Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Start of Soho

The occasional fete with our closeted brothers here have become almost a weekly event - which thoroughly amuses me since frequent public association with notable fags such as Fabulous Felix and me certainly doesn't help dispel the vague homosuspicious miasma that surrounds them. Seriously. Pretty hard to convince any possible onlookers that a band of eligible bachelors would congregate at a cafe to nibble on cupcakes and salads whilst daintily wielding their tiny porcelain teacups; the topics of conversation running from the untested benefits of SKII to the laundry care of superfitting tight tees.

But it would take more self-awareness on the part of Prudent Patrick to realize that.

Guess sometimes these boys in the closet can't help but make us a tad irritated at times. There are times when we can be a bit impatient and far too dismissive about their concerns since we've pretty much wrestled - and successfully overcome - the very same demons ourselves. We've gone through pretty much the same needless worries and anxieties but we're also fortunate enough to know that things do get better.

Though it's getting ever so hard to convince them of that fact.

Patrick : OMG That's so gay!
Paul : You're far from straight yourself.
Felix : Yeah, get a mirror. 

Yet despite hiding in the deepest of dark, dank closets, our buddies here can still come up with the most peculiarly harebrained schemes such as the latest one where they've proposed opening a cafe catering exclusively to gay men. Clearly egged on by our latest member, a buff goliath of an entrepreneur I'm dubbing Samson Shorn.

Paul : So I assume it would be serving low-sodium, low-fat salads along with fat-free cupcakes? Playing disco diva music half the time?  
Patrick : Of course!
Paul : Display a rainbow flag at the door? With the servers all young muscular hunks dressed in tight white tees and super skimpy shorts?
Patrick : That might be a little too gay. 
Paul : But you would somehow advertise on the underground gayvine so there would be gay men there all the time.
Patrick : Hopefully! I'll be there too!
Paul : And you being there wouldn't strike anyone as suspicious? 
Patrick : Of course not. I can pass as straight.

At least that's what he erroneously thinks.

Not that I would entirely discount their idea. More actively happening stores in this bleak retail-dead town would be a blessing, even better if it was a store-within-a-cafe concept. Though the active closet cases would balk at the idea, I think hiring cute young male waiters would be a draw, just imagine dimpled Zac Efron sorts smarted up in crisp white shirts and plain black aprons to serve drinks. Pretty sure the girls and the gays would flock to that cafe.

And like they say, the rest will soon follow.

Hmm. Maybe I should invest. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Love At First Sight

Basically there is no feel.

Really, how often have you heard this familiar whine?

Loads of my singleton friends - quite a few extremely eligible and far more handsome than these lucky buggers deserve to be - still find themselves busy trolling the homosocial media in search of the ever elusive one. With modern-day tech-savvy fairy godmothers such as Grindr and Jack'd to lend a helping hand, several times a week these knights would bravely head out on another dating expedition with their latest suitor, hoping beyond hope that their one and only Prince Charming has finally made it on his white sedan.

Unfortunately to no avail since they are searching for that mystical lusty feeling written about only in fairy tales. That magical love-at-first-sight, that-arrow-through-the-heart lightning-in-the-dark invisible-violins-playing one-leg-daintily-raised Love At First Sight. Capital letters yes.

Eh, sorry but still not feeling it.

Obviously the illogical kind that makes one impulsively risk dangerous dragons, calamitous curses and wicked witches to rescue a distressed damsel you've only once glimpsed through a faraway tower window.

That feel.

At least that's what Bibimbap Ben wants to find in a man. Blame happily-ever-after fables and overly sweet rom-coms. When it comes to Ben, apparently an utter lack of chemistry during a first date would extinguish any hope of ever having the next.

Ben : One date is all it takes!
Paul : Surely some guys grow on you, you can't base your entire judgement on just one meeting. First impressions can be wrong.
Ben : But basically there's no feel.
Paul : Feel?
Ben : Yes, chemistry!
Paul : You mean that lightning strike when your eyes meet across an empty room? The sudden electrical charge when your hands touch?
Ben : Yes!
Paul : Aiyo! That's pure lust at work! 
Ben : It's love!
Paul : At first sight?! Haven't you heard of the soup theory about love? Well more about arranged marriage but still...  Lust at first sight is like piping hot soup that grows cold over time while the love that takes a long time are like cold broths that you heat over time.
Ben : Soup?
Paul : Basically you've got to know a person first. And I doubt you can really know someone from the first date.
Ben : But there's no feel!

That always stumps me. The feel. Exactly what are they looking for? Do they seriously expect spontaneous fireworks and earth-shattering quakes along with the mind-blowing instant attraction? Frankly I'd be a little worried if that all happened during the first meetcute!

Seriously how can you possibly fall heads-over-heels in love when you barely even know the person? Doesn't that take time and effort? Shouldn't we be a little less quick to dismiss someone after a first meeting? Just imagine if our fairy tale beauty, Belle, had gone with her erroneous first impression of the hideous Beast rather than take the time to really know him.

Belle : Eeeew. You are hideous. I am so leaving now.
Beast : I know I have a bad temper but -
Belle : I meant your face. Eeew. Could you talk to me facing the wall instead?
Beast : But I am different inside. I'm articulate, intelligent, kind, gentle, I can even make birds come to my hand when I sing and -
Belle : Whatever you despicable monster. Call me a carriage now.

Beast : There are so many things I could show you. A magical castle! I even have a wonderful library and -
Belle : Talk to the hand. God, my father must have been insane to match us together. 

Poor Beast. So much for inner beauty. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Girl Who Didn't Believe In Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM that is.

At least those practiced here in our TCM centers encompassing acupuncture, massage, herbal medicine and dietary therapy.

Something our physician intern here refuses to believe. Effectively indoctrinated to be the strictly scientific professional that she is - ever-obsessed with endless reams of data and statistics to back up their evidence-based theories, obviously this ingenue finds it nigh impossible to believe even a little in the exotic uncharted realms of Chinese medicine where very little can actually be proven.

Intern : What is this traditional medicine rubbish? Surely you don't believe it these days?
Paul : Not entirely but I wouldn't dismiss it either. 
Intern : Surely not! There's no scientific basis to prove it works. 
Paul : Ah don't be so narrow-minded! There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!

Dare I mention that I try to stay away from heaty foods?

Not too heaty, I swear!

Educated in a similarly conventional system, I might have believed much the same as her especially in the initial phase of my career. Back then during my callow housemanship, I'd probably have rubbished any talk about the proverbial wind or the basic cosmological yin yang being out of whack after downing one too many heaty dishes.

Wind? Now how exactly do we go about treating an excess of wind? Nailing the unfortunate patient to the ground doesn't seem to be an effective treatment. And how do we treat a patient with too much yin? Steaming her in a dimsum basket for heat?

But all that talk's in the long forgotten past. With several years under my belt and more than a handful of inexplicable occurrences happening at work - even the one experience during a holiday, I find myself a little more open to ... the occasional unorthodox treatment. Not to mention the brief unwitting brush with acupuncture did make me realize that there's so much more to traditional Chinese medicine than even we know.

Of course having a conservative Asian upbringing with such wildly esoteric information repetitively drummed into our heads does play a minor role.

Certainly not saying we as a medical fraternity should entirely abandon our formidable arsenal of phamacology but we should be more receptive when it comes to alternative medicine as a complement. After all just because we can't understand something doesn't mean it's not true. At least not forever. With the current technology at hand we might not be able to prove anything but one fine day sometime in the future some bright spark might just find a way to do so.

Hell it wasn't that long ago that we thought plagues were brought about by noxious bad air.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Need for Sherlock

The streets in Seoul have the reputation of being really safe.

That's what my engaging host - and everyone else we met during our travels - keeps repeating with more than a little sense of pride. Don't really blame them. Swayed by their utter conviction, I am starting to believe it as well. Hard not to when you see ostensibly vulnerable young females tottering home in their skyscraper heels way past midnight through the darkest back-alleys without fear of molestation.

Though it might be worth some crime to be rescued by a cop who looks like Choi Siwon.

Even the house that I lived in, a hanok-style homestay only has brick walls that are barely five feet high. Wouldn't take much for an aspiring thief to boost themself over for a quick steal. After all the rooms in the wooden hanok only have sliding doors without locks; even the doors themselves wouldn't provide much security since it's made of flimsy wood and paper.

Yet I felt really safe. With the host living in his own abode several blocks down, it was only Charming Calvin and me in the old-fashioned hanok home. Still we felt secure enough to even leave the main gates wide open throughout the day.  

No fear of snatch thieves. No fear of robbers. No fear of assailants.

Sherlock might be out of a job.

Which is something our ruling government patently fails to understand. Trotting out bales of statistics to prove that crime is at an all-time low wouldn't pacify the raging masses in the least. Who cares about perfectly polished numbers when someone you know has been butchered and robbed several weeks past? Who needs beautiful pie charts and graphs when even senior government servants are gunned down in broad daylight? With the perceived rise in crime, even our recreational parks don't feel safe anymore.

Certainly no crime expert but increasing police visibility on our streets as a deterrent would help. Can't walk by two blocks in Seoul without seeing the boys in blue standing vigilant at the corner. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Night of Tradition


Every time I hear the word 'tradition', it doesn't take very long before I recall our dogmatic Tevye and his ultra-orthodox village ranting about their all-important religious traditions. Well, I might not be at the faraway Russian steppes but the Koreans situated on the other side of the world feel pretty much the same.

In fact our endlessly enthusiastic host lost no time after our arrival to organize a traditional music evening strictly for our enjoyment. Something that singularly unnerved me since I can hardly bear sitting through a torturous night of clanging instruments without a single singing voice to distract me.

Really. I don't do instrumental music.

Had the prerequisite ten years of endless piano lessons - at least counted as essential for all good Asian boys - but I still can't sit through an entire recital without nodding off. Well unless there's something that stirs the blood like Tchaikovsky or Paganini!

So to my encouraging host, I did my best to stall for time by hemming and hawing, only to be beat by our Charming Calvin who found himself simply dazzled by the detailed description given of the gayageums and geomungos. Easily convinced that fellow.

Dammit I don't want to listen to traditional music!!

Which is how I ended up dressed to the nines for the evening concert. I wasn't entirely wrong about the music though.

Calvin : Enjoying the music now? 
Paul : You must be kidding. Sounds like someone chopping wood. 
Calvin : Not even a bit?
Paul : If I were king, I would have decapitated the entire lot, possibly razed the entire village down, all for hurting my ears with such horrible cacophony. 
Calvin : Aiyo!
Paul : I might save the drum fellow though. He is cute. Bed slave material. 

Sorry to say I'm still not a fan of traditional music, at least not the usual kind hauled out to bore the starched-up courtiers into a submissive stupor. Most times throughout the night I was thankful I had sufficient makgeolli - a wonderfully sweet rice wine - to bear me through the ordeal.

Perhaps if the traditional music was a lil jazzed up in a modern way perhaps. Maybe with a voice or two. Such as the new age Korean band Infinity of Sound here.

Or maybe pansori - basically storytelling through music and words - a brief segment of the evening that I enjoyed most of all. The talented storyteller sings out her tale with the help of a trusty fan and a fellow musician beating a drum.

Though I understood barely a word, even with the hastily whispered translations from the host, the plot came through quite clearly through the studied nuances in the storyteller's tone, expression and movement.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Almost Perfection

'You can never be overdressed or overeducated.'
                                       Oscar Wilde

Doesn't seem like my fellow countrymen are heeding his well-intentioned advice. Even at our own regular Netherfield soirees, we have unmindful guests arriving in their ratty tees and casual flip flops wondering aloud why the rest of us are so dressed up. The rest of us blithely wonder whether they've just rolled out of their beds to lazily snatch up whatever's left on the top of the laundry basket.

Presenting the proper image seems to be all important for the image-conscious Koreans though, especially judging by the chic, nattily dressed city folk traversing the streets of Seoul. Sure, most don't actually resemble the eeriely immaculate Kpop idols with their perfectly coiffed hair and ready smiles but it's patently obvious that just a little more care has been taken just before stepping out.

Just a tad more dressy. A little more attention to what they're wearing that day. Maybe a lapel pin to the jacket. A comb through the hair. A lil bit of lip gloss. That quick glance at the hall mirror moments before leaving.

Definitely not the swift rush-and-grab rummage through the crammed closet before rushing out that I am starting to suspect of the more casually dressed sartorial suspects. Which honestly only works if you're fortunate enough to look like this.

No, sadly I don't look like Kim Bum - who looks effortlessly gorgeous in a tee and shorts - so I have to at least wear something really nice.

Which is why we felt we needed to step up our game a little over there. After all I could hardly pass on my far from Adonis-like looks so I seriously needed something at least presentable to wear. Which seems to be cue for the endless comments from our friends on how shockingly overdressed we are.

Friend : You're wearing a spiffy suit over there? 
Paul : Yeah, a suit. 
Friend : Wah so overdressed! But it's a holiday!
Paul : So? You expect me to don bermudas and a tank top when it's 14 C?
Friend : Definitely not a suit. Maybe jeans and a tee?
Paul : Why not a suit? 
Friend : Because it's uncomfortable!
Paul : Why would you buy an uncomfortable suit!

And the conversation continues. Surely they didn't expect to see me travelling abroad dressed like a sloppy hobo? Don't they ever heed the immortal words of Oscar Wilde? When did bermudas and flip flops become readily accepted everywhere?

Needless to say, the Koreans - especially our hosts at the hanok - were truly impressed. Even more when we dressed to the nines for a traditional music night they organized at their home. Guess we did set a pretty high bar for future Malaysians.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Heaven's Door

May does brings showers but it also heralds the beginning of my annual spring break. Surprised quite a few people when they found out that I'd be heading to Seoul yet again, not the least amongst their critical number my very own sister-in-law, Sassy Sue.

Sue : Seoul again? Did you secretly marry a Kpop star there? 
Paul : I wish. Oh Choi Siwon, I want to bear your children!

Just imagine Siwon packed into a Samsung box! Though I wish they would export hunky Korean boys along with kimchi and soju, all my desperate entreaties to the customs officer didn't seem to make any impression. Blame the insuperable language barrier. Despite not having the incredibly fetching Mr Choi as a souvenir of my trip, that didn't make Seoul any less irresistible. 

Dammit! Siwon should be in the bag!

Yes, I was just there exactly a year ago but it's just... so exceptionally peaceful there in the land of the morning calm. Even with the dire threat of the despotic Kim Jong-Un eagerly waiting to rain a sea of blazing fire on the bustling metropolis of Seoul. 

But I like it there. Even with the insuperable language barrier mentioned above - though I am starting to understand bits of the written alphabet. Since it was originally created to be easily and quickly understood, turns out it's not all that difficult to pick up written Korean. Words such as bibimbap 비빔밥 and kimchi 김치 I found easy enough to read on the billboards - tells a lot about me that I've memorized most of the words in the menu.

That didn't stop me from loving the trip though.

- Something about late spring mornings on a heated ondol floor in our hanok guesthouse with coffee and bread ready at the breakfast parlour.
- Something about dressing up in fine threads with suits and ties for a day about town with Kpop blasting in the background.
- Something about lazy strolls through the narrow lanes with the boyfriend going in and out of quaint little neighbourhood stores selling peculiar knick knacks from delicately painted music boxes to men's platform shoes.
- Something about companionably roasting galbi or munching on fried chicken wings as we watch the numerous suited Korean salarymen hurry home.
- Something about lying down on the courtyard platform in the evening chill with natural face masks generously slathered on our faces.

True, it was a relaxing trip for me but I still move just a tad slower than lightspeed so you have to ask Charming Calvin - who seemed to be huffing and puffing throughout - on how much he liked the place.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mama and Calvin

Till now I have a rather... peculiar relationship with Charming Calvin's parents. Though it's been quite a while since he came out to both his parents, denial seems to be the prevailing attitude in his home. The Borgia variation of the infamous don't ask, don't tell. Presumably his formidable mother, Madame Borgia must have successfully deduced our relationship to one another - could there be any other logical conclusion? - but even then, she barely betrays any of her emotions by even a disapproving purse of her lips.

Well maybe once.

So it's all sweetness and civility whenever we have our tense lunches. Though his parents may be seriously taciturn, I do try my best to draw them into what little conversation we may have, twiddling my thumbs all the while hoping Madame Borgia doesn't reach for the kitchen knives.

Which makes me wonder how Calvin views my own mother. Since they do spend quite some time in each other's company, surely he has made his own carefully guarded conclusions on my wildly opinionated, highly judgemental mother. Assume Calvin remains quiet whenever I leave the room since I can't possibly fathom what they find to talk about when I'm not there.

Calvin : His mother comes to Pemberley. What shall I do!

Turns out I wouldn't have to imagine for very long.

Mother : I'll be going for a course next month. 
Paul : Nice. Which exotic locale this time?
Mother : Not very far away, it'll be in town. I was thinking of staying over with Calvin. 

I think I must have choked on my drink at that moment.

Paul : You're staying over at Pemberley?
Mother : Yes, for a few days. Maybe three. Would it be alright with Calvin?
Paul : I am sure it would be alright. What a delightful idea. 
Mother : Be sure to tell him. 

Didn't take but a moment after she put down the receiver for me to call up Charming Calvin. Rather than betray any misgiving, our stolid fellow Calvin only nodded and agreed to the arrangements. No doubt he learnt the art of unflappability from Madame Borgia.

My mother and Calvin in Pemberley without me as a buffer. Hmm. Here be dragons indeed.

Friday, May 03, 2013


Sometimes I do miss my ex.

Cheating bastard though he may be, my ISO can be endlessly resourceful. Not only in acquiring patently obscure items, instruments and information - but also apparently incredibly insatiable boy-toys.

Paul : I miss peanut butter and grape jelly. So hard to find here. Expats must be ordering them in crates since you can't find them in stores at all. 
My ISO : Smuckers? How many bottles do you need? Size?

That's as simple as it was. No beating around the bush. No multiple questions asked. No lame-ass excuses.

Since it had been a miserable day, to say I was touched would be putting it mildly. Whether my ISO would actually be able to find a bottle wherever he was didn't matter as much as the fact that he offered instantaneously without question.

Man, how did he know I wanted a jumbo tub of popcorn!

In retrospect, it wasn't all bad between us. Like any other relationship, it had its ups and downs. When my ISO puts his mind to it, the man can be surprisingly thoughtful in so many ways. It's always the simple things. Mashed potatoes on a crummy day. Bailey's ice-cream during a walk in a park. Burnt CDs in my workbag for my drive to work. And recently an MP3 player in the shape of a Lego brick.

Nostalgia much? Guess I don't hate him as much these days.