uncanny resemblance to a drunken man trying to hold onto a greased broomstick as he falls down a flight of stairs. But I love playing. About a year after I started playing, I was shooting sub-fifty scores over nine holes. That was nearly 15 years ago. The memories of those rounds have haunted me since; a reminder of the dizzying heights of not-altogether-crap-ness that I might have eventually scaled if I had spent more time on the course. I believed then – and still, perhaps deludedly, do now – that deep down inside me, there is a round of 80 just waiting to be be unleashed on an unsuspecting course. An easy course, of course. But that’s golf for you: the 87 god-awful shots you hit in your last round weren’t nearly as indicative of your true potential as the 19 that went straight and didn’t take four minutes of searching through knee-high grass to find.

That’s why I was happy when I shot 50 last weekend, the first time I’ve done so since I stopped playing regularly around ten years ago. Funny coincidence, that…

Back then, I was at my local muni at least three times a week. I lacked a steady supply of funds at that time but I was always desperate to play so I often spent hours chipping and pitching for free on the practice green, the one that had a small “No chipping or pitching” sign that I never seemed to notice till I was done. After a year of conscientious devotion, I became distracted by work, family and the sheer thrill of wasting time frivolously. Eventually, I was reduced to playing once every couple of months, sometimes less. I eventually hit a spell where I didn’t own clubs and went for an entire year without playing. But, despite the lack of effort, I loved playing. Still do.

After shooting 10 on the first hole last weekend – blech – I hit a short but decent five wood that split the very narrow fairway on the 214m second hole, pulling up just short of the bunker sitting rudely in the middle of the fairway up near the green. My mud-splattered ball led to a poor pitch which left me a couple of metres off the green and about five metres from the flag. My third shot was one of those that came off the club so sweetly that I just knew it was going to give me something to get mildly upset over later when my girlfriend, who cares little about golf but loves me enough to at least feign interest rather poorly, would probably feign interest a little more poorly than I would’ve liked. The ball steadily rolled its way to the hole and ended up rattling inside the cup.

Birdie.

It was the second strange coincidence of the day because, while I can recall quite a few chips-ins during those glorious first couple of years of playing – I can recall every single one of them, actually – I haven’t done it since I stopped practicing avidly.

On the next hole, a very short par-three, my tee shot landed about eight feet right of the flag, safely in the centre of the green where I had aimed it, but an unseen ridge steered it gently towards the hole and, for a few exhilarating seconds, it threatened to go in. It would’ve been the first hole-in-one of my life. Golfers know that a hole in one is 99% luck but that wouldn’t have stopped me from having an engraving on my headstone commemorating the moment: “Here lies a dingy hacker on whose arse the sun once shined as he scored a hole-in-one at a course in Singapore you’ve never heard of.”

Birdies to poor golfers are like sedated, pre-plucked tweety birds to hungry puddy tats. I was happy to snag one, but two? I was elated. I don’t think I’ve had back-to-back birdies in a decade which is, coincidentally, around the same time that I stopped practicing avidly. The coincidences are piling up…

I had a so-so round off the tee after that but my short game and my short irons held up in much the same way that a man with a water pistol holds up a service station. I ended up on the ninth green with a five foot putt for a shaky 49. Nervous about shooting a sub-50 round for the first time in over a decade, I missed by an inch. I happily settled for my first 50 in a very long time.

I feel rejuvenated! I want to practice again and work on my game. I’m excited and ready to spoil a few good walks with more sub-fifty (forty, even?) rounds. I feel like bumping my monthly hack up to a weekly bash with time around the practice green on the side but I’ll be going back to Green Fairways because golf in Singapore is expensive. But a round of golf at Green Fairways? It only costs – you guessed it – $50.

Strange coincidence, no?

Post-script: the round of golf actually cost $55 but that would’ve made for a pretty poor ending to this post. But the rest is true. Trust me, no one would ever actually lie about being as bad at golf as I am. 

In your finest shirt & Thai: Destination wedding in Phuket

For the second time in a month, we went to Phuket, this time to celebrate our friends’ wedding. The couple live in Singapore with us. She’s Thai, he’s French and their kids will undoubtedly be gorgeous.

We stayed at the Pullman Arcadia on Naithon Beach. It’s a pretty stretch of beach with a few bar/restaurants scattered along it. The Pullman is relatively new and while it’s still receiving a few finishing touches, it’s a very nice place to stay.

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My Thai friend, Chayada, married her French partner Olivier. The ceremony, evening cocktails and the reception had more colour than a bucket of fruit salad.

The ceremony itself began at 9.09am. In Thai culture, the number nine is auspicious and considered lucky. In the small but classy space where the ceremony was held, five Buddhist monks swathed in bright orange sat waiting for proceedings to begin. Any sense of tranquility that they had bestowed upon the place quickly evaporated as the bridal party made its way in, preceded by a vibrant, noisy display of customary local dancers accompanied by equally raucous Thai music. It was lively and fun, a refreshing change from the usual sound of a pipe organ echoing throughout a church as the bride walks in alone and solemnly (which I also enjoy and am not diminishing in any way, it was just a nice change).

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The ceremony took about half an hour. Blessings were bestowed upon the couple by the monks as they paid tribute to them with traditional offerings of food and respect. The monks chanted prayers for them in return. It was a simple yet beautiful ceremony: strict and austere at its core and bookended by colour and fanfare.

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We then moved to another salon where ornate, golden stools were set up along with flower arrangements and traditional Thai garlands. The happy coupled filed in through the crowd, welcomed by their friends and the music of a khim.

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After some brief words explaining this part of the ceremony, the bride and groom’s parents poured water from a silver conch over their hands and made a wish for them. The rest of us followed, pouring water over their hands and wishing them all the best. Both the bride and groom are golfers so I wished them a lifetime of low handicaps and happiness. The former will almost certainly facilitate the latter. Deep down, I’m a romantic (way, way, waaaay deep down, it seems).

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“May your tee shots have plenty of spin on them…”

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Photos and hugs followed before we broke off and waited for cocktails to start at 6pm. It was a great ceremony. I had never been to a Thai wedding before. It was a lively experience.

We had some hours to kill so group of us went to one of the restaurants on the beach for some lunch. Great Thai food, cheap beers, the sun on our shoulders and the sand between our toes. We were even joined by the bride and groom as they took a break from the festivities.

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Relaxing at the beach during the day.

It was a great day and I love weddings. Friends marry their best friends, they’re as happy as they’ve ever been, the alcohol flows freely, everyone’s dressed to the nines, everyone’s in a fantastic mood and the alcohol flows freely. And the alcohol is flowing freely which is always a nice touch. The day was shaping up nicely.

At 6pm we gathered at a deck near the resort’s pool.

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The backdrop was stunning

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As the sun set over the ocean – talk about a back drop – the bride and groom posed for photos with their guests for an hour or so and made the obligatory rounds before we moved into the reception hall. That’s where the fun really started.

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The lobster was fantastic. Sweet satay with a big wallop of hell-fire chili.

Grace, colour and energy, all at the same time.

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The reception was a little more on the Western side except for three things. One, we were served tasty Thai fare (fusion, really) served up in a very chic way. The main featured a delicious satay lobster with enough chili to burn your taste buds off. Two, a troupe of Thai dancers performed for us twice as we ate. The way that such grace and tradition can come together with such energy and vigor is beautiful. Third (and certainly not least) was the ladyboy show. Forget nudity and ping pong balls. I’m talking a rollicking stage show with three performances of lip-syncing magnificence. At this point, my camera’s battery went flat. I really need to start learning to shoot one good shot instead of rapid-firing a couple of dozen photos to find that one shot that I think is best.

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Grace, colour and energy, all at the same time.

First was a live version of Minnie Ripperton’s classic Loving You, performed in such a perfect way that at one point I actually wondered if it was being sung or mimed. A hilarious slapstick duo followed, one of whom looked like a slim Aretha Franklin. As they sashayed through the crowd, my enthralled girlfriend told one of them how beautiful she thought they were. Without hesitation, one of the performers grabbed my girlfriend by the hand and led her to the centre of the room where the three of them danced to a disco tune. After so many glasses of champagne and wine, you can imagine how loud I was cheering. The third performer was a Beyonce look alike. She danced with such energy that her surgically-formed bosom threatened to spill out of her top at any second. The crowd loved it. It added so much fun to what was already an incredible day.

We spent the rest of the night dancing wildly (I never dance), drinking champagne like it was water (I never drink champagne) and partying like it was 1999 (I was 23 in 1999  and I haven’t partied like that since then). We had such a great night. It was my first destination wedding and it was so much fun.

A warm congratulations goes to my good friend Khun Chayada and her husband Olivier. May your life be happy, may your love grow ever deeper and may your handicaps fall ever lower!

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Can’t wait for the next Thai wedding to roll around.

The weight is over: time to diet (thanks a lot, Singapore)

I never thought my (previously) scrawny arse would ever have to say this but here goes:

I have to go on a diet.

When I moved to Singapore two years ago, I weighed a mere 66kg. A little on the slim side, perhaps, but I’m not very tall. I need to wear thick-soled shoes if I want to say that I’m 5’7″ and get away with it.

I was unhealthy back in Australia. I skipped lunch at work all the time, ate plenty of junk food, smoked too much and never exercised. Well, I did cycle now and then. But I did it on my motorcycle. That offers about as much physical benefit as a rubber bone offers a starving dog.

Then I moved to Singapore.

I’ve posted about how good the food is here but I probably haven’t made the point that hawker centres aren’t exactly founts of nutrition and good health. Roti prata, kway teow (fried noodles), chilli crab, char siew, and all sorts of mee goreng have made their way into my list of favourite foods but they’re about as healthy as being trampled by a group of drunken soccer hooligans heading home after a heavy loss. I need to drink beer all the time in Singapore (it’s always so hot… that’s my excuse and I’m going with it) which hasn’t exactly helped either. Add to that the fact that we travel a lot and love to try the food wherever we go, what happened is no surprise: slowly but surely, my wardrobe started to strain under the weight of my… uh… weight. So my girlfriend and I joined a gym.

"Please don't eat me!" I'll try, little buddy. I'll try...

“Please don’t eat me!”I’ll try, little buddy. I’ll try…

I worked hard for a few months and toned up a little. The few flabby kilos I’d put on turned to muscle and while images of me in boxer briefs weren’t about to grace packets of underwear, I was healthier than I’d ever been. But, as always happens when you hit the gym, my appetite swelled to insane proportions. I’d go to restaurants and ask if there was a course between the appetizer and the main. Steak became a side dish. I was always hungry but I worked hard and burned all those calories off before they had a chance to congeal into a rotund, pants-splitting arse. Life was good: I was healthy, I felt good and, for the first time in my life, I had biceps (albeit small ones). Then then I used up all the sessions I had with my personal trainer. He was great and I turned up religiously because I’d booked sessions in with him and I felt obliged to go but, once the sessions ran out, I got lazy.

Roti Prata. Ever notice how oily food makes paper wrappers become clear? Rub roti prata on a concrete floor and it will become clear.

Roti Prata. Absolutely delicious, but ever notice how oily food makes paper wrappers become clear? Rub roti prata on a concrete floor and it will become clear.

My workouts stopped but my gargantuan appetite just wouldn’t abate. That’s when I slid very ungracefully from ‘not about to grace packets of underwear’ to Michelin Man tryouts.

Except for socks, I outgrew every single piece of clothing I’d brought over from Australia including the tailored Hugo Boss suit that my girlfriend bought me as a present shortly before she left for Singapore (she got here four months before I did). It was, without question, the best fitting garment I had ever owned. Right now, my thighs can barely fit into the pants, my arms can’t get into the sleeves unless I coat my arms in butter and there is zero chance of buttoning up the jacket without sucking in my gut and holding my breath. If I relax and take a breath, chances are the button will fly off at ballistic speeds and blind someone.

When I brush my teeth in the morning, everything below my jawline jiggles like jelly being jack-hammered and it doesn’t stop until a good fifteen seconds after I’ve finished brushing. I went from being able to do fifty push ups with ease to being able to eat fifty of most things with ease. Chairs creak and groan audibly underneath me when I sit. ‘Could it really be that bad?’ you ask…

I weighed 66kg when I got here. I now weigh 84.5 kilograms. I’ve put on 18 kilograms since I got here in September, 2011. That’s 18kgs in 22 months, an increase in body weight of over 25%.

So I’ve had it. I’m going on a *sigh* diet. I’m going to *sigh* cut back on beer, sweets, chocolate and anything else that gives me any sort of *sigh* pleasure when I consume it. I’m going to start exercising and get healthy again. I’ve set myself a goal: I will shed 10kg in the next three months. That will get me to a half-decent weight for healthy guy at my height with my build. I’m yet to lay down a proper fitness regime or choose a specific diet but cutting out the roti prata and getting up off the couch every now and then would be a great place to start. I might even give up cigarettes but one thing at a time. My girlfriend always tells me that she’s worried that I’ll get sick if I keep smoking. Little does she know that it’s already happened: I’m sick of her asking me to stop. Besides, life is short. Why make it even shorter?

I’m going to share my progress with you as the weeks pass, dear reader. If you’re going through the same thing, let me know and share your experiences. I’ll be sharing mine so we can push each other along.

Note to gut: you’re finished. The Battle of the Bulge is on.

"Reckon you can give up my burgers? Good luck, buddy!"

“Reckon you can give up my burgers? Good f#cking luck, buddy!”

The sauce of all happiness: Satay at Lau Pa Sat

Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre is a five minute walk from our apartment. If I had known this when my girlfriend signed our rental agreement, I wouldn’t have scoffed at the amount of rent we signed up to pay for the next couple of years.

Hawker centres are a huge part of the Singaporean culinary experience. Lau Pa Sat is also a part of its history.

Hawker centres are a huge part of the Singaporean culinary experience. Lau Pa Sat is also a part of its history.

The hawker centrea is actually called Telok Ayer Market but is known colloquially as Lau Pa Sat. There’s a bit of history about the place.

It first opened in 1825. Originally, it sat at the water’s edge but, due to land reclamation, is now a couple of kilometres inland in the middle of Singapore’s busy CBD. Back then, boats would pull up and unload produce directly into the market. Needing a serious upgrade from its weather-battered wooden beginnings, it underwent a drastic overhaul. A cast iron frame was shipped from Glasgow around a hundred and forty years ago, the same frame that holds it up to this day. In the 1970’s, it was converted from a market into a hawker centre.

Telok Ayer Market way back in the day. It's now two kilometres inland thanks to aggressive land reclamation.

Telok Ayer Market way back in the day. It’s now two kilometres inland thanks to aggressive land reclamation.

Lau Pa Sat comes alive at night when a section of road in front of it is closed off and tables are laid out. When the dozen or so stalls that pop up nightly set up their charcoal-fired grills and the smoky smell of barbecue fills the air, locals and tourists alike flock there to enjoy the food and the cool atmosphere.

Eating out on the street is so much fun. It gets smoky sometimes but it is worth it.

I usually can’t breathe properly by the time I leave, probably because of the strain my belly suffers when trying to hold over a dozen satay sticks plus all that beer.

Under the centre’s roof, dozens of stalls sell all manner of Asian food. At the centre of the hawker centre is a large dumpling stall that sells fried and steamed dumplings of all sorts. I often eat nothing but those. No rice, no sides. Just plates of dumplings, char siew bao (steamed pork buns), fried spring rolls and fried prawn dumplings as well as a few other bits and pieces that I don’t know the name of. I usually just point and say “I’ll have two of those, one of these and a plate of those please, auntie” (older people in Singapore are called ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’ as a sign of respect). The dumpling stall is surrounded by scores of Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Malay and Italian eateries as well as places that specialize in BBQ, vegetarian dishes, noodles and anything else you can think of.

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My girlfriend and I had dinner there last night. She felt like some Korean from one of the stalls inside so I grabbed some tasty prawn dumplings. We sat down for what was really just an appetizer for me.

The fun really started when we moved outside a few minutes later and ordered a plate of satay sticks…

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Beef, chicken, mutton, pork and prawn satay are everywhere as well as a handful of other choices. Smoky-flavoured, juicy pieces of meat and prawns are sold at every stall lining the road although, personally, I can’t tell the difference between them.

They’re all fantastic but the sauce is what really keeps me coming back. It is so good that it’s drinkable. Sweet, sticky, spicy, thick and as tasty as food can get. I don’t really dip my sticks in the sauce. Rather, I pretend that my stick is a spoon by trying to scoop up as much sauce as it’s possible for one small piece of meat to hold. Grab a mug or jug of beer with your sticks and you’re set for a fantastic and surprisingly cheap meal. Sticks are sixty cents a pop, cheaper still if you order a set.

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It’s not just that the food is great. I love the lively atmosphere, the mix of tourists and locals (the presence of locals suggests quality!), the history of the place and the fact that it’s a five minute walk from home.

There is a segue into my next post here…

For dinner, I ate three prawn dumplings and – I can’t believe I’m about to admit this – fifteen satay sticks. I couldn’t help myself. They’re just so good! Unsurprisingly, I now weigh far too much. How much, I hear you ask? Since arriving in Singapore nearly two years ago, I’ve put on 18kg.

I’ve posted about my love of the local food and my adoption of Singapore’s passionate approach to all things culinary but things have to change so my next post will be about my effort to shed those kilos. Stay tuned!


Freebies: worth every penny (alternative title: Our Trip to Phuket’s Surin Beach)

‘Freebie’ is the sweetest word in the English dictionary. Well, it’s not actually in the dictionary but if Webster would just give it the go ahead, it would rank up there with with the best of them. My manager called me into a meeting nearly three weeks back, saying she wanted to have a word with me. I figured that either I’d done something I wasn’t supposed to or I hadn’t done something that I was supposed to. Turns out that she was pleased with my recent performance so, as a reward/incentive, she gave me three nights at Twin Palms Resort on Surin Beach in Phuket including airfares. The timing was perfect. My girlfriend has been working really hard over the last three months and was in dire need of a break. Needless to say, I scored enough brownie points to last me quite a while. Better still, when my manager tried to book it, the only available room was a penthouse.

I grudgingly accepted.

Twin Palms Resort in Surin Beach, Phuket

Twin Palms Resort in Surin Beach, Phuket. Stunning and the service is fantastic.

Twin Palms Resort is on Surin Beach in Phuket. About twenty minutes from Patong’s red-light madness, Twin Palms is beautiful and only a one minute walk from the beach. Surin is a gorgeous stretch of white sand with only a few bars, clubs and shops sprinkled along it. A few high-end resorts and some mansions up on the hill have baited some high-end eateries into staking claims in what is otherwise just a nice little village on a beautiful stretch of Thai beach. It certainly isn’t a party place like Patong or Pattaya and that suited us well. We just wanted to unwind for a few days. Besides, Patong’s only really any good if you’re single, with the boys and not scared of VDs.

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Surin Beach.

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My girlfriend and I are easy to please. We get happy over simple things like not having any dirty clothes in the laundry basket or finding out that they’re showing The Karate Kid on TV on a Saturday night (the original, of course) so a lavish penthouse a few metres from a spectacular Thai beach was enough to make us feel like temporary millionaires. Two stories, open-plan, luxuriously appointed, an in-room bar that has surely been responsible for many horrible hangovers and a private rooftop pool. What more could someone who can’t afford any of that ask for?

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We made the most of it all. Poolside cocktails, daily massages, a fancy yoghurt-coffee-sea salt-some-other-condiment scrub for my woman, swims in Surin’s beautiful turquoise waters, luscious lunches on the beach and in-room dinners were the norm for three and a half glorious days. The hotel’s club on the beach, the trendy Catch Beach Club, even served Leffe Blond which is, at the moment, my favourite beer (my favourite beers change quicker than the US government’s understanding of the fourth amendment).

Catch Beach Club. Location really is everything.

Catch Beach Club. Location really is everything.

Palm trees: they just make a beach ‘beachier’

On the third day we took a day trip on a lovely Chinese-style junk through Phang Nga Bay. June Bahtra Cruises run a great operation. They pick you up from your hotel in a nice mini-van, drop you off at the marina then it’s straight onto the boat. We motored out of the marina and cruised through Phang Nga’s green waters at a leisurely pace. As you head out, mangroves and tall green hills border the bay, providing a stunning backdrop to its emerald waters.

Once into Phang Nga bay, small but tall islands covered in greenery rise starkly from the water. After a couple of hours we traded the junk for a colourful long boat and motored onto our first stop, Kho Phing Kan. It is imaginatively called James Bond Island after a few scenes for The Man With The Golden Gun were shot there in 1974. Like most of Thailand’s famous (and gorgeous) islands, it was as crowded as an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day. Long boats pull up, dump their passengers and back out so that other long boats can squeeze into the same tiny speck of beach to do the same. The place, though, is absolutely stunning.

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There are a few stalls there that sell exactly the same things: shells, bracelets and typically gaudy souvenirs. Then it was onto our next stop. Koh Panyee is a small fishing village built on stilts over the water. The local population of one thousand are descendants of Indonesian fisherman who arrived two hundred years ago. They now speak Thai but have hung on to their Muslim roots. They rely largely on tourism dollars to survive, hence my reluctance to haggle with one of them over the price of a sarong that I bought as a birthday present for my sister (sis, if you’re reading this and I haven’t sent it to you yet, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!). I paid her more than she asked for. Good deed for the day: done.

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Clothing shops, jewellery hawkers and food vendors line the laneways. Locals rely largely on tourism for their income.

The gaps between building reveal more about the village than the laneways full of shops and food vendors

The gaps between building reveal more about the village than the laneways full of shops and food vendors. It’s just a small country village that just happens to sit three feet above the sea.

A huge mosque was being built. It’s the only building in the village built on solid ground. The rest of the village is on stilts over water. Even the small soccer field used by the two hundred local school kids rests on a bed of floating drums. Unfortunately, our camera’s battery called it quits as we toured the village but we managed to snap off a few photos first.

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A floating soccer field. Yes, it wobbles but it is an ingenious idea.

Cheeky local kids having fun

Cheeky local kids doing what kids do best: being cheeky.

On the return trip, the junk anchored and we were offered the opportunity to take a dip. Everyone seemed to procrastinate. As they stood around wondering what to do, I was mid-air, diving off the bow doing my best impersonation of Greg Louganis (sans cranial claret-leak). Before you know it, everyone was jumping off behind me, doing their best impersonation of Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School (sans The Triple Lindy). A few glorious minutes later and we were drying off and heading back to the marina.

That night was, sadly, our last. We returned to Singapore the next day but after three nights on Surin Beach, I finally understood why everyone loves Phuket. Up until then, Patong had been the only place I’d visited there. Its seedy atmosphere and endless opportunities to test your morals leave an acidic, hangover-ish taste in your mouth. Surin Beach, on the other hand, is a world away. It’s closer to the tropical paradise you see on Thai postcards and it’s free of… well, hordes of hookers, drunken revellers and chances to do things you’ll regret.

Surin Beach: what a place.

And ‘freebie’: what a word…