The Condiment That Puts Hair on Your Chest

The other night I was craving for pork belly, so I made my way to the only place in my vicinity that offered succulent pieces of marinated, moist brown pork belly. They also make an excellent nasi goreng, so I ordered that with a side of mouth-watering slices of pork belly.

When the bowl of nasi goreng came (the pork belly pieces nestled comfortably within that cushy bed of delicious fried rice), my whole being instantly vibrated with unsung songs of the eternal universe. If there was a thing called heaven, that moment truly epitomised it.

However, I needed something spicy to just take this epicurean delight up a notch. I asked a passing staff -- who was Asian (and this is important to this story) -- if they have a spicy condiment at hand.

"We have sriracha," she offered. I looked at her horrified and clutched my non-existent pearl necklace. ​ "Don't you dare!" I stage-whispered to her dramatically. She started giggling. "That shit is disgusting! It's chili sauce for lame white hipsters who cry at the mere touch of anything remotely spicy on their bland tongues!"

I could tell she was struggling not to say anything, but she nodded slightly. "Well, we do have chili oil."

"THANK YOU!" I looked at her pointedly, giving her small smile. "Now, that's the stuff! Puts hair on your chest!" She laughed and nodded.

I don't give a rat's ass if you worship at the altar of sriracha -- that shit needs to be banished to the trash bin.

Punished

Last Thursday, right after the all-staff meeting, I booked a follow-up physio for what I felt was a remaining stiff twinge from my thawed frozen left shoulder. I couldn't take any more of what was being announced on the all staff forum -- I logged out of that Zoom call, and a sense of fleeting peace settled in my brain. ​ But I was still feeling numb -- the stagnation that I was feeling in the last couple of days was becoming irrepressibly overwhelming. I put on my slate-blue women's Airism lounge shirt, light beige booty shorts, and navy knit shoes. My hair was smooth, soft, and flyaway-free. I knew I looked positively smashing, so with that little bit of self-affirmation, I headed out to meet my physio. ​ My Scottish physiotherapist had called earlier, asking if we could push the session further into the afternoon. But I had a couple of meetings after my scheduled physio, so I said no. ​ "I'm so sorry I couldn't move our session," I said, after he greeted me and asked how I was doing. ​ "No problem at all!" he said. ​ "You're just saying that to be nice," I said, sitting down in front of him. "That's okay, you can take it out on me. You'll just have to punish me." ​ He burst out laughing.

I probably shouldn't have been so forward with him, after all, he's a professional health service provider. But I confess I was a thirsty for him from the get go, so these pent-up emos were now just all coming out. But he didn't seem to be averse from my blatant flirting, and he seemed genuinely amused with my sassy and sarcastic opinions on life and people in general. ​ I ended up getting tortured, regardless. He worked relentlessly on the edge of my range, which was excruciating. I suppose I asked for it. ​ I needed to feel something.

Defeated

"Have you ever seen me defeated? Don't you forget what I've been through And yet I'm still standing." (Evita, 1996)

I arrived at the Diabetes Centre at St Paul's hospital this morning, dreading my appointment with my endocrinologist. The receiving area was almost devoid of people: I had arrived early. I checked myself in before sitting down to gather my thoughts while I wait to be called.

My doctor emerged from his office, a man in his 60s with a rather cheery disposition that made me suspicious. He called my name and shook my hand. He led me into his office, and started going through my blood work -- an endless list of mystifying acronyms and puzzling medical terms with numbers that did not make sense to me.

He looked up from the reports and suggested I take more insulin before every meal. He also suggested, that I cut the carbs from my diet.

I wasn't prepared to do all those things and flatly said no. He sighed. Both him and I knew there's not much he can do unless I make significant lifestyle changes. I was already on a trifecta of powerful antihyperglycemic drugs, and they won't make a huge difference if I continue eating and drinking whatever I want. I refused to see a dietitian because I'm offended at the thought of someone telling me what to eat. The last dietitian I saw, unfortunately, was on the receiving end of my snarkiness.

"No," I had said, standing up and heading towards the door. "You do NOT tell me what I should or shouldn't be eating."

"I'm only trying to help," she protested.

"Didn't ask for it," I snarled as I unceremoniously left her at her table, her diet chart empty.

It seemed like my options these days were awful-tasting brown rice, boring lentils, unremarkable quinoa, tasteless greens and unsalted food. I cannot consume too much protein as this will, in turn, trigger my gout.

I've done this before, and I was a bitch. No one would want to be on the receiving end of my sugar-deprived nastiness especially when the very food that gave me comfort was taken away.

I just looked at my endocrinologist, noticing the wispy white hair on the sides of his head. I glanced at my doctor's notes, even though they were upside down to me. The first line read: "Nelson's diabetes maintenance has been sub-optimal." I sighed. I tried to stay positive, but I also felt very defeated.

Tomorrow is another day.

Why Do I Write

Why do I write?

When I was about 8 or 9, I was a voracious reader. I ploughed through an entire Nancy Drew series, marvelling at the adventures of a plucky titian-haired heroine. I quickly got bored with that and started reading the classics. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The Pearl. Heidi. The Cask of Amontillado. The Hound of Baskersville. And anything Nathaniel Hawthorne.

And then I discovered Stephen King. The very vivid way of how he wrote sparked an interest of potentially writing my own stories.

But it was a little difficult for me, growing up with two languages. I didn't quite know if I should write in Tagalog or in English. I suppose I could do both, but my geeky side wanted to work on English grammar and syntax. I already have the vocabulary.

But learning the rules of writing in English wasn't enough to motivate me to actually write something.

I knew I could use words to persuade people, make them feel something. I wanted to tell stories, but I also knew if I'm going to write, I needed to be vulnerable. And I had to be okay with that.

Otherwise, there is no point.

The Inner Critic

What the fuck are you doing here?

I'm supposed to talk to you, have a conversation with you.

And who the fuck is dumb enough to ask you to do that?

It's a writing exercise. Frankly, I'm afraid to talk to you, but here we are.

So what the fuck do you want?

You've lived inside my head for so many years. Don't you get tired of putting me down, nagging me and telling me I'm not good enough?

No.

Care to elaborate?

There is nothing much to say. You're my bitch.

I see. Aren't you concerned how I would feel? My mental state? You caused me so much anxiety and pain!

Oh boo hoo, now you're gonna cry and be overdramatic and post your pitiful angsts on Facebook like you always do? You're pathetic.

I'm not! Stop saying that?

Why? Because deep down, you know it's true?

It's not! You're just being mean and really negative.

I don't think you're smart enough to figure out you need me.

And why would I need you?

Bitch, without me, you wouldn't have gotten this far in life without second-guessing your shit.

That's not true. I've survived in spite of you!

I don't care what you believe! You're never going to get rid of me no matter how many dumb shrinks you see to silence me. Hell, I'm the one telling you that you're wasting your money on utterly useless therapy when all you needed was listen to me.

Well, you're not exactly the wise guru that I would hope.

No one gives a shit on what you hope. Now fuck off and leave me alone!

Memory of Rain

This evening, the world was drenched in an unceasing downpour. Intense rain lashed at our patio door glass like tiny liquid whips. In the distance, thunder rumbled hungrily. I haven't heard the rain fall this hard in a while -- it brought up memories of warm monsoon rain, the lash of typhoon winds, glistening dirty puddles in the streets, and rolling clouds in different hues of dishrag gray. Memories of my college years stuck at home reading books in bed, the rain rattling the galvanised roof. The sound would often make me sleepy -- the rain inviting me to a welcome slumber of a drowned world.

Someday

We had a picnic yesterday at Jericho beach with our neighbour Ana. We decided we needed to get out of the house. I didn’t want to hear any more COVID stories, and wanted to feel the sun and wind on my unmasked face.

I packed snacks and drinks, and we headed across town. The day was simply gorgeous — one would think it was a normal summer. We found parking just beyond the Beach Cafe, and settled ourselves under a tree, in front of a huge log. We sat on our chairs, and chatted aimlessly. I wasn’t paying any attention. My eyes were on English Bay, the waters shimmering in the sun, and the verdant hills of the north shore. Further to our right was Stanley Park and the skyscrapers of Vancouver disrupted the placid lines of the mountains.

I closed my eyes and leaned my head back, feeling the cool salty breeze on my face. The sun was too bright; even though my prescription sunglasses were polarised, I was still squinting.

I missed this moment of peace — a moment that all is right with the universe, with the blinding sun heralding a semblance of sweet happiness.

Someday we can have more of this. Someday we can actually get together and hug.

Someday.

Both Sides Now

A couple of years ago, I attended a funeral of a friend who was well-loved in the faerie community. The organisers asked me to sing a closing hymn in full drag. I solemnly obliged, and took to task to memorise a Joni Mitchell classic. The last words of the song hit me so hard that it was almost difficult to finish the song:

I've looked at life from both sides now

From up and down and still somehow

It's life's illusions I recall

I really don't know life at all

It would be erroneous for me think that life would actually teach me lessons, let alone tell me who I am. Life was a bitch, uncompromising yet strangely democratic. Why in the world would life bother with me?

I would like to think I am a stronger person by now, resilient, and wise, but I do not think — or feel — that’s any closer to my own truth.

No, I have no idea what life has told me of who I am. I really don’t know life at all.

The Paths We Take

I was a huge fan of Snoopy and Charlie Brown. I loved Charles M. Schulz’s comics — seemingly innocent and childlike, but with very adult themes that border on wistfulness and introspection.

Snoopy inspired to be a comic book illustrator. I drew and painted my own comics, created stories so fantastic that if I read them today I would cringe so much I would want to shrink to the size of an ant and scuttle away in a dark crevice.

But the desire to create endured, and it became the guiding light of my career. I was eventually accepted to a fine arts college at the state university. But fate had other ideas: a former classmate encouraged me to take visual communication instead of painting, and that prepared me for an entirely different path. I do not begrudge it. I am happy where I am now.

But I do sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had taken painting instead, and how different my career path would be.

Lost Remembrance

I cannot remember any stories from my childhood that taught me who I should become.

All I read about was news of a greedy dictator, the millions who suffered under his despotic rule, and the faceless who vanished from existence. It was a time of fear, desperation and excess. I doubt that any of those taught me what I should become.

It is but with much effort for me to reflect and dig up any relevant stories that I resonated with — the years have changed me as person, experience has moulded my values.

I cannot remember any stories from my childhood. They seem to have vanished in the mists of time, like the faceless who vanished from existence during that dictator’s regime.