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. 

Advertisements

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.

IMG_6884IMG_6893 IMG_6899

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).

IMG_6996 IMG_6924

IMG_6948 IMG_6994 IMG_7027

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.

IMG_7095 IMG_7154 IMG_7281 IMG_7320

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.

IMG_7331 IMG_7329 IMG_7338 IMG_7372 IMG_7373 IMG_7435 IMG_7502 IMG_7479 IMG_7324

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).

IMG_7620

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

IMG_7520 IMG_7606 IMG_7632 IMG_7645

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.

IMG_7776IMG_7759

IMG_7783

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.

IMG_7797

The backdrop was stunning

IMG_7794 IMG_7822

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.

IMG_7873

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

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

IMG_7875 IMG_7849

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.

IMG_7859

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!

IMG_7835

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

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.