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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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. 

Macaque attacks and (nearly) soiled daks

What I love about traveling the most – what anyone loves about it, really – are the memories you keep, memories of things you could never have experienced at home, things like making friends from around the world, experiencing other cultures first-hand, seeing buildings and monuments and works of art that are hundreds or even thousands of years old, things like having a Mexican stand-off with a hungry, cocky monkey who just isn’t scared of an umbrella, a putter and a tipsy weekend hacker who hasn’t thought far enough ahead to consider how silly it would be to have the cause of death on his death certificate listed as “took on a rabid macaque with a shitty Ping”.

Ria Bintan is a gorgeous golf course, a very challenging but picturesque layout carved into the Indonesian jungle on the island of Bintan. It is spectacular. The first time I played there, it was being swept and surveilled by Indonesian soldiers and security guards because the president of Indonesia was to play there the following day. That’s how good it is: uber-rich guys like the president of Indonesia, who can play anywhere they like, play there. I was playing there for the second time with two friends. The weather was pretty bad but it’s a great course and we were having a blast.

We were walking onto the 7th green to putt when our caddy, who was behind us, suddenly squealed. We turned to see a cheeky macaque on our buggy, reaching for the caddy’s bag. If you’ve ever traveled through south east Asia, you’ve probably seen one of these monkeys. They’re cocky, they’re smart and they’re not shy. Our caddy was worried about her bag. She said it contained her lunch and a few belongings. Being a chivalrous sort of guy who doesn’t mind opening a car door for my girlfriend or taking on a potentially rabid simian to save a nice lady’s toasted cheese sandwich, I figured I’d just scare the monkey off. I gripped my open umbrella in my left hand, held my putter in my right and I walked towards the monkey thinking ‘right, this will be easy’. I came towards it and gave it a strong Australian “Oi!” It turned, looked at me, coolly raised its eyebrows and flashed a look that said ‘right, this will be easy’. It got off the buggy and started pacing towards me slowly, first sizing me up as it walked then sizing up my two amused friends with a sideways glance. Realizing that it had our measure, its walked instantly turned into a sprint and it charged at me. I’m talking a full-blown burst of speed, fangs bared with the intent to injure written all over its little face.

If I had known they had teeth this big, I would've just offered it a serviette and a coke to go with the sandwich let it go on its way.

If I had known they had teeth this big, I would’ve just offered it a serviette and a beer to go with the sandwich let it go on its way.

I was hopelessly outclassed: the monkey was faster, could bite harder and wasn’t too scared to take on an opponent that far outweighed it. I clenched my butt cheeks as it charged at me. This was to prevent me from soiling my own daks from the sheer terror that grips you when you have the sudden realization that you may end up being mauled by an animal that, despite being small enough to serve whole with a side of mashed potato, is big enough to bite off the old giggle-berries. The fact that I wasn’t prepared to do the same to the macaque gave it the upper hand. As it ran at me, I used the umbrella as a shield and I started swinging my putter around. The monkey pulled up short of me but I think it realized that I was its city-dwelling, hominid bitch-cousin so it came at me again. Again, I shielded myself with the umbrella and, this time, started poking my putter towards it, much like a fencer attacking with a sabre. This pushed it back a little so I went forward a little. But only a little. It hissed at me and, after a moment, decided to retreat. “I won!” I thought to myself. “I showed that monkey who’s…. hold on… why is it going back to the buggy?” I hadn’t scared it off at all. I guess it figured that, being the (supposedly) highly-developed primate that I am, I had probably learned my lesson. Wrong, little monkey. Wrong.

A family of macaques from our visit to the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, Nov. 2012.  "Hey, is that a sandwich?"

A family of macaques from our visit to the Monkey Forest in Ubud, Bali, Nov. 2012.

I took a couple of steps towards it and gave it another “Oi!” The monkey thought exactly the same thing that you, dear reader, are thinking right now: did this guy not learn his lesson the first time? The monkey jumped off the buggy and charged at me even harder than before, coming much closer this time, far too close for comfort. It truly scared the living crap out of me so I had to clench a lot harder this time. Again, I put the umbrella between us and started swinging my putter. He pulled up short again, seemingly scared of the umbrella, but not too scared to charge at me again. We danced like this for another minute, the monkey hissing and running at me while I shielded myself with the umbrella and swung my putter around wildly. I tried everything: I used my club like a sword, I slammed it into the ground (the way I was putting that day, the putter deserved it), I waved my umbrella around, I yelled, I even tried to remember everything I’d learned from Nat Geo documentaries like puffing myself up to make myself look big, baring my teeth and making a lot of noise. I must have looked like an idiot, particularly because nothing seemed to scare it in the least.

Then one of my mates called out to me and told me that some poor tourist had lost two fingers to one of these monkeys only a few days before and that I should probably just leave it. That’s when I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity where reason hit me like a bucket of ice-cold water in the face:

It’s not even my bloody sandwich!

To hell with chivalry. What little bravery I felt disappeared faster than a fart in a fan factory.

I stepped away and let it go for the bag. And once I saw the monkey rip the bag apart with its teeth with amazing ease – staring at me the whole time, mind you, in a menacing “this could’ve been your ‘bag’, mate” kind of way – I realized that this monkey could’ve walked away with a piece of me in its mouth without too much trouble, possibly a piece that I might have really needed.

Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and I should’ve let the monkey just take the bag in the first place but what’s done is done and I now have an amusing story to tell my mates over a few beers. Still, I wouldn’t recommend ever taking one of these little fur balls on, especially since rabies is endemic in parts of Indonesia.

And, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, an hour later we saw a huge cobra – it couldn’t have been less than twelve feet long – slithering across the cart path and disappearing into the dense jungle. Our caddy shrieked like a banshee. My butt cheeks clenched again. My glutes got a fantastic workout that day.

The joys of travel…