Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Intrepid Explorer is Frozen

I cannot believe that it's only 15 degrees Celcius all around me right now. My frozen face is assuring me that it must be at least minus 50 and the thermometers are all broken. Am wearing a wool dress, a woollen coat, scarf, covered shoes and I am still a frozen block of Singaporean ice. It's embarrassing.

Have seen (from window of taxi) Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Old Bailey, Tower of London, Big Ben, the National Gallery and a million Pret A Mangers but the truth is I just want to go home to my son. I want to squeeze the little hands and the little fat thighs and see the little face smiling at me. I want to pinch the little cheeks that I made, and clap the little feet together. I want to see him in his "I Love Mama" pajamas. Half a week left to go, plus another eternal plane ride.

London is full of little children running around in thick coats and boots. If I pick one up, I'll probably get arrested. It's not like picking flowers or patting stray dogs. Bail here will probably cost three times more than back home, just like the sammiches and juice. I NEED A HOT MEAL. NO MORE SAMMICHES.

Oh God I am so depressed.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Ego has Landed

I thought I was in hell, but after 12 hours and 2 in-flight movies, the plane landed in Heathrow and I crawled out.

London is one of the world's greatest cities, but it sure could use some escalators and lifts. For some reason I decided to take the Underground to my hotel, and it took me more than 2 hours, including some serious stair-master time, just me, my backpack, laptop and possibly the heaviest suitcase in the universe. I haven't looked but I think there are intestines trailing behind me, and they've got airplane food in them.

Why didn't you take a taxi, asked a colleague. I have no response to that. I really don't know. I guess I thought it would cost me a billion dollars which I didn't have. Am certainly taking a taxi back to the airport at the end of my trip.

Am now esconsced in the Grosvenor Hotel, aka Thistle Victoria, quietly thawing and plotting my next move.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Service Provider to My Service Provider

Every now and then, and through nobody's fault of course, the roles get reversed and I end up providing services to my service provider. I'm not complaining, just saying that it's about time I got paid for my services.

Take the bank for example. Every now and then, I'll get a call on my mobile phone, and some young bright-voiced person will ask me to sign up for their funds transfer facility at a very special interest rate just for this 6-month period. Like 1.88% per annum or something ridiculously low. All I need to do is sign on a fax. And fax it back. They'll even fill up the form for me, and very neatly too.

Have had a couple of cash crunches in the past 2 years, and I've actually accepted their rather special offer.

A few months later, it's another officer on the phone. The voice is not so bright-sounding. In fact, it is rather stern. You have not paid your instalment! Ok. How much is it? They give me a rather huge number. I'm not a math genius, but that doesn't sound like what I expected. Can I check what interest rate they applied?

What is this 15%? What happened to my promotional rate?
They don't know what I'm talking about. What is this promotional rate?
10 minutes later, and after much panicked sifting through documents in my personal file (by me), they suddenly get a clue. Oh yes. There was a promotional rate that applied to me. So the instalment is actually much much less.

I switched banks after that incident. Try to cheat people?! I'll show you!

And then the second bank did exactly the same thing to me! Given that there are only 3 local banks in Singapore now, I have only 1 option left, and I don't think too highly of my chances.

My take on it is that the average employee in the "special offers" department is about 12 years old. This is why, after they hang up the phone on me and get my fax, they cannot remember to key in the details. Who is in charge of keeping the credit control department in the loop? That would be me.

Same thing today for a telecommunications service provider. I tried to terminate one of their services. Fill up a form on the web page, they said. Give us 30 days, they said. Why? I wanted to ask. Is your server in Tuvalu? Do you need time to travel there and disconnect my account? After we filled up the form, I got 2 more emails. Fill up this form. Fill up that form. Give us 30 days from the date of the second form to deactivate.

Finally wrote back and told them to pay me for my time. Reminded them that if they had to sue me for these payments, they wouldn't need to get these forms filled - they'd just use the particulars ON THEIR DATABASE. I've so had it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Oceans of Regret

Yeah. This post is going to be a reminder for me about the folly of agreeing to speak at a seminar that is going to be held in 5 months time.

Because after 5 months have passed, I ACTUALLY HAVE TO GIVE THE SEMINAR.

The whole concept sounded great, 5 months ago. Fly to London, give a seminar on some topic that I actually know something about. What could be easier? More glamorous? And the organiser is paying for my airfare and hotel expenses! I'm like, important or something! Hey! Don't American ex-presidents do this kind of thing too?

After coming back down to earth, I realise that: (i) I am speaking for 2 days straight; (ii) I hafta study fer this; (iii) I'm flying to London in coach class; and (iv) I have never heard of the hotel where I will be staying. Presumably it's got a roof. I hope it's got a wardrobe in every room. I hope the lights in the toilet are not coin-operated, and that if I'm not done in 5 minutes, it won't go off and leave me sitting in complete darkness, holding a coin pouch, with my head in my hands.

In my wildest nightmares, I never imagined that I would sign up for a seminar where I'd be speaking for 2 days straight. Is it even possible for a human being to do this without sustaining irreversible damage to the vocal cords. That's 9 hours of talk-time. Most handphones would just explode or something. And the million dollar question is, HOW THE HELL AM I GOING TO COME UP WITH 9 HOURS OF MEANINGFUL SPEAKING MATERIAL.

I am so screwed. If you're reading this, then I'm dreaming and you're in my nightmare.

Monday, November 20, 2006

It's a Blue Chip Stock

Went for a couple of lawyer-type gatherings over the weekend resulting in much internal reflection.

I'm starting to realise that maybe I did pick the right horse when I decided to get that law degree. Yeah, it's a local degree and everything, and detractors did say I was not going to amount to anything with just a local degree and nothing else to back it up, but that's not true. It's how you use it that really counts. As long as you don't flunk out, and you do bring back a piece of paper at the end of the day, it's pretty much a blue chip stock.

I mean, everyone in my class is well-off now, after just 10 years of work. Not filthy rich, but comfortable enough to buy that big car, big house and fancy lifestyle. And it's only been 10 years!

Examples. Classmate who stayed for 11 years now with the very first law firm she joined. Nobody I know has a particularly good opinion of the firm. Yet with careful savings and tax planning, she's almost regarded as a high nett worth individual.

Another example. Classmate who was a little bit quirky, went overseas to work with less than 5 years' PQE. Now practising in NY, doing very well. Flies business class everywhere.

Last example. Classmate who did not study very much in school, grades were not fantastic. Played a lot of pool. Did not save money after graduation - like the grasshopper who sang all summer while the ant toiled away. Drifted along with the tides, no career planning, just took the next job that came along so long as the pay was marginally higher. Can still buy big house and nice car with current earnings, enjoy nice vacations anywhere, no need to pack self up in a Fedex jumbo box with a sammich in order to travel overseas.

I've got lots of examples, but I'm just amazed. It's like everyone did things their own way and still came out all right. The guys and girls I knew, whom I secretly (or not so secretly) thought were kooks have turned out just fine. The crazy girl in the lecture theatre sitting on the floor and mumbling to herself, who always has a can of Evian spray for her face. The chao mugger who copied all the jokes during the lecture. Even the person whom we thought might actually ... fail. Everyone can buy their own way anywhere now. Who would've thought?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Most Kick-Ass Toy of All Time

is what I brought home to The Son yesterday. As I told the husband on the way back, it's going to be hard to top this one.

Is it a cardboard box, said the husband. Obviously some of us have a different standard of kickass.

I showed it to him. It's my new Blackberryyyyyy. The months of wrangling the TV remote/mobile phone/ oven controls from The Son will be nothing compared to the fights we will have when he wants to hold, poke, hug, kiss and taste the Blackberry.

And sure enough, when we got home, I couldn't resist giving The Son a little peek (it's the big sister in me - she does it every time) and then hiding it. He came after me right away. I tried to distract him ("Look! High Five!") but it didn't work. He ran over with the clutchy little hands and the little boy voice saying "Mote! Mote! Please!" (he calls them all "remote"). I tried to distract him again (by spinning him around) but it didn't work and I eventually had to take him for a walk. Damn. This distraction thing used to be easier. What happened to the good old days when I could just tickle him?!

Actually it's hard enough keeping the Blackberry away from The Husband. He is constantly trying to rip the plastic sheet off the little window. What is it with men and these little plastic sheets. Just a few months ago, and despite having received strongly worded legal advice, he ripped the plastic cover sheets off the front and back seats of our new car. And the dashboard. And the rearview mirror. And the little digital clock on the dashboard. And that last one was barely noticeable!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Ooh hoo hoo I'm Repulsive

I knew the world had stopped spinning on its axis on Monday, because I didn't go to work. In order to prevent the universe from grinding to a halt, I dragged my phlegmy coughy feverish ass to work on Tuesday and only barely managed to stave off the complete destruction of our world as we know it.

It's hard being a superhero, but someone has to do it.

Spent last night desperately trying to get a little bit better so that I wouldn't be so pathetic in the office today. Then I notice... something odd. Like suddenly there's a 5-metre safety distance between me and the next colleague or something. People shout across the office, Hi SMOOT ! ARE .. YOU. .. FEELING.. BETTER.... instead of coming up to me and talking like normal people. And it could be my blocked ears and blocked brain but it did sound like my boss was talking at twice his normal speed during our morning discussion just now. And does he normally push his chair all the way back to the wall like that?

Why does everyone go to the bathroom after talking to me?

And when did the guy in the next office start shutting his door?

Am starting to wonder if I should take the easy way out and crawl back home. This is typical lawyer machismo for you. Everyone wants the bragging rights about how they managed to carry on with The Work even through a blizzard, a raging fever and a baby clinging to their leg on the way out the door. I had lead counsel tell me when I reported for work a few years back with a really vicious flu that he once completed a transaction whilst lying on his office floor (he was so weak from his illness that he couldn't sit up). I could barely look at him - I was so unfocussed.

They say it gets better when we eventually grow up. That guy was 42. We'll see.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Fambly That Stays Together Coughs Together

These Goddamn flu pandemics. First the husband brings it home from some kid in school, then the son catches it, then gives it back to the husband, and then just when I thought I was immune to the whole thing, I get, like, the worst version of all. Could barely sit up yesterday without coughing myself into a blue fit.

Worst of all, the "students" selling ice-cream to "pay their school fees" came through the neighbourhood last evening and insisted on shouting through the open windows to get our attention. I waved them away whilst coughing my lungs out and they started coughing as well (as if to say, yeah, we think you're pretending). I felt like running out and tossing a handful of phlegm-laden tissues at them "Take that, you good-for-nothings! Try working to pay off your school fees!"

They'll be coming around next month in their nice clothes and the same tired old line about having to pay their school fees, and I'll be waiting. I've never seen the needy look more well-fed. If they can flog S$20 ice-creams on the bunch of us, they can jolly well work to pay off their damn school fees. Or their drug habits. I don't care. This time I'm going to take down some names.

Am not in a good mood today.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Why there are so few cats in Ang Mo Kio

Oh God. I cried when I saw this.

Karma Buildup Increases

The ground disturbance in the karmic universe of Smoot is really getting rather terrifying. While feasting on pig shank in jelly at lunch yesterday (dipped in vinegar), an old old acquaintance passed by and said hello, gave me his card. I almost choked.

This guy I knew since we was all 14 (back in the day, just 3 years ago). Someone (anal) suggested that we couldn't possibly have a group date without an equal number of boys and goils, so someone suggested Christopher as an appropriate stand in. I believe "He's always available" was the winning tag-line.

I called Christopher at his home to introduce myself and to extend the invitation. His mother informed me that her son was not in. I thought she was going to ask me why girls are calling her 14 year old son when he's in an all-boys school, but the next thing she said really stopped me in my tracks.

"Why are you calling my son? He's very bad company, you know. You better not call him anymore. He will never amount to anything good. He's a very bad boy. You shouldn't mix with him."

Jesus Christ. That's a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one. What kind of mother talks about her child like that?!!

So anyway, to the ears of a 14-year old girl, it really IS a ringing endorsement. Christopher secured his place at the group date once he returned my call, and every single girl there wanted to get to know him better.

Ran into him about 10 years ago when I had a 6-month window of no-boyfriendness, and we dated briefly. He asked me if I could start seeing him exclusively and I think I did say yes, then I forgot about it and also forgot to call him which, I've come to understand, can really piss a guy off. And now, here he is!

Is there a statutory limitation period on karmic payback?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Return of the Karma Chameleons

If you have sufficient karma buildup, it's just a matter of time before the foundations of the karmic universe crack open and a little geyser spits something back out.

Stepped out of the lift this afternoon and almost walked right into a familiar face. Where have I seen this person before. 2 seconds later, I realised that he was a termination case. We acted for his employer in terminating his employment. And that was the one where the employer hired us to deliver the bad news instead of doing it themselves. And who be the harbinger of the bad news? Yours truly.

I'm very glad and relieved to see he has found another job. And if his employer can afford the rent at Suntec, then he's obviously not scraping the bottom of the barrel!

Another couple of steps out of the glass doors and I see another familiar face. Where have I seen that face before? Oh yes, when we were all 17 years old and just about to assist Pizza Hut in its attempt to make the largest pizza in the world (a feat which did in fact make it into the Guinness Book of Records in June 1990, registering a diameter of 33.9 metres. The record stood for less than 6 months before it was beaten in South Africa).

I was one of the people assigned to throw meat on the giant pizza. I think he was throwing cheese on the pizza. We were introduced by a mutual friend and went out for one solitary date before I saw him scarfing down stale biscuits at the Pizza Hut reception like they was going out of style and decided he was not the man for me.

It's one thing to eat a stale biscuit. It's another thing to be stuffing your face with them like there's no tomorrow. Our mutual friend tried to intervene ("You can't judge a man by his biscuit!") but it was too late.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

If they refill the champagne after every sip ...

And you manage to finish an entire glass, HOW MUCH CHAMPAGNE DID YOU ACTUALLY DRINK?????

It's been exactly 11 years since I got tipsy in the office on a workday afternoon. This time it's all good - just went for a client function where the alcohol flowed like mother's milk and believe me, I was sober in comparison with the other guests when I finally lurched off. The last time I got smashed like this was to mark my resignation from a previous firm and the last thing I remember was looking at the office carpet at close range and thinking, well it's amazingly clean given that I've never seen anyone actually vacuuming this.

Am going to give myself 10 minutes to clean up, whatever it takes, and will get back to work. No rest for the wicked!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Another Nosebleed

From Smoot

To Taxi Company

Subject: Taxis are hiding again

Dear Sirs

I tried to call your hotline at 6552 4522 both last night and this morning but without success. I work at Suntec City and it is a constant struggle to get a taxi every day, unless we leave the office before close of business. In contrast, when there was recent media coverage on the shortage of taxis and cab companies started to clamp down on taxis which refused to pick up customers, it became extremely easy to get a cab literally overnight.

I'm not sure what measures you have taken to get more taxis to pick up flag-down passengers but they do not seem to be effective at all. I have been attending the Entropolis conventions at Suntec City up till 10 pm every night this week and it is impossible to get a cab. I'm not talking about flag-downs here. Comfort cabs which were empty just drove past all the people around me who were trying to flag them down. I tried to call a cab at 6552 1111 and only managed to secure a cab after half an hour of trying.

The taxi queues at Suntec (Convention Centre, Suntec Towers 1, 2, 3, 4 and Millenia Towers) were all long queues with no cabs coming in to pick up any passengers. I walked up to an empty taxi (a blue comfort cab) that was parked outside Millenia Walk, with the taxi driver reading a newspaper and the lights on, both in the taxi as well as on top of the taxi, indicating that he was available to pick up passengers. He waved his hand at me to indicate that he was not taking any passengers, and then went back to his newspaper.

Last night, I tried calling for half an hour and was not successful. I managed to get a lift from a private car. Whilst waiting for the car, I took down the numbers of all the taxis which were empty, had no "On Call" signs and which refused to pick up passengers. As at 1 November 2006, 10.35 pm to 10.50 pm, these are: 1. SHA 8726L 2. SHA 2629Z 3. 6349A (Mercedes cab) 4. SH 8869R 5. SH__ 9087K 6. 7226U (a blue comfort cab) 7. 7268G (a blue comfort cab) 8. SHA 6516P 9. SHC 2895K 10. SHB 4346R 11. SHB 8662G 12. SHB 3197R

I also saw a very long line of taxis 'hiding' under the Sheares Bridge at Raffles Avenue with their lights partially off. They appeared to be waiting for calls.

This situation is intolerable.

I had just come from a very successful [ ___ ] Dinner with more than 100 overseas guests all of whom were stuck at the Marina Mandarin after the dinner unable to leave because there were simply no taxis willing to pick up passengers. What a memorable end to what was a very well-organised dinner function, which had been hosted by the EDB in its continuing efforts to bring more foreign investment into Singapore.

As an indication of how embarrassing the situation was, 1 cab finally picked up the first passenger in the queue after half an hour of waiting. No more cabs arrived after that. Please do something about this.
Dear Smoot

I refer to your email on November 02 with regard to the above-mentioned.

We view pick and choose behaviours by taxi drivers seriously.

Drivers are not allowed to reject any fares so long as the taxi is available for hire.

Cabbies who are en route to changing shift must display the “Shift Change” message on the rooftop display and to activate the “Busy” signage when attending to personal matters.

Please be assured we will take the appropriate disciplinary action against all the drivers and will firmly remind them to adhere to the service standards as set out by our company.

Your complaint will be filed into their service record and we will closely monitor their performance closely.

Meanwhile we will inform our Enforcement Team to step up checks along Suntec City area to weed out drivers who pick and choose.

Thank you once again for your valuable feedback.

Yours sincerely

Taxi Company

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Champions Are All Here

Morning rush hour traffic is always a challenge, even for a front row passenger who is applying makeup. You can't help noticing all the champions of the road, who switch lanes while turning, or try to save a little bit of battery power by not using their indicators for any occasion. Or the motorcyclists who behave like kings of the road and weave between lanes and cut in front of cars on the expressway like they're immortal.

Although some people may not agree, I find that one of the few ways to completely disregard the champions of the road is to sit in a taxi. You won't notice the horrible driving of other vehicles because you're in the car of a true champion. He's the one driving all the other motorists insane. And most of the time, the well chosen hand signals from other motorists used to indicate their displeasure and concern go unnoticed because, well, their cars have been left behind with the cab's exhaust fumes.

Today however I watched with some discomfort as my cab driver attempted vehicular homicide of a motorcyclist. It was the old "switch lanes anytime anyhow" trick. Unfortunately, there was a motorcyclist going at full speed behind him who had to brake and swerve to save his own wretched life. If he had a passenger on the bike, then I'd probably have had to get another cab home, since the passenger would've probably merged with the back window of the cab as they tried to occupy the same airspace at the same time.

I think the motorcyclist must've been quite upset, since he took the time and effort to slam his fist into the front window of the cab and then gave the cab driver a gesture of appreciation that I can only describe as The Finger. The cabbie roared "FUCKEW", mostly at me, since the windows were all up, and then returned the gesture but the motorcyclist had already sped off.

The rest of the cab ride was spent with me nodding and listening as the cab driver went on at some length about how expatriates (such as the motorcyclist) were taking over Singapore and treating the rest of us like dirt and how they have no manners and can't be expected to run our big companies and what is the world coming to when a man can't earn an honest living without being abused. But mostly my ears hurt from the "FUCKEW". I mean, it's been a while since I went to a disco and came out temporarily deaf but I'm almost completely certain that my ears should've stopped bleeding by now. And don't try to make me think I'm deaf by mouthing words while pretending to talk to me - the husband tried it all evening till he was red in the face but I'm not falling for that. No sirree.