Saturday, May 31, 2008

Skinny dipping

I was in Kuala Lumpur this week, for two days, enjoying a curry served on a large banana leaf at the Royal Selangor Club and eaten entirely with the fingers (right hand only, as is the Muslim custom), and marvelling again at the spectacular other-worldness of the glowing Petronas Towers from the Sky Bar at Traders Hotel.

Yesterday I witnessed first hand a peculiar trend in the world of spa treatments, at a brand new (and almost empty) supermall near our hotel. This particular spa was known as "Dr Fish". Inside, rows of narrow fishtanks circumscribed the room in a continuous loop and patrons sat on the edge of the tank and dangled their feet over the edge for the fish to nibble at. Apparently although it tickles a bit to start with, it's therapeutic and healthy and the fish eat the dead skin and everything is wonderful, but I find this both undignified and, frankly, quite disgusting. One of our business partners, a large Australian, is very fond of the place: the only drawback is that the fish all flock to his feet as soon as he drops them in the water, much to the chagrin of the other patrons.

It did give me the opportunity to illustrate to my colleague L, a pragmatic Singaporean, the use of alliteration as a literary device with the phrase "I'm frightened of fish getting fat on my feet."

Friday, May 23, 2008

So watch it

My friend L told me last week that, in a week when everyone with an ounce of humanity in them was talking about the earthquake in Sichuan, all one of her colleagues (a lawyer) was focused on - and telling everyone about - was this US$20,000 watch he was going to buy.

I had a discussion about this today with my friend A, also a lawyer, who said that one of his clients, a banker, had so many watches, all worth at least US$20,000, that he kept them in a bag and wore a different one every day. He was arguing that this was an acceptable moral choice (although secretly I know he agreed with me that it is, in fact, the worst kind of self-regarding selfishness).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friends again

My sister and brother and I spent part of our childhood being educated at home. After a difficult time at our rural Scottish primary school (we were either “tinks” because we were dressed in second hand clothes and clearly poor, or “toffs” because we had English accents) we didn’t have a peer group around us except for each other; and I think this affected all three of us: we felt like outsiders and our social skills (probably) and self-esteem (definitely) suffered as a result.

The other-ness that made us shy and fearful when we were children is, perhaps paradoxically, part of my confident armoury now; but one legacy from those days is that friends are hard-won, and important to me: I don’t collect them like bangles. The end of a friendship is something in its way as devastating as the end of a romantic relationship.

I started at a new school in Edinburgh, at the age of 13, having spent four years in the “little school”. It was a terrifying experience: how sophisticated they all were with their clothes and hair and make-up and cigarettes, and talk of snogging and lovebites and drinking at parties; how self-conscious I felt with my cheap clothes and hennaed hair. Another girl, F, joined a year or two later, an outsider in a different way, and we gravitated towards each other. She was very different from me: her parents lived in a huge house in Morningside, her father was a name partner in a firm of accountants, and she had come to the school from a well known all-girls school. F was overweight with dyed blonde hair and given to dressing in long black all encompassing tops and skirts. She was clever and funny too, but defensive and prickly and prone to outspoken criticism of others. She used to say she’d love to be a traffic warden because of the power it would give her over others. We were similar too and shared a love of the Smiths and of quoting lyrics at opportune moments (“aye, there’ll be blood on the cleaver tonight”). We went clubbing together at the (legendary, for Edinburgh) Kangaroo Klub, and I often stayed at her house. Her parents liked me. We never fought over boys. We had fun together, even though I resented her family’s wealth and she probably resented me for being slimmer than she was.

Perhaps because of our conflicting feelings about each other the sine curve of our friendship sometimes horrifyingly dipped into hatred and I particularly remember sitting cringeing in a maths class as I heard her loudly bitching to my brother’s ex-girlfriend about me. She was competitive and vindictive, and I was probably no better; when we were friends I loved her and when we were not I loathed her, and I’m sure she felt the same way about me.

After we left school we kept in touch; she went to Manchester University and I went to Glasgow, and despite a disastrous visit to “Madchester” where we went clubbing (I still remember dancing to the (pre-Blur) Mock Turtles’ “There’s No Other Way”) and she thoroughly alienated me and our friend Tara by spending the whole evening chatting up some skinny bloke and then announcing to us at 3am in her room to me and painfully boyfriend-less Tara “I’ve just got a boyfriend!”, we were still what you would call friends. When I applied for my postgraduate Diploma in Legal Practice she lent me some money to do the course, which was incredibly generous of her.

This was the seed of our downfall though: after I finished the course and started work, I was a bit slow to pay her back as I wasn’t earning much, and I missed a few payments. Instead of calling me about it, though, she took what was probably the advice of her parents and sent me a “legal” letter by registered post threatening me with legal action if I didn’t repay her with immediate effect.

I sent her a letter with postdated cheques for the remainder of the money, and said I was sorry and that I hoped we would laugh about this in years to come. I have never heard from her since.

I still think about her from time to time and wonder how she is and where she ended up. I heard she works as an audiologist and is very successful. I've never forgotten her, but I'll probably never speak to her again.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cap it off

I'm sorry to have to report that I was unable to take a proper picture of this: there I was, minding my own business outside Wellcome supermarket in Stanley on a warm Monday evening on the Buddha's Birthday public holiday, when the following abomination caught my eye: a dog in a cap. The dog darted off, presumably as soon as he realised I was trying to take a picture: and quite right too; I have never seen anything so risible and downright unnecessary.

Mercifully, but also even more starkly, the poor little devil didn't have any other accessories, like the Man United football shirt (GIGGS 11, I believe it was - what, the dog not only supports a team, but has his favourite player too?) that I saw on a sheepish dog in Mid-Levels. No, he was wearing a little peaked cap that fastened under his chin. And to add insult, surely, to injury, this was fixed out of camouflage material.

A couple of weeks ago I saw a moronic couple "exercising" their dog on Stanley beach. This involved taking the tightly leashed dog out beyond its comfortable foot-on-the-sand depth and holding it there, on the leash, while the poor mite (and it was a Staffordshire bull terrier, a dog for which I have never held any brief, since it was a little rat-catching dog like that which ate my gerbils) struggled to keep its head above water to avoid drowning, while the owners looked on, laughing and supremely satisfied, no doubt, that they were doing even more than their duty as dog-owners by giving him some strenuous exercise.

This and other aberrations, such as the St Bernard fiasco described below, are enough to indicate that some people should never be allowed to own a pet. How long before the news of the St Bernard Rebellion spreads throughout the ill-treated, mocked and cooped-up canine community of Hong Kong and we have another "The Birds" situation on our hands?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Kicks like a mule

I was emailing my friend D today about Malaysia, in a wide-ranging discussion about religion, cultural mores, Schapelle Corby, the death penalty for drug-trafficking, and bribery, prompted by a story in today's paper about a Malaysian government official's proposal to require all young Malaysian women leaving the country to carry letters of authorisation, Middle-East chaperone style, to prevent them from becoming drug mules - which they would all otherwise obviously do - and was reminded of my favourite loony cult, the Teapot Cult of Malaysia (see this unreliable source for a contemporaneous report). What I didn't tell him about, but should have, was my other favourite Malaysian story (at least, of those which don't involve me, of which more some other time): the carjacking gang who were wont to force drivers of luxury cars out of the driver's seat at gunpoint at the traffic lights. On encountering the immobiliser in a Mercedes which needed a fingerprint to start it, they cut out the middle man by chopping off the owner's finger and taking it with them.

Wicked, I know, but I have this irresistible image of the scene back at the carjack gang's hideout shack:

"Anyone got the key to the SLK?"
"Hang on a minute -" (rummages in jar of formaldehyde, before triumphantly holding finger aloft) "Here it is!"

On a more serious note: clearly this measure is an attempt to curb women's freedom by the back door and is to be deplored.