Domesticating the world’s wildest animal: Man

After eighteen months of sharing a home with my girlfriend, I’ve realized that moving in with someone isn’t always a walk in the park, no matter how much you love the person. Sometimes you have to change a little. Sometimes you have to change a lot. Sometimes you have to compromise. And sometimes, you even have to get up off your arse and do stuff.

My girlfriend and I popped out for some dinner last night. After we got home, I sat down on the couch, grabbed the laptop and surfed the net a little. I kept my shoes on but my girlfriend doesn’t like it when I wear shoes in the house. We have black marble or granite floors, not carpet, so I don’t know what the big deal is but she kept asking me to take them off so I finally did so, moved them to one side next to the couch and continued surfing the net.

My girlfriend stared at the shoes thusly:

We’ve lived together for over a year and a half now so I knew exactly what the problem was. So, obviously, the only thing I could ask was “What’s the problem, babe?”

She responded with a noise that was a little like a “HHMMPPHH!” but had a vowel sandwiched in there somewhere. Knowing full well what the problem was, I decided to confront this situation head on.

“Babe, explain to me what the difference is between having the shoes here and having the shoes over there where you want me to put them.” Cue poorly concealed, sly smirk from me.

At this point I will note that my girlfriend is very intelligent. She is highly articulate, she is sharp as a tack and she is quick. She will rule the world one day, I always tell people. She is capable of absolutely anything. Her response, therefore, surprised me.

She thought about what to say, came up with nothing then went back to watching television (another God-awful show, to be sure – see my previous post about sharing the remote).

That was it. She said nothing. I couldn’t believe it. “I won!” I thought to myself! She didn’t have an answer for me! She was stumped and had no good reason for me to put my shoes with the rest of the shoes over in the ‘shoe corner’. It’s not really a corner, mind you. It’s actually just the entrance to our condo but we once laughed that the shoes are lined up facing the wall like they’ve all been misbehaving and have been sent to the naughty corner, hence the misnomer.

Look, it’s not that I’m lazy. Yes, I am the type to take off my shirt after work and throw it on the bed but only because I might need to put it on later that night and if I put it in the laundry basket, it’ll absorb the odour of dirty socks and wet towels and I’ll have to grab a clean shirt which will just create more washing for us. Whether the shirt is hanging on a chair or lying on the bed makes no difference if we’re both on the couch in the lounge room. And I’ll be putting my shoes on the next day in exactly the same spot where I took them off the previous night so why put them anywhere else? Sheer vanity would be the only reason, I tell you. Vanity. And if there’s only a bit of water left in the bottle, I’ll take the bottle out of the fridge, drink from it and leave it on the floor next to me until I’ve finished whatever water is left. Why dirty a glass or a cup that I’ll need to wash later when I can just drink from the bottle? That’s just crazy. And why not leave the bottle next to me till I’m done? Why open and close the fridge repeatedly, wasting electricity and, consequently, damaging the environment – oh yes, I’m not above playing the old ‘environment’ card – simply to put the drink back in when I’m going to take it back out again when I want another drink a little while later? Is man’s need to control his environment so overpowering that we can’t stand having a single bottle out its of place?

I am not messy, ladies and gentlemen. I am above messiness. I’m a domestic pragmatist, a practitioner of ego-free domiciliary practicality, the proprietor of a nondual awareness that has risen above the base allure of ego and mere possessions and the need for superficial order. I care not for vanity’s desperate whims. I do not acquiesce to man’s narcissistic desire to impress. I do not suffer the modern obsession with keeping all around me in its place and under control within a structured environment. I am beyond society’s need to elevate reputation and status with a glistening living space. I am beyond all of that. I am striving for a higher plane of consciousness, a primordial state of being that exists beyond the superfluous bunk thrust upon us by Martha Stewart, et al.

I, dear reader, am reaching for a domestic manifestation of nirvana.

Alright, fine, I’m lazier than a sleeping sloth enjoying a Sunday siesta on Xanax. But I’m lazy with a purpose, dammit! I am saving the precious time that I’ve been gifted for higher things, things worthy of my life, my consciousness and my intelligence, things that are beyond simple domestic chores, things like blogging about things that are more worthy of my life, my consciousness and my intelligence than simple domestic chores. Things like not doing any domestic chores.

“Okay, fine, babe. I’ll pick up the bloody shoes. Geez.” Our little interaction ended thusly.

As I was putting away the shoes, I’m sure I heard her mutter something under her breath about ‘working with this lump of clay’.

Awesome. Clay. I’ll probably have to clean that up, too.

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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…

Love, living together and hiding the remote

When you move in with someone, you uncover things about them that you may not have been privy to before, things that you may have only glimpsed before you shared a mailbox and electricity bills, things that may even shock you a little (pun completely unintended). Moving in together after relocating to Singapore has hammered home a reality that I must face every time my girlfriend grabs the TV remote: her TV viewing habits are just awful. To be fair to her, she thinks my viewing habits are pretty bad too. To be fair to myself, she’s wrong.

I want to make something clear from the start. I once read a description of the perfect woman: one who’s smart enough to see through your crap but cool enough to put up with it. I, ladies and gentlemen, am lucky enough to have that. Smart, cool, gorgeous and has a heart the size of a watermelon. I am a lucky, lucky man. Until she grabs the remote, that is.

My dad and I used to love watching boxers test their mettle against each other but good bouts these days are as rare as hen’s teeth. The UFC has filled that void nicely. My girlfriend, though, would rather eat her own head than watch two guys beating each other up. “Babe, he looks hurt…” is a regular, incisive observation that she’ll make whenever a fighter’s face is covered in blood. I’m also a big kid and love a good animated series. Family Guy, Futurama and The Simpsons (before it became a shell of its former, glorious self after season nine) are my favourites. I love all sorts of movies, from art house to action to drama flicks but I really love watching good horror movies. My girlfriend hates horror movies but loves rom coms which I generally can’t stand. Game of Thrones does not interest her in the least, nor does Sons of Anarchy, both of which I view avidly. I can watch nearly any sport on television but putting the golf on is a sure way to put her – and, admittedly, most of the planet – to sleep.There are plenty of other shows I like watching that don’t quite do it for her. Sure, my viewing habits might not be her cup of tea, but that’s only because her taste in television – to put it eloquently and succinctly – sucks.

Whenever she grabs the remote, I make some sacrifices in the name of love that are worthy of the most romantic of Frost’s poetic treasures, the most heart-wrenching of Shakespere’s enduring dramas and the crappiest of the crap-riddled crappy romantic comedies my woman loves so much.

Rather than go on about our differences in taste, I’ll just rag on five shows that she loves that I just cannot watch without harbouring serious concerns for the future of the human race. In no particular order:

1. Glee – Yay! Kids with crippling emotional issues butchering classic and current hits with all the delicacy of a well-swung sledgehammer! Yay! I’d prefer to watch… oh, I don’t know… the ravaging effects of a severe case of frostbite engulfing my entire manhood. In slow motion.

2. The Kardashians – I don’t know about you, but when a woman who makes her millions by having a camera crew following her around every second of the day has a whine about having her privacy respected… I don’t know how to finish that sentence without referring to irony, stupidity and vomit. She’s of that new breed of modern day celebrity: famous simply for being famous.

3. Fashion Police – Kelly Osborne once said “I understand that being judged by others comes with the territory, but it broke my heart and ruined my self-esteem”. She is now a panelist on a show that rips others apart very publicly, simply for wearing things that aren’t ‘cool’ or ‘stylish’ enough. Joan Rivers might be funny but her attacks are scathing and merciless. Ironically, if Osborne wasn’t on the show, her patchwork of shitty tattoos (just get a good sleeve done, woman!) and her geriatric purple ‘do would make her a prime target for Rivers. Kelly, a fashion tip for you: those pale purple rinses are only cute on lovely old grandmother-types who you want to help avoid speeding cars as they cross the street, not spoilt brats who you want to push under speeding cars as they cross the street. Save it for your seventies (if you’re not pushed under a car before then).

4. American Idol/The Voice/X-Factor – I won’t be entirely critical. Some of their contestants are decent performers. Over the years, a few have even been spectacular. What does get under my skin about all of these shows are the sob stories. “A year ago, my dog died after swallowing one of my sexual aids, so I’m doing this for him *wipes tears away* I’ll always miss you, Boner.” My girlfriend has a heart so big that sometimes I wonder how she can fit it into her tiny little rib cage so she is an absolute sucker for their stories. Tears of sympathy well up in her eyes nearly every time she watches one of those programs. Stop making my girlfriend cry, dammit!

5. Miss Advised – A recent addition to my lovely lady’s list of favourite shows and it’s right up there with those shows that steal portions of your life that you’ll never be able to get back. If you’ve never seen it, here’s a brief synopsis: a woman, who runs a dating agency and charges her clients big bucks to help them find the right person, cannot find a date with the right person. Imagine a driving instructor starring in his own reality show about his inability to keep his car on the road. Cringe-worthy stuff.

But we have some common ground, a joyous place where our tastes overlap, where we can both get excited when a particular show or movie is on TV, where we can rave to each other about what we’re watching and quote our favourite lines from the movie or show together. We’re from Sydney so we both love watching the rugby league on TV and when our teams play each other we are louder than a couple of skeletons having furious sex on a tin roof. We both love movies from our younger years like The Karate Kid, Star Wars and The Goonies. Her love of these movies helped move me from the ‘I’m seeing this cool chick’ stage to the ‘I’m saving for a ring’ stage. We both think that the Star Wars series was savaged when episodes I, II and III came out. It was like watching rotten custard being heaped on the perfect meat pie: blech. We both think Tom Cruise is a very strange man but we love The Last Samurai for the sappy, dramatic slop that it is and we both like Ken Watanabe. We both love Amelie, The Bourne movies, The Newsroom, Entourage and anything that comes out of Ari Gold’s mouth. Our common ground extends beyond these productions but they spring to mind immediately.

Besides, we don’t love each other for things that we have in common. We love each other for the complex beings that we are, including the things that make us different. I already knew I’d hit the jackpot years before we moved to Singapore and moving in only confirmed it: I’m a very lucky guy.

Until she gets her hands on the remote.

Death and Taxis

Some of the taxi drivers in Singapore just kill me…

Me, getting into a cab: “Hello uncle, Orchard Road, please.”

Driver: “Which way would you like me to go?”

Me: “Let’s take the longest, most drawn-out, traffic-clogged, exasperating, unduly expensive route you can think of, thank you. And take your time handing me the change so that maybe I’ll tell you not to worry about it and leave it for you as a tip. I always find it endearing when taxi drivers do that. I’ll be sure to hand you an extra two dollars for having attempted to take even more money from me after having already ripped me off. Cheers.”

That conversation has obviously never been had. Why taxi drivers would ask you which way you’d like to go in the first place, in a place as small as Singapore where the average trip is ten minutes long, is a sham or, as Woody Allen would say, it’s “a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.” It is so big a sham that I have to quote Woody Allen to encapsulate the shamminess of it all (yes, I just made up a word).

Before I go on, let me make this clear: most taxi drivers in Singapore are polite and good natured. Some like to have a chat and are quite chirpy and funny and I’ve even had a couple offer to knock a little off the fare because they ended up getting lost and felt bad for having wasted my time and money. I was happy to pay the full fare in those instances and even left them tips because they were honest. Honesty goes a long way with me. I even once had a taxi driver tell me that his card machine wasn’t working and that he could only accept cash. I had not one skerrick of legal tender on me and, admittedly, I thought that he wanted cash in the hopes that he might get a tip from me so I was reluctant to work something out with him. I told him – honestly – that I had no cash on me whatsoever and that he’d have to make the card machine work. He tried a few times and it wouldn’t function so, after a tense, pensive moment he told me – much to my surprise – not to worry about paying. I felt so bad for having doubted him that I convinced him to hold on while I ran into the nearest mall to look for an ATM. I came back and left him a nice tip for his patience and honesty. Let me hammer the point home now: I am not taking a swipe at all taxi drivers. It’s not the easiest job when you consider that they don’t make too much money. I’ve been told that they need to make at least one hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars just to pay for the rental of the taxi and that anything they make beyond that is theirs to keep. Then there’s tax to be paid. Taxis aren’t exactly cash cows. And you have some idiots getting into taxis: drunken revelers who perform the technicolour yawn in their vehicles and aren’t burdened with the dry-retching, tear-inducing task of cleaning it up, snippy ‘you’re my servant’ types who act like they own the taxi driver as long as they’re being driven around and plain old arseholes who are just plain rude. It’s not an easy job and it’s not lucrative. If it were, you’d see younger people driving taxis to earn a crust but you don’t. The average age of a taxi driver has to be somewhere upwards of ‘I haven’t danced in 30 years’.

And I don’t care if a driver is quiet. I usually catch a cab to work because a ten minute walk on a hot Singaporean morning will make you sweat the way that Samantha Fox made 14-year-olds sweat back in 1986. And after having been awake for 45 minutes or so, I’m not inclined to start a conversation. In all honesty, I just want to let my brain sit in neutral before I have to walk into the office, put it in first and put the pedal to the metal for the rest of the day (I do get out of first gear eventually). And I genuinely don’t care if a driver doesn’t understand me the first time that I tell them where I want to go. I’m Australian with an Australian accent. “Yeah mate, gis a ride to Tanjong Pay-gar, cheers bud” might as well be Aramaic to a local driver. I’m happy to repeat myself because I know that my accent is thicker than molten rock. Fair enough.

But there are some that really get under my skin.

I’m talking about the ones that have lived here since Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles played fullback for the Bukit Timah Tigers, the ones that know the place like the back of their hands, the ones that have huge, fully-functioning GPS units the size of small televisions in their cabs – all of them do – yet still have the audacity to ask which route I’d like them to take. They’re testing me to see if I have any idea of where I’m asking going, trying to get an extra few bucks out of me and hoping that I’ll agree to let them take me from Outram to Marina Bay via Johor Bahru. They assume that because I’m ang mo, I have no idea where I’m going. Fine: I don’t have any idea of where I’m going but that’s because I can’t seem to get my bearings in Singapore, not because I’m ang mo, goddamit! And I’ve been taken for rides before. I’ve paid seven dollars more than I should have – on what should have been a ten dollar fare, that’s a lot – because I’ve been shown the scenic route, like I care what’s in Kallang when I’m heading home from the airport.

If I had to offer one bit of advice to visitors to Singapore, it’d be this: ask someone or figure out, roughly, how to get to where you want to be and, if it’s a short trip, catch the MRT and save yourself the extra money.

Note: if the MRT breaks down between stops and you’re left with a one kilometre, underground hike along live subway rails, don’t blame me. I was only trying to save you eight dollars.