Monday, June 19, 2017

Take Me To The Movies

Or maybe not as the case may be for Diffident David.

Those who know me well would know that one of the Chinese dialects that I can speak, at least relatively intelligible to most native speakers, would be Hokkien. Commonly spoken up north in Penang, where almost everyone converses in the native speech including the local neighbourhood Indian tradesmen, and also further south amongst certain enclaves like Malacca and Klang. However like many other less crucial dialects such as Hakka and Teochew, the heavyweights of spoken language such as English and Mandarin have threatened to overwhelm their already dwindling significance.

Even my own brother has started speaking the most peculiarly accented Hokkien ever.

Hmm who do I speak to then? 

As a consequence, it's nigh impossible these days to find little children who can actually carry an entire conversation in a local dialect these days. A serious problem faced by the directors of the local film You Mean The World To Me when they searched for child actors who could speak Hokkien dialect competently. Pretty sure most of you would have missed the movie but You Mean The World To Me tells the semi-autobiographical tale about a director who returns to his hometown to shoot a film about his own family.

Ever ready to support a locally made film, even more so that rare Hokkien film, I was one of the first to attend the screenings here and really glad to say that I enjoyed it immensely. Certainly jumpstarted my terribly rusty Hokkien ear since I hardly speak it here these days. A few words I immediately knew the meaning of once I heard it spoken in context but nearly impossible to recall several minutes later.

Even more heartening to the LGBT folks watching, there's a small, almost imperceptible hint of homosexuality that you'd probably miss if you blinked a little too hard. Obvious enough if you'd picked up the hidden cues along the way but sufficiently ambiguous enough to slip past our increasingly bigoted censors. After all there are so many ways one could interpret that revealing little scene.

Though even that insignificant bit seemed worrying enough to cause Diffident David some fright.

Paul : So didn't you bring your parents to the cinema?
David : I kinda changed my mind.
Paul : Why?
David : Umm.. I was worried they might suspect.
Paul : That you speak Hokkien?
David : No. The gay thing.
Paul : The gay thing is so vague I might have dreamt it up.
David : But...
Paul : If your parents picked up on that tiny glimmer of questionable information, they definitely would know you're gay.
David : Umm...

So rather than coax his demurring parents to the cinemas, David tried his best to dissuade them for fear of inadvertently outing himself. Sadly a loss of two seats at the screening.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Better Things

Did things actually get better?

Almost a decade back, I brazenly celebrated a shockingly public Valentine with Charming Calvin right in the centre of a crowded restaurant. Rather than shuffle us off into a darkened corner to hide our shameful existence, the uncanny waitstaff purposely shepherded us straight into the focal point of the entire establishment, even making sure the giant spotlight hit us right so. Not that we needed the limelight since we were painfully the only male couple there.

Still, no one made a fuss. Hardly anyone blinked an eye at the both of us sharing a bowl of pasta or two, though we thankfully refrained from a shamelessly cliched Lady and the Tramp reenactment.

That had to be almost ten years ago.

Most would think with the steady march of time and progress, things would only get better for us all. If that's really true, then I find it really hard to understand why the people I know here - from Jocund Jonah all the way to Ambiguous Aaron - seem to be far more closeted than ever I was. Far be it for me to blithely presume on the complexities and complications in their lives that would prevent them from opening up but it still makes me wonder.

Perhaps I've been living in a liberal humanist rainbow bubble all my life, filled with magical sparkles and flying unicorns!

And the real world is just a sad, sad place.

Nonetheless it was quite disheartening to see a newly met gay brother hiding right there in the open. Not only was he deliberately scrunched into his chair - seriously a hard task to hide his obviously musclebound physique, he also had a suitably shady cap to squash over his military buzzcut possibly hoping to hide at least half his face.

Seriously, you ain't hiding this much handsomeness!

Though God only knows why he has to hide that personable face.

Practically a wanted fugitive literally hanging over the edge of his seat ready to make a hasty escape each time the door bell jangled to signal a new entry into the cafe. Could it perchance be someone he actually knew? Could they tell from our swishy fey presence that it was an all homosexual gathering?

And I didn't even have my pink feather boa with me.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Spiritual Sheep

It's certainly not fun being the black sheep in the family.

Not that I would know since I'm one of those horrifically accomplished older cousins ( always a benefit being born earlier! ) frequently pointed out as an example to my younger cousins, much to their everlasting dismay. Wouldn't be surprised if I'm quite heartily despised by the lot!

Of course I dislike such odious comparisons as well since it's also downright embarassing. That said, being the putative paragon in the family does however have its little benefits since most of the family gossip ends up coming my way. 

Aunt : Oh no, you're so good. I'm sure you can do no wrong. 
Paul : You must have me confused with Harriet.
Aunt :  You really won't believe what my son has been up to!
Paul : Ooh tell me more. 

With very little persuasion on my part, the story of the black sheep of our family, Richie Runt, came spilling out. Last we all heard of him, Richie had been happily masquerading as a dubious snake oil promoter whilst hiding his true ambition to be an enterpreneurial street tough. Facts a lil hard to swallow since he's a little bit of a runt - think Macho Mike could crush him with a thumb - but odder events have happened, I'm sure. 

Not forgetting the fact that Richie frequently zigs when we expect a zag. 

Which is exactly what our boy did. Though my pragmatic grandparents might be the least superstitious folk around, that doesn't necessarily ring true for Richie's maternal side who dabble in chicken-slaughtering, idol-shaking shamanism. Didn't take long for him to realize that particularly esoteric career path might be more suited to his specific set of skills rather than amateur small town gangsterism. 

Unsurprisingly it didn't take long for him to conveniently level up on his arcane accomplishments; proficient enough that Richie was quick enough to come to my grandmother's rescue when she heard scratching noises in her bedroom at night. Rather than accept the general family belief that we had monstrous rodents roaming the old coffeeshop walls, he insisted that it had to be restless spirits.  

Grandma, this is all I need to write on the walls!

Obviously my sensible grandmother was unimpressed with such blatant chicanery.

Even less so when Richie took it upon himself to perform a quick exorcism. Have to say with his appropriately sullen expression perpetually shrouded by his Goth black hoodie, our emo boy did look the part. Forget about laying out plans and stratagems for days! Several deftly written sigils on the aged wooden walls followed by a whispered line of sacred mantra was all it took to banish them all!

Efficient indeed! I started wondering whether I should hire our new family Shaman to help the Borgias guard their ancient hell portal instead!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sting of Rejection

Boy : Would you like to dance? 
Girl : Nah to the Ah to the No No No. 

Believe me, if you're a hormonal teenage boy, you'll be dealing with exactly this kind of sorry rejections repeatedly in your life from sophomoric high school dances to the more adult rated Tindr dates. That's even if you're the smartest, best-looking boy in the class.

I should know, I spent my entire secondary life eagerly watching such melodramatic CW angst play out in the school hallways and house parties.

Starting out as a closeted gay man certainly helped a lot in dealing with the occasional rejection. Way back then, high school dance parties didn't come with much of a legitimate choice for budding gay boys which is how I'd usually end up begging the standoffish girls for a dance. Really there's always a sad limit to the time you can reasonably stand with your back to the wall by the ubiquitous spiked punch bowl.

Girl : Wait, didn't you ask me for a dance?
Paul : But that hot sweaty boy over there looks like he needs a drink. 

Since there wasn't all that much hormonal desperation on my side - after all if she declined, there's certainly no harm, no foul - I found it easy enough to ask. Simple, straightforward petitions with little of the flirty come-ons that I picked up later. Even if she mumbled a ready refusal with a sarcastic eyeroll, I was always ready to move on to the next. Pretty sure by then the savvier girls in the waiting line would already have latched on to the fact that I was a raging homo.

In hindsight, I probably could have braved the inevitable homophobic punch and propositioned the cute boys as well.

Since the older you get, the more you realize certain small decisions don't really matter. Maybe at that very moment, the terrible pain of rejection might sting. Perhaps till the next day. Maybe even till the next week. But months later, you won't even recall who you asked out to the dance.

Especially if they said no.

Toughened me up with shrewd maxims that I recalled even when I started dating boys for real. So what if they said no? Forget the rejections. Remember the ones who nodded an affirmative even with the poorly worded invitation.

And always try to say yes when politely asked. You never know who you'll meet.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Social Grace

As a child, the infrequent social gathering, so beloved by my surprisingly sociable parents, has always been a source of much anxiety for me. Incipient bashfulness aside, there are always the endless rules and regulations of proper manners set down by the overanxious parents, seemingly obsessed with constructing the impeccable facade of a perfect family for all to gape over.

Or at least that's what I begrudgingly noted as a child.

Appropriate clothes to wear, polite manners in the company of others etc. - basically Cliff's Notes for the aspiring debutante in a select finishing school. Pretentious little precepts of proper behaviour that my inner rebel found absolutely infuriating - though like the perfect little boy I was, I kept my mouth primly shut following the popular maxim of 'Children should be seen not heard.'

And tried my best to bend the rules whenever possible.

It's only with the benefit of age and hindsight that I find what I learned absolutely educational and extremely advantageous in certain social situations. Though it has also become quite clear that the influential Emily Post Rulebook so well loved by my rigorous parents didn't actually make the rounds amongst the other less conversant members during their PTA meetings.

Such as the indifferent preceptors of a certain Silent Sibyl.

Persuaded by another friend to join one of our usual jovial dinner gatherings, this stonefaced sphinx reluctantly mumbled her unintelligible greetings, nodded almost imperceptibly to no one in particular and then brazenly turned her back to the others for a private conversation with her friend. Henceforth not another word from Sibyl apart from bluntly monosyllabic replies when questioned by the others on the table.

Paul : Gracious, where do you find such lowly impudence!

Just. Plain. Rude.

So much for keeping the conversation light and gracious with your dinner partners on your left and right. Getting information from a hardened spy under torture would have been easier.

Perhaps if she were an ignorant child, I would have been far more forgiving. But the ill-bred wench didn't even have youthful naivete to lend her grace. Really there was little expectation on my part for a gregarious barrel of laughs drowning us all in uproarious hilarity but I would have expected at least a modicum of civil conversation to drip from her precious lips.

As the night wore on with her plainly ignoring everyone else on the table - she might as well have stood facing the wall in a timeout - I started to think Sibyl might well have been brought up by vulgar philistines in the lowliest of barns. The others could plainly see my growing consternation and were all ready to hold me back in case I rashly backhanded the crass lil creature off her dining chair. Even her friend who valiantly tried her best to direct her attention back to the rest of us was starting to feel acutely uneasy with the shocking conversational faux pas.

Friend : Maybe she's shy.
Paul : Maybe she's rude.
Friend : Be nice. 
Paul : Perhaps you should tell her that instead.  

Needless to say, I was less than charmed by her insolence.

Manners maketh man. Or woman as this case may be. Apparently Sibyl still has lots to make up for.