Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter Wanderlust

I look forward to my 15-day vacation in Turkey - where Europe meets Asia:) I have wanted to go there for a long, long time. Now that I have annual leaves to clear, this is the best time. I have never experienced Winter before, so I thought why not. And I consulted blogger Simah, she loves the Winter there.

It is quite a tedious affair as I don't want to take a full travel-agent guided trip, just a free and easy package. Those trips are too hectic, and moving in a large group annoys me. So now, I'm almost done, the airline and accommodation part at least, and cultural dinner show. Domestic transportation (bus/train) and daily tours are still somewhere in the middle. I can arrange daily tours when I get there, but searching online and booking in advance means I can at least get the lowest deals.

I shall start with Istanbul, maybe Bursa, Canakkale (Galiopoli & Troy), Selcuk (Ephesus, Didyma, Priene, Miletus, Pergamum) and finally Pamukkale (Hierapolis, Aphrodisias). My Austrian hotelier ex-colleague invited me to Antakya, he can take me to visit the project sites of the millionaire that he is working for. We see how it goes, the cost is not much, but I have to fly there for a day trip, it may be too tiring. I'd rather go to Bursa, I think.

Oh ya, I'm going alone. Again, why not. I'm quite nervous but to get a partner means it may never happen, like I said, it's a tedious arrangement. My friends either can't take leave at the same time, cant afford it or may have a different idea altogether. I can't be consulting another person on top of all this complexity. Going alone also means I have to be very prepared and avoid leaving things to chance.

Luckily, Mr Designer offers to send me to the airport. As always, he doesn't like the idea of me taking a cab. He even delayed his programme with his kids on Friday evening to send me home & have a quick dinner together near my place - I had to bring back my new winter jacket, thermal underwear, wool socks, etc,etc that I bought at a shop near my office, so he helped carry my bags to his car. He advised me in detail on what to pack and to travel light. He would have made a good travel companion, too bad he can't afford it. Anyway, lately, his actions show that he cares a lot about me, though it may not be romantically. I haven't gotten a chance to write about this yet, but a lot has happened since he parted with his partner, for the better too. Later ya, long story.

Enjoy the photos of the places I will be staying - 50% four-star hotels and 50% pensions/quirky inns, they are in reversed order. Yeah, my hotel in Istanbul has its own Hamam:)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Enemy in the Camp

Was there a saying 'The best time to bury your enemy is when you are treating him/her to a big meal'? Okay, maybe there wasn't one. LOL!

After being away for 2.5 days for a course, I returned to work yesterday morning. Talk about welcoming Fridays. At 9.00am, Popeye, my immediate superior, called me on the phone.

He yelled his head off. He asked if it was true that I was recruiting a subsidiary staff for my department without his knowledge. I told him firmly that I had been looking for staff for almost a year and since this candidate applied, I interviewed her and gave her a writing test, I was just following the usual procedure. He said he heard that I had bypassed him and already recruited Ms A, that she was already seated at my department. I told him in a condescending manner that I could only interview, I didn't have the authority to issue anything in black & white. That is the HR department job. (wonder who that culprit was, very few people knew my plans).

He cooled off a bit and ordered not to hire her, saying that she was no good and could not write a speech. I said I needed people and the application of the senior staff I had shortlisted in August was 'stuck'. No 1 asked Popeye's comment and instead of replying, the idiot did what he normally does - 'peram' the documents at his place and kept quiet about it. That guy was an outstanding candidate. So, Popeye ordered me to re-submit the senior staff application, he is much better than Ms A. Hell, that guy has 8 years over Ms A. What do you expect?

As always, I am open with my 2 senior staffs about my plans. After that I called my senior staff, Ms Prim, who was seated downstairs. My other senior staff was away but I knew it wasn't him who sang. He is burned out and desperately wants Ms A in. Ms Prim denied telling Popeye's secretary - they were closed and like to gossip. I didn't want to tell her initially but she had to replace me for a meeting when I interviewed Ms A. I specifically told her to keep it to herself, in case anybody sabotaged us again. We really need the extra manpower. Also, his choice of words showed that his informant found out about the plan from me.

5 minutes after I put down the phone, Popeye's secretary came over to summon me to his office. Ms A was at my office then. I went in. He started by blasting off why did I go and scold Ms Prim. Bingo! Yeah, my most trusted and seemingly efficient but yet diplomatic staff is a back-stabber.

I've always known that Ms Prim is Popeye's pet, he hired her. But I was stupid enough to believe that she would remain professional and appreciate my management style. I mean come on, I consult her on decision-makings, I am open with my plans. When Popeye made her man outstation exhibitions 3 consecutive weekends before she was departing abroad for a trade mission, I tried to get her out of it. I even denied Popeye's favorite girl the post as her assistance because she didn't want to work with her. I let her hire the candidate she wants instead (a total stranger). And o
bviously, she has problem with Ms A, probably she sees her as a threat.

Well, as I sat in front of Popeye, he called Ms Prim too. She kept her head down during the whole encounter, a sign of embarrassment, no doubt. I won't bore you with the details of this kindergarten-minded level of encounter. Just that, Popeye is switching angle, trying to get me to move over to his camp. He tried to assure me that he is open to feedback and welcome discussion; that I should have consulted him first on Ms A's recruitment as he would have advised me against it, etc. That I report to him, and not the new HR Manager. I told him that the recruitment document requires his signature and would still go to him after all. Blah... blah... blah... Okay, Popeye is starting to show signs of panic and defeat. His position may be made redundant soon, especially with 2 of the 3 department heads under his division ignoring him and starting to bypass him.

Now, the story behind this new development... We got a new HR manager. Popeye's right hand man - the despatch-turned-former-HR head, had been transfered to another department. The new guy has 6 different Degrees and Masters qualifications. He just moved back from Germany where he held a VP post at a 300-employee company. Yes, he is Malay. He may look like a nerd but amazingly, he is damn gutsy. He has been 'challenging' Popeye like hell.

He has been going all out to get rid of Popeye by first removing him from being our immediate superior. This includes swopping senior management officials and changing the organisation chart. Popeye's lack of expertise and legal knowledge & his low level of thinking makes the mission do-able. Not to mention, he is a nasty bastard, who only cares about his own hidden political/glamorous agenda and the 'servants' who support him. I had just learned that all the court cases that the company has been facing - where staffs were unfairly
dismissed - were related to Popeye. Due to the former HR head's lack of qualifications, legal grounds were not properly 'covered'. The company is losing millions over those claims.

Anyway, somehow, new HR head and I sensed that recruiting Ms A would be a problem. So, we decided to bypass Popeye and go straight to No 1, regardless of the fact that both of us report to him. HR man was away yesterday. But he had asked Ms A and I to be strong. Recruitment will take place as planned. We shall fight him. It would take some time but soon, he won't be our boss anymore. Wow, if we succeeded in removing him, that would be our biggest contribution to this organisation, despite our relatively short stint.

And now, it took hours for the effect to sink in... but I have a traitor under me. I won't confront her as she would go straight to Popeye. Instead, I shall should use my most powerful weapon against her ie to gradually increase her suspense & 'burn' her with my Stony Silence. Only much later, when she least expects it, would I strike. She won't forget this, one in a lifetime experience, definitely. Nobody messes with me!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Day Off

On Tuesday evening, I had a bad gastritis attack. I thought lightly of it and went home earlier to rest. To my horror, it got much worst at night. Amazingly, just after my alarm clock went off at 6.00am the next morning, it went off, almost completely. By then, I was too groggy to get up and get ready for work. I smsed my boss asking for an emergency leave. How to take medical leave if it was already gone?

To my surprise, fate had its' plans for me. As soon as I opened my email, I found a semi-good news waiting. It was an update on the Stegner Fellowship Award at Stanford University. They received 1600 applicants and will announce the results on 1 April. There was also a bolded line stating: 'If you receive this message, your application is being considered.'

I got ready and strait away went to visit my publisher at the bookstore. It doesn't really matter if I don't get selected. The fact that my manuscript made it to the 2nd round is good enough for me, I guess; considering that I only found out about it 24 hours before the deadline. At least, it didn't go right into the dustbin, LOL!:)

Sharing my latest short story as below. This was inspired from my visit to the land of a thousand minarets.

The Wooden Liver Box - 1st Cut
My whole body above the knees was awkwardly curved into a stiff C-shape. I continue walking up the narrow passage. Its height seems no higher than 160cm. My knees and thighs are sore. My neck feels stretched. My t-shirt is soaked with sweat. It is scorching hot at 40 degrees when I was outside but the air within gets cooler and cooler. I fight the feeling of claustrophobia. “Come on... come on... just a little bit more,” I tell myself.

The last ten minutes feel like an hour. It was like entering a dwarfs’ kingdom. My bended legs take a few more forced steps. I pause upon arriving at a large opening in the stony structure. The ceiling is high enough for me to stand up straight. I breathe a sigh of relief and turn to look behind me. Despite it being the peak of tourists’ season in early summer, there appears to be no visitor close by. I rub the back of my neck.

The spacious chamber on the other side is very dim. Squinting, I try to focus. I nearly jump when I see an old man in a stark white traditional cotton dress waiting for me. Hands clasped, a huge smile spreads across his face. “Welcome young man. You have reached the heart of the pyramid. Come in.”

Monday, January 5, 2009

SOS to the Psychiatrist

The day after Christmas, I made an impulsive phone call. It was to a person whom I had only met once, and whom I last spoke to a year ago. Yeah, the psychiatrist I went out on a date with in October 2007. He opted for an early retirement last year and is now part-timing at several private hospitals.

What or rather who triggered it? Hmm... who else? Mr Designer went crazy that evening that I was almost convinced that he had spilt personality. Maybe Sidney Sheldon's and a few novels that I read during my teenage years were casted too deeply in my mind. But, how do you explain a person who sleeps at odd hours (and makes people wait more than 3 hours for appointments or doesn't turn up at all), has extremely low/slow productivity level, behaves like 2 - 3 different persons sometimes and frequently appears detached like a zombie?

In fictions, the 'missing hours' when the heroine falls asleep at odd times is normally the period when her alternate personalities take over and use her body to become someone else. The main personality always feels tired and never gets a proper rest. However, she doesn't know/remember what the others had done when they were 'using' her body. This is the only thing that rules out Mr Designer from that group. There is no memory gap, not that I know off anyway.

With this bugging me the day before I were to leave for my holiday, I dialed the psychiatrist's number from my office phone. He didn't remember me at first. He said he had just finished jogging, I guessed that explained the gap/pauses in between answering my questions... for someone that eloquent He must be out of breath. But the pro recognised the 'danger' in my voice and didn't want to delay the conversation.

He said he had never treat a split personality case specifically, the patients themselves don't know they are suffering from it, and the people around them don't recognise it. He normally discovers the cause through other symptoms/problems eg drug abuse, despression, etc. They have to backtrack from there before diagnosing. I told him about Mr Designer. He asked me to try searching under 'borderline personality' instead. However, he stressed that each case varied and he had to meet the person to know exactly.

Of course, Mr Designer's partner freaked out with my theory. Like me, he is intrigued in trying to figure the guy out. He resorted to telling me that I shouldn't force myself to get away from him. It's not just because I care so much about him, but also I should consider my experience with him as 'research' for my stories. Once though, he asked me to be careful not to go to quiet/far places with him, in case he blames me for losing the partnership and does something bad to me.

Anyway, he got hold of Mr Designer a few hours later and made him call me back, or else he can forget about getting the percentage from my company business. He apologised for yelling and hanging up on me. He claimed that I caught him during an argument with his partners on another project. That was why he wouldn't pick up my calls earlier on and he ran out of prepaid to sms me. He was supposed to arrange for his partners to meet me as I was expanding our list of suppliers. I was also damn curious about them & that part of his life, especially since he was so secretive about the whole thing. I scolded him for spoiling my holiday mood. Sometimes, when I was mad at him and his actions were not making sense, I felt like slicing his head to see what was inside his brains. LOL!

He came over shortly after to have coffee with me. Yeah, after all the excitement of spending Christmas and New Year on an island with his family, he told me he wasn't going, or he might join later. Reason was he had a lot to do. I suspected that he couldn't take off without the Mac, he couldn't work during his holiday without it. But his partner told me that he was dead broke and he tried to borrow some money from him. Bear in mind, the guy had been advancing his pay a few times already. I decided to treat him to dinner, a simple one since I'd already treated him to a big dinner on Christmas Day, and time was limited. While topping up my prepaid, I topped up his too - RM30.

Then, he sent me home. Just before I was about to step out, he asked if I could lend him some cash - RM100 and he'd pay when his partner's payment cleared on Tuesday. I gave it, knowing that I most probably won't get it back. I felt sorry for him, he was supposed to be on holiday with his family, his kids and ex-wife were with them.

The last time I saw him last year was at midnight on 30 December. He agreed to fetch me at the hotel where the coach from Singapore dropped me off. I wasn't surprised when he smsed me at 3.00pm to say that he won't be able to, I was very disappointed though. I dreaded taking a taxi, the irritating drivers always spoiled my holiday mood. Anyway, despite bailing out earlier and having to rush like mad from his appointment in Klang, Mr Designer actually made it. He got there just on time too. He was up from morning and was yawning non-stop, too tired for a cup of coffee even. He wondered why I wasn't tired after 5 hours on the bus. Nevertheless, to say that he doesn't give a crap about me is not quite true.

BTW, just now, it happened again. He was supposed to bring his other business partners to meet me. Maxis was slow, so I only got his sms to confirm the appointment an hour later, around 1pm. After that, he didn't reply my sms or pick up my calls. I was beyond pissed. His sms finally came in at 9pm to say that he went to sleep since he thought it was not on. Hmm... what happened in that 'missing 8 hours' that he felt asleep? Come on... 1pm to 9pm - that covered Zohor, Asar and Maghrib!?

P/s: Picture above is of the Clinic Bar at Clarke Quay, Singapore. Now, that is creative. You can see a waiter walking around with his arm attached to a brightly coloured drip.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


My creative juice has been flowing irregularly nowadays. Sometimes, I felt so inspired but unfortunately it happened when I hardly had time to pen down the words. Frustratingly, when I did have a lot of time during the weekends, I wasn't very productive.

On the last day of 2008, my co-author's first solo book was released. I quickly got a copy on Friday and up to now, have finished reading 20 out of her 22 new stories. I was surprised that the cover design was something she and my instructor put together though, it had a professional feel to it. Her plots are mostly down-to-earth but her characters really punched out the stories. Reviewers commented that she is good at creating complete, rounded characters and she has a way with prose. When reviewing the drafts for our first book, many times she said she felt like she didn't know my characters. More insights needed.

And reading her latest work did inspire me. It reminded me that I'm very close to completing my drafts. I need to function at full force from now onwards to get my first solo book out by April. I have even started picking up drafts that I've left halfway done or completed many months ago.

And coincidentally, I've been having difficulty with the short story below; yeap the 'toilet world' one. I first started writing it more than a year ago and had re-visited it several times after a few months, and finally after a year. Somehow, though I managed to end it, it didn't seem quite 'finished'. The characters seemed flat, even to me. It was a tough piece in the first place, involved quite a major technology-related research.

Anyway, I did another round of polishing this morning. I added in brand new insights discovered from Mr Designer's relationship with his business partner. Now the main character and his business partner seem more real. Voila! I think it's ready. I shall share it during the next writers' forum next week, if one of the 3 volunteers does not turn up that is:)

Flush, Papa, Flush - 2nd Cut


My eyes felt tired. I squashed the cigarette stump into the overspilling ashtray in front of me. That was the last one. I threw the two empty Salem boxes into the metal dustbin under my desk.

I had been studying the 50-page ‘Request for Proposal’ document in my study room for three hours then. A charcoal pencil in one hand, my fingers moved on the pieces of A3 papers every time the right images came to mind. Our office was closed for the week for Christmas but we both needed that job badly. I had to get the sketches ready before Taka come to my house to discuss the presentation the next day.

I took a sip of the lukewarm Japanese green tea. It did not help. When Nami was around, she would prepare and serve tea just at the right time so the beverage would still be piping hot when I drank it. I could feel their presence all around me. I could hear their voices sometimes. The emptiness was overwhelming. Maybe I should return to Kuching and start anew.