Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Glutton's Bray

Eating out with others is always an adventure. It helps if you are dining out with close friends whose tastes and preferences are well established nuggets of information and everyone automatically or easily agrees on a choice of cuisine or restaurant without undue hassle.

But when you are breaking bread with a relatively new friend, who just happens to be vegetarian, it becomes a much more interesting proposition. Mal and I had arranged to meet at the Durian aka The Esplanade, Singapore’s attempt at building a cultural icon, one Sunday evening to watch some friends perform at the outdoor atrium.

Most of my friends are not particularly interested in that particular genre of music and the ones who are would be on their only one night of break from performing. Mal just happened to be the only other person who would willingly give up his night of rest to watch another group perform. Thus, we two die-hards met in the early evening to watch the show.

The sun seemed to set rather early that day, casting a purple glow over the burnt golden evening hue. Something must have been in the air too as mild-mannered Mal became an absolute animal in the midst of a particularly jamming rock song and after failing to entice me to join him in his madness (I couldn't as I was wearing an extremely mini denim skirt), started headbanging and jumping around with a 60-something-year-old Chinese man. It was hilarious, especially as the old man outdanced and outlasted Mal. Finally, Mal had to admit to the shameful fact that he had been bested by an old codger.

Our friends were cracking up on stage from watching Mal and his geriatric dance partner. I think that may have been the reason they wisely called an end to that set. Mal was completely knackered and starving after that and we decided that we would catch a bite to eat before the next set.

I knew Mal was a vegetarian. We went out for a meal a while ago and it was only after I had suggested a couple of carnivorous venues and he just nodded and smiled genially, that he let on that he was fine with the suggestions as long as they had a salad bar.

And oh, by the way, I’m vegetarian.

Duh! Why didn’t you tell me that earlier?

That occasion, I managed to find an Indian restaurant nearby that was a favourite of mine because of its wonderful rooftop view – Indian restaurants are brilliant for vegetarians. This time, though, we barely had 45 minutes for dinner before the next set. I was hard pressed to think of a good vegetarian restaurant that was quick and in the vicinity.

Mal hastened to assure me that he was perfectly comfortable with any restaurant as he was not fussed about his food. Finally, due to time constraint and because we were both dead hungry, we decided on the Glutton’s Bay at The Esplanade.

Glutton’s Bay is supposed to be the best of best in hawker food. To be honest, I am not that keen on the short stretch of theme park-like hawker stalls. I have an intrinsic problem with anything which I consider, rightly or wrongfully so, institutionalised. And to even attempt to do that to hawker food just offends every sensibility in my street food hungry body.

But, I was game if Mal was so we trekked the short distance to Glutton’s Bay and were dismayed to see how crowded it was. Just as we were reconsidering our options, Ms Beady Eyes spotted an empty table with a single chair and quickly dashed over to “chup” the place before any one else could. While Mal was still reeling from my Chariots of Fire routine, I had managed to snag another chair from of a table of happy, smiling tourists.

Hey, welcome to Singapore! You need that chair? No? Cool, can I have it? Brilliant – have a great meal and ta!

Yeah, I’m fast that way.

Obviously Mal and I could not share a meal. Being the gentleman he was, he let me go first to browse the stalls while he kept guard over our table. It wasn’t very hard as they had closed off half the place for a filming of one of Singapore’s Mediocre’s … I mean Mediacorp’s, incessant barrage of variety shows.

I picked the stall with the shortest queue which did not look like its food was the reason for the brevity. It so happened to be the line for oyster omelette, a dish I adore but seldom indulge in because it is just so unhealthy. All that grease! All that starch! All that luscious little sacs of briny sweet seduction! All that crisp-edged, spongy golden egginess! All that … please … a moment of silence as I drool shamelessly …


Right, now that we got that out of the way … I dutifully queued up patiently at the stall and while I was there, I noticed that the stall keepers were a young husband and wife team. But the food porn ladened lightbox proclaimed that it was one of Singapore’s best oyster omelette stall with a rich history of excellence and one of the oldest stall with the original recipe, etc.

I scrutinised the couple. The husband looked barely older than me – hey, I am NOT that old! And the wife looked like she was in her 20s. It just did not add up. Doubt and skepticism crept into my mind. Still, I had been queuing for a while now and I was reluctant to relinquish my place so I decided to give them a benefit of the doubt.

Watching them work was fairly interesting as although they worked with their backs facing each other the entire time, there was a comfortable ease and warmth emanating from them that had nothing to do with the blazing fire charring the heavy bottomed wok. I would have been highly bored if I had not engaged the couple behind me into conversation about the merits of black or white carrot cakes – other dishes offered by the oyster omelette stall.

I loved the fact that it was served on a fragrant sheaf of leaf and that the oysters were plump, succulent and fairly large. It looked quite appetising and I happily carted this back to our table as I apologised profusely to poor Mal for leaving him on his own for so long.

Since I am an infamously slow eater, I started on my omelette while waiting for Mal to return with his food. The first bite told me that while the fire had appeared to flame flamboyantly high, the hawker had not adjusted the temperature correctly in the process of frying the oyster omelette. When she ladled the starch and the eggs onto the griddle, the heat was not high enough to give the omelette a crispy, firm, caramelised crust while retaining the moisture and tenderness within. Instead, it was slightly soggy and the crust was leathery.

Fortunately the oysters were wonderfully fresh and bursting with all the juiciness of the ocean. There was enough shredded coriander leaves to lend a refreshing bite that countered the richness of the dish. The chilli sauce was tart and spicy – a wonderful complement. It would have been wonderful if not for the inadequate omelette base. What a waste.

Mal’s choice fared little better. When he told me he was ordering char kway teow, I gave him a jaundiced look and a raised eyebrow.

Er, dude, you do realise there are sausages, fish cakes and cockles in that dish, don’t you?

Apparently, he’d ordered char kway teow sans these. I paused in mid-gobble to consider this. So, that’s like fried noodles with … fried noodles then? It sounded beyond sad but ever curious, when his dish came, I took a morsel and chewed thoughtfully.

Salty, way too sweet, firm noodles and … nothing else. This was a straight carbo dish with nothing else to lift it from the doldrums of gluten overdose. I felt really sorry for M and asked if this was how he ate all the time. I wondered why he had not ordered a plate of stir-fried vegetables instead. Mal’s response was that he was very hungry and that he was not particularly fussy about food. Food was just a way to fill himself up. For shame! And him a doctor too!

How can we be friends?!! This will not do. While I am not vegetarian, years of association with people who are has given me some leads on some fantastic vegetarian restaurants in Singapore. I bossily informed Mal we could not be friends if he was going to be so cavalier about food and that I was going to feed him properly if it was the last thing I did! I am so Peranakan sometimes.

So you might see some posts here in the next few months as I go on a quest to educate my clueless friend that being a vegetarian does not mean living a life without the joy of food.

We departed Glutton’s Bay underwhelmed by it. I was not surprised as I knew it was a tourist trap with over-priced hawker food that you can find better, cheaper and much tastier in so many other places. It was the reason why I avoided it before and this experience did not change my mind in the slightest. To me it is another Newton Circus, except the latter has more variety and the advantage of being 24 hours.

The oyster omelette scored a 7/10 for taste and a 4/10 for health. Mal’s char kway teow kosong scored a 5.5/10 for taste and a 5/10 for health. So, will I go back to Glutton’s Bay? Not if I can help it. I give the venue a 8/10 for its open-air and bustling ambience and close proximity to the theatre, a 6/10 for its selection of food, and a 4/10 for its value which I deem as the cost of the food divided by the quality of the food.

Overall, it scored an average of 6/10, certainly undeserving of its title and a poor representation of Singapore’s food to tourists and culture lovers.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Two-Faced Herb

I believe most people are oxymorons … me being one of the biggests. At a recent event, I met a bunch of herb-peddling individuals who had some very interesting insights into herbology and man’s relation to that.

One of the comments was that all plants have an inbuilt balancing mechanism. Sounds really dull, eh? I was getting ready to switch on my snoozing-with-me-eyes-open-and-a-fixed-smile-on-me-face mode when the chap said that it basically meant that a plant may have poisonous traits but it would also have elements in it that can battle that toxicity.

Interesting. He used an example of how a particular herb may have the ability to prevent cancer but also by the same token if one of its components was isolated and taken in excess, it would be carcinogenic.

I rather like the concept of herbs bearing the yoke of a two-sided coin – one side may bring all the promises of paradise, and the other all the terrors of hell. These plant-huggers went into a discussion about how man used to consume herbs in their entirety and thus experienced their full benefits. Nowadays, many of the herbal concoctions or supplements are only a fraction or derivatives of these herbs. Sometimes, the isolation of properties in these herbs creates toxicity that will require other balancing agents, which they thought was terribly silly when you can just consume the herbs naturally and in their entirety.

They had a point, I thought, but I was also rather amused at their vehemence since they were peddling herbal supplements too. Black paint is popular in the DIY shops I reckon.

What was my point again? Oh yeah … that we, that is us humans, are much like vegetables. Er … like plants I mean. I think us food bloggers are even more plant-like. Let me explain.

Take me for example. I would like to pursue a healthy lifestyle of fresh foods, balanced meals, healthy diet and enormous wealth beyond what Bill Gates could ever aspire to, the power to cure all illnesses, the beauty of Angelina Jolie without the bad taste of hooking up with peeps like Billy Bob Thornton and Bad Pitt, and … sorry, got carried away. Yeah, healthy diet and all that.

However, being a food lover, I love rich, unctuous food that will clog up all my arteries including any aspiring offsprings’. I experiment with heavy creams and consume ridiculous amount of food in my bid to discover the tastiest, the most original, the richest or the most delightful concoctions. I've also tasted some really atrocious food in my culinary inquisitiveness.

Balancing the desire to be healthy and satisfying my cravings is really challenging. I admire and deeply respect those among us who stay true to their convictions and eat according to these. I have many vegetarians friends who either decided to change their lifestyles out of moral issues or just a desire to be healthy. I like me veggies but I also like the animals that eat those veggies. I’d stick to being an indiscriminate food devourer.

So there I am, feeling rather herb-like. I know I should be eating healthily especially in light of my new medication regime but I found myself having unreasonable cravings for curried foods and rich coconut creams. I was drinking lots of fruit juices and exercising as best as I could. Then I’d walk down to the nearest food court after exercising and buy the biggest, baddest coconut curry meal.

Can you spell oxymoron? I can … see?

It’s worse when I go out and buy a supposedly healthy yong tau foo meal. Yong Tau Foo is supposed to be healthy. With its tofu cubes and fish-stuffed vegetables, fresh vegetables and light broth, yong tau foo is the health food of choice among weight-conscious women in Singapore.

But what does yours truly do? I asked for a thick curry broth instead of the clear vegetable broth. A healthy dish mutated into a rich, spicy and heavy dish. It was fantastic! Let’s do that again! Burp!

Wanton Cravings

Sometimes you just feel wanton. A craving consumes you and your eyes glaze over with a sheen of overwhelming and almost uncontrollable lust.

Your breath comes in short, laboured and shaky pants as you feel your skin itching and tingling while goosebumps cascade in waves through your body.

It could be a simple, seductive wet gleam of a smooth, rounded, earthy-coloured contour. The firm, red hue of well-hung flesh. Wrinkly globes of succulent mouthfuls. All enticing you to take loud, greedy slurps, bites and licks.

What the hell were you thinking of??!!!

Egads, you lot …

Thursday, May 25, 2006

And All That Jazz

Did I call it or did I call it? Not that it was that hard as it was obvious that Taylor Hicks out-performed Katherine McPhee.

Did I have to sit through 2 hours of excruciatingly contrived and naft American Idol to find out the results? Probably not. Am I a captive audience with nowhere to go and an ice pack holding my ankle hostage? Yes. It's obvious the American Idol producers are trying desperately to win some viewership away from the country awards. So here's my own "awards" ...

Daftest & most painful high-school skit - Puck & Pickler; Wolfgang, you keep that up and I may have to say your name with the same disdain as Bourdain when he says "Emeril"

Biggest bad fake-job - Pickler's "I'm too country to know how to pronounce Shanghai" William Shatner style of acting

Most unfortunate pairing - McPhee & Meatloaf. Egads, it's Beauty & the Beast! Meatloaf really suffered in comparison next to the strong and pure vocals of McPhee. He looked like a lecherous old coot leering down her cleavage and when she pushed him away during the performance I rather think it was not entirely an act. There is no way Meatloaf is McPhee's idol. The producers must have misunderstood when she tried to order a meatloaf for dinner

Best tongue-in-cheek irony - Making the virginal Corvais kid sing What's New, Pussy Cat a la Tom Jones is pure evil; that's like asking Shirley Temple (the kid) to sing like Lil Kim

Most hilarious intro of a judge - the spoofing of Simon Cowell to the music of Da Ya Think I'm Sexy ... too funny

Most starstruck - I cannot decide between Chris Daughtry or Elliot Yamin; Chris was obviously desperate for the approval of Live, especially when Ed Kowalcyzk's superior vocals made his sound flat, and Elliot was railroaded by Mary J Blige who not only sang the duet like a solo but also walked abruptly off the stage at the end, leaving Elliot to stare after her wistfully

Best Impersonation - Mary J Blige's spot on impersonation of The Fly

Best decision - the group number by the guys really showcased the weak singing by whats-his-name-the-pretty-boy-with-puppy-eyes-&-floppy-hair who went off key more times than I've lost my house keys, and Buck-with-the floppy-hair who still needs an interpreter to decipher what he is singing, further justifying why they were booted off

Best Surprise - Prince! Colour me purple with surprise! What are you doing there, dude? Why??? Glad to see ya even with the those scary females gyrating so much they almost knocked the standing mike down but ... you are too good for this!

Most Amusing Exit - the Golden Idol girl who wisely left the trophy on the ground and fluttered off quickly during Dave "Strung Out on Drugs" Hoover's manic convulsions on stage

Most Tragic Performance - Toni Braxton. What ... The ... HELL ... Was ... That??! I bet Taylor Hicks had a Crying Game shower scene after that and might need therapy for years now. Stop borrowing Paris Hilton's wardrobe, growling/lip synching your songs (that can be the only explanation for the non-singing ... even Prince's backup dance screamers sounded better) and use that fabulous God-given voice instead! Jaysus!

Poorest Wardrobe Budget - Toni Braxton again. Them cheap bastards only gave her enough to buy the top and not enough for the bottom

Most Scary Makeover - Clay Aiken; does anyone else think he looks like Pee Wee Herman after he was arrested for his er ... self-help in the cinema? I thought the Peter Pumpkinhead look was bad but Clay Aiken must have really pissed off his stylist this time because that is some powerful hair dye - it made Aiken sing like a constipated country singer.

Most patriotic statement - No, not Hicks' "I'm living the American Dream" but Seacrest's proud announcement that the 63.4 million votes gathered at American Idol were more than what any president has ever garnered. Wow, something to be proud of ... a network channel gloating over the fact that the country cares more about their show than the fate of the nation

Best Kick in the Teeth - Live's performance at American Idol; never has the show been so contemporary instead of a schmaltzy B-list fest

After that self-inflicted torment, I was just sitting there nursing my left arm and ankle and playing my music when I decided I needed a break from “working”. Yes, listening to music is working as I am constantly envisioning movements and formations in my head and can't keep still.

I thought I needed a break and listen to music just for pure relaxation ... music that will not entice me to mentally choreograph or foolhardily move my body to, jeopardising my recovery. I have an intensive weekend of rehearsals of coming up and I have to be on my feet. It’s time to be sensible. I put away my music and replaced them with some jazz and blues.

While rummaging through my CD shelf, I spotted a much loved CD I’d put together for the times when I need to chill or space out. Cool … my favourite song is in it. Here are some pictures of what I am envisioning when I hear it. Those of you familiar with old jazz classics may be able to guess … or those who know me well would definitely know the song.

Here’s the lyrics if you are really stumped.

I'm feelin' mighty lonesome

Haven't slept a wink
I walk the floor from nine to four
In between I X
Love's a hand-me-down brxx
I'll never know a Sunday
In this weekday room

I'm talkin to the shadow
One o'clock till four
And Lord, how slow the moments go
And all I do is pour
Since the blues caught my eye
I'm hangin' out on Monday
My Sunday dreams to dry

Now man was born to go a lovin'
But was a woman born to weep and fret
And stay at home and tend her oven
And down her past regrets
In coffee and cigarettes

I'm moonin' all the mornin'
Moanin' all the night
And in between it's nicotine
And not much heart to fight
Feelin' low as the ground
It's drivin' me crazy
This thinkin' 'bout my baby
Might maybe come around
Come around

Bugger, I'm moving to the music again ...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sticking My Neck Out

OK, I did not mean to have a multiple post day but sitting here with an ice pack over the ankle is really boring. Anyway, I just wanted to stick my neck out there to say I predict Taylor Hicks will win American Idol. And deservedly so.


Because he is real. And he wants this oh so badly. You can see it in every nervous twitch of his eyes, every strange convulsion that seizes his body as he grooves to his song, every raspy strain. He sings every note with every atom of his being from his grey roots to his really bad maroon velvet jacket. He obviously needs a fashion stylist - I would never have let him out of the dressing room looking like that!

While Katherine PcPhee is clearly the stronger vocalist, there is something contrived and calculated about her. She is much too aware of the camera and plays to it to the detriment of the song sometimes. A truly beautiful girl, she strikes me as way too cabaret and runs the danger of being a caricature of herself. When she sang the really boring song, My Destiny, I thought of Kelly Clarkson and she suffered in comparison. Kelly Clarkson would have injected raw power, an edgy soul and a bit of rock into that song to make it contemporary and interesting instead of bland. But Katherine McPhee delivered it with a bland, saccharine cabaret style that just did not connect with the audience. Sadly, I think her tearful father makes a stronger connection.

With the Soul Patroller, the man cannot disguise his total absorption in his craft - scary as that comes across sometimes. His song choice was not that much more exciting but at least you felt it. He looked into the camera without once fluttering his eyelashes. I really appreciated that.

I still like Elliot Yamin and I think it is sad but inevitable that he was eliminated. The boy has a wonderful singing style but zero stage presence. I would happily give him dance lessons because he definitely needs it. And Chris Daugherty was amazing in my opinion but he needs voice lessons so he does not wreck his vocal chords prematurely. I am sure he has a fantastic future ahead of him - the bands are all clamouring for him and I cannot wait to see which one he will choose.

Anyone up for predictions? Lay it on here.

Go Soul Patrol!

Dance Superstars From the Mother Ship

There is much noise and disturbance in the force these few months. Three major events are vying for all the dancers’ attention, resources and loyalty at the moment.

Although we are used to conflicting and competing events, never has there been so many lines drawn in the desert sands at the same time. Frankly, I think it is extremely unfair on all of us as it forces us to take sides, ration our limited resources and worst of all, miss out on a great many opportunities.

These events claim to be for the benefit and edification of our industry yet because they have all been planned back to back, many of us will not be able to enjoy them as we can only afford to attend one or two of them – and even then in limited capacity as participation costs money!

Worse, some of these events are so badly organised and blatantly manipulative that most of us will have to suffer unfair penalisation, hardships and great inconvenience just to gain information to make an educated decision on our level of participation.

In the bid to carve their personal empire, claim dominion and stroke their own egos, some of these events organisers have inflicted their own selfish agendas on us to our detriment. I think it is unconscionable and after reviewing my options, have taken a stand to openly support only one where I think the overall agenda is much purer and less self-serving.

In the last few weeks, many of us have sat and watch with incredulity as two of the organisers commit more mistakes than Britney Spears in her child rearing attempt. We’ve gasped, choked, rolled our eyes, mocked, cracked up and scoffed at some of the ridiculously barmy antics. It’s enough to make me refuse to be associated in any way with these two events. No matter how they turn out, I know they will leave a bitter taste in the mouths of all dancers and audiences, marking our industry negatively for years to come.

Someone remarked that although they are badly organised and harbour dubious intentions, any kind of publicity for our industry is desirable. I disagree. I think they will damage the industry and create a negative and false impression of us among the general public, which the rest of us will end up having to fight for years to come.

The speculations of intent, plans and ability of all those involved in these three events have kept all the dancers very busy these weeks. Conversations inevitably veer towards debates on the merits and demerits of the individual events.

Early this morning, Charmaine anxiously watched the clock till she deemed it polite and reasonable to call me to discuss the so-called international competition hitting our shores next month. Chomping on the bit, the poor dear immediately launched into a discussion of the Taiwanese leg of the competition. She informed me that the details and agenda posted on the Taiwanese counterparts’ website deferred from the information disseminated by the local organiser – who is also the main organiser of this entire competition.

I had no answers for her on the discrepancy except to say that from experience, I would not believe a word the local organiser says. Nothing is set in stone and things will always change as long as it suits her purposes. I advised Charmaine to take nothing at face value and to adopt a “I will believe it when I see it right till the last moment” attitude.

In the midst of our conversation, she informed me that someone had approached a dancer friend and teacher for private lessons. This clueless dancer wanted to learn the flamenco style of dancing with the fan for her fusion segment of the competition – a compulsory category.

We hissed with incredulous laughter as we figured out which school she came from. It is obvious she and her teacher have no concept of what flamenco really is. She did not realise that the fan in flamenco is not a dance prop suitable for fusing with our dance. Her arrogance in thinking she can pick up flamenco in a week, with just one lesson, before the competition also amazed and amused us highly.

I was in tearful hysterics as Charmaine recounted our dancer friend’s scornful comments about the cluelessness and lack of ability of this aspiring dance superstar.

Hours later, 3A Gurl called me to discuss the other competing event which will feature a highly respected and eminent musician. I shall not go into details but we suspect that the organiser of this event might have forgotten to inform the star of the show that his concert has a change in dates and venue. We were in horrified hysterics that such a mistake could be made and again, it reinforced my determination not to get involved in this event except as a spectator.

In the midst of this conversation, 3A revealed that she has done some snooping and came across the blog of one of the so-called international competition’s organiser’s students. Yes, go back and read that again. I did. This student also happens to be a contestant in the competition. Actually, I think all the contestants are students of the organiser as most dancers in Singapore have decided to boycott the event because they were only informed about it a couple of weeks ago while the Taiwanese, Chinese and the organiser’s students knew about this and prepared for it way back in March. In fact, the Taiwanese winners were chosen in April while most of us only received a mass email in early May. Nice.

Anyway, 3A said this student blogged that she was doing a flamenco fusion piece for the creativity section. What a coincidence! I immediately conveyed Charmaine’s account of the clueless student to her and after we calmed down from our hilarity, we deduced that it might be the same girl.

3A read out what CC (Clueless Contestant) had written. Apparently she stated that she has only just began practising for the competition. She has just started “writing her choreography” and declared that finding the music to fit it all into was a challenge, especially as she is musically “retarded” or something to that effect.

Silence reigned for a few moments as we choked back our laughter before we lost it completely. If this is how they choreograph dances, no wonder this lot always have to go around shamelessly emulating the choreography and style of others!

Do you know how long an average choreography takes? For stage??? Not in a week that is for sure. And certainly not when it fuses a dance form that you are not familiar with.

And what is with the “writing the choreography” and then trying to find the music to fit it into? Is she for real??? I am hoping it is a case of bad English because they obviously have no concept of how to choreograph otherwise. First you find the music, or in my case, sometimes it finds you. Then it haunts you. It pushes you to interpret it though dance. It consumes you till you piece together the combinations of movements and steps. You dance and dance it till the steps all meld together with the music – hopefully seamlessly.

It is certainly not writing down a set of movements and then desperately searching for the music. That is completely arse about face. Music comes first, then dance. It does not matter which dance form we are talking about … it is the same across the board.

I scornfully remarked that CC should be an engineer and not a dancer. 3A interjected that she was indeed an engineer with alacrity and amusement. Jaysus. Is this the future of our dance world? Manic note writing? Mechanical dancing? Analytical choreography – if you can even call it that?

After all my years of dancing, I know I am still a fledging and possess mediocre talent. I try to learn and be open to new experiences and teachings. I admit my limitations and am cognizant of my lowly place in the whole scheme of things. I would never dare to over-reach myself but humbly beg the superior knowledge and guidance of my peers.

I was amazed when one of the organiser’s students once informed me that she was a principal dancer after 6 months of lessons and how the master workshops had nothing to teach her except choreography and even then, it was “just choreography”. I was hard pressed not to chide her for her arrogance as the master teacher she was talking about, Yousry Sharif, is truly one of the masters of choreography – a fact her inexperience and arrogance have blinkered her to. She could not tell good choreography from MTV video moves and believes she knows more after 6 months than a master of 16 years or more.

My issue with the students from the organiser’s school is that they harbour this deep-seated and totally unjustified and unwarranted impression that they know it all.

The fact that a student with less than a year’s experience believes that she can choreograph a dance, fusing a dance style she has no knowledge of, is indicative of how messed up our world is. I know many experienced and good dancers who, to this day, do not claim to be able to choreograph dances in their chosen dance form. Choreography is a completely different skill from dancing because it requires an additional level of creativity and vision. Yet this neophyte happily revels in her ignorance and arrogance. Amazing.

I always say that the more you know, the less you know. How true. I know nothing because I obviously am doing choreography wrongly all these years – you are supposed to scribe it first then frantically look for the music. How silly of me. I know nothing because I cannot even walk in the presence of Yousry without feeling inadequate and wanting, what more dance for him. I know nothing because his choreography has always challenged me beyond my abilities.

But I do know that our world is being over-run by too many people of this ilk. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.

My Beef Balls Are Better Yours ...

Balls to you. Yeah, that was my reaction too. I was awakened from a much-needed sleep by 3A Gurl one morning after an exhausting night of battling pain and medication. For a few moments, my befuddled and sleep-addled brain reeled from the shock as I wondered what I had done to deserve this cussing.

It took a few minutes before I realised 3A was talking about beef balls. Apparently, her mother carted a bunch of beef balls all the way from Malaysia for her when the parental units were visiting. Dazedly, I asked if Singapore had suddenly run out of beef balls. I was informed that Malaysian beef balls were superior because they use real beef.

I was pondering Singaporean beef balls' usage of fake beef and was trying to imagine what a fake cow would look like when 3A wisely deduced from my sudden silence that I must be imagining mutant cows in my head. She headed that off by telling me that Malaysian beef balls do not contain any tendons or spare parts but only the freshest, yummiest fresh meat.

Oh, I see … reluctantly I let go of the mental vision of Far Side-ish mutant cows.

I was terribly curious about the bovine difference across the Causeway but due to my illness, I did not have an opportunity to try these out till a week after I collected them. One day when I was feeling well enough to cook but still ill enough to crave soups, I unearthed the beef balls and decided to cook a huge pot of soup to last me a couple of days.

I wanted the Malaysian beef balls to take centre in this soup so I could gauge their alleged superiority. Further rummaging in my dismal fridge proved my resources were limited to some sad looking vegetables since I had not had the chance to go shopping during my recuperation. It was obviously time for another leftover soup. I unearthed an aged clump of broccoli. Eying it dubiously, I managed to trim and cull a fairly respectable amount to convince me that a simple broccoli and beef balls soup dish was a possibility. Don’t you just love alliteration in your food?

Broccoli and Beef Balls Soup
2 cups broccoli florets
About 15 beef balls
4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 garlic clove, crushed
½ large onion, sliced
½ cup prawn stock
Beef bouillon cube
1 tsp red miso paste
1 tbsp groundnut oil
Black pepper powder

1. Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic and sauté till softened and fragrant

2. Add the prawn stock and about 5-6 cups of water with the beef bouillon cube and miso paste and bring to the boil

3. Add the beef balls and mushrooms and cover

4. When the balls rise to the top, add the broccoli and cook for another 3-5 minutes

5. Check the seasoning and add salt if it is still too bland or water if it is too salty. Give it about 3-5 dashes of pepper and bring it to a simmer before turning off the heat.

6. Serve hot with rice

Honestly, the Malaysian beef balls were quite delicious and had enough bounce to give it a nice texture yet retain its tenderness. However, I truly could not discern anything particularly unique in taste, texture, shape, aroma or even appearance to lend it a significant difference from locally produced or available quality beef balls.

Then again, I tend to make my own beef balls and if I did purchase any pre-made beef balls, I typically purchase the Vietnamese or Thai ones with their distinctive coriander or laos top notes. Still, I was incredibly touched by 3A’s thoughtful gesture and cherished each Malaysian beef ball for all the best intentions and care with which they were hand carried across the border.

The soup was a wholesome delight. Tasty, healthy, flavoursome yet uncomplicated, it was a wonderfully comforting and satisfying. This fluid incarnation of the archetypal Chinese combination of beef and broccoli was easy on both the eyes and the palate. The mushrooms were slick and almost creamy against the nubby texture and soft grassiness of the broccoli.

I happily slurped three small bowls of the soup with some hot, steamed rice and I swear I could feel the instant effect of all that wholesome goodness. With all the medication I had been on, my body was shakily fragile but after dinner, I felt a blessed stillness anchor me gently.

What a welcome relief! I attributed it to the soup. Perhaps some of the maternal love from 3A Mum was transmitted from the beef balls? Perhaps all of 3A Gurl’s concern for my health were embedded into the individual balls of well wishes? Whatever it was, I was grateful for it.

For taste, the soup deserved a 8.5/10. For health, it garnered a well-earned 9/10. For a symbol of friendship and caring, it warranted a 10/10.

Sometimes food nourishes not only the body but the soul and faith in human kindness. It reinforces my mantra of Make Food, Not War. Which ranks right up there with my other mantra of Make Dance, Not War. Do not continue that line of thought now … this is a family blog.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Injury. Injury. Injury. Words that strike fear into the heart of every dancer. Right now, I am sitting here nursing my ankle hoping that it will regain enough strength and resilience for a 3-hour class I am teaching tonight.

Photo from http://www.onstage-studios.com/Toe-Shoe-Stretch.jpg

I do not think there is any part of my body that I have not sprained, broken, torn or bruised. Embarrassingly, not all of these injuries are due to dance … quite a lot of them are actually due to my supreme klutziness. Each day is a battle against time’s ruthless acquisition of flexibility, stamina, strength, resilience and will. It might help if I could walk with same grace as I dance. Sigh …

Dancing is so much more than technique. It is also so much more than making loud movements to deceive the eye.

It disheartens me when students want to jump start to choreographed numbers when they have no grasp of basic technique. Running before you learn to walk leads to broken ankles. And then there are the dancers who always pull out the “money moves” – loud, aggressive showstoppers to seize the audience’s applause. These are tried and tested showy tricks which appear technically difficult but are actually, and usually, pulled out in desperation to conceal lack of technique, skill, creativity, subtlety and refinement. Hey, I use them too – hangs head in shame. Most of us have at least one or two money moves which we use fairly often. But on the whole we try to limit these.

A particular dancer, best known as BW, is infamous for her money moves. Her dance is best defined as 80% money moves and 20% acting. In fact, she is the creator of the “diamond” technique. Being a fairly large girl, she has learnt to trump out hard, raw movements to compensate for her size. These showy moves inevitably elicit gasps and loud applause from the audience, usually in appreciation that someone of her physical attributes can execute those moves. I am not being snarky here but this is a constantly overheard comment about her.

Photo from http://www.engagement-rings-jewelry.com/images/diamonds.jpg

On one hand, I feel insulted for her that the applause is because of her size. On the other hand, I cringe every time I see her dance as I see how she tries to cover up her weak technique with money moves all over the place. All at the expense of well-thought out choreography, a true feel for the music and … well … soul.

She once approached me to ask for the “secret” behind my lyrical style – all under the pretext of unsubtle flattery of my “lyrical grace, fluidity and preference for lyrical numbers”. She even pulled out her usual crock about us being sisters in dance. What am I talking about? Everything about her is obvious. I just wished she had the balls to just come right to confess that she wants to learn my style instead of insulting my intelligence and putting me off my food.

I admit I am not the best teacher as I can never explain my lyrical style. It would be like trying to explain my soul. Where do you start? Where do you end? Can words convey everything? Or is the unspoken more powerful and moving?

Stumped for a way to answer her question fairly without condescension or scorn, I could only offer her one of the truths I hold dear.

“You dance for the clamorous applause at the end of your performance. I dance for the seconds of silence before the applause at the end of mine.”

It was terribly hard for her to comprehend as we are such different people, what more dancers. For her to try to emulate my lyrical style would be as fruitless as forcing me to perform one of her full frontal pelvic thrusts during a lyrical number.

Months later, she showed up at my door with one of her teachers, seeking my help in correcting their undulations. I really am way too polite. Many of the other dancers chided me - I should have shut the door in their faces. But I just could not force myself to be so rude. I’m not a total fool though. I know that they were not there simply to learn how to execute an undulation … they were hoping to learn how I would execute taqsim - an improvisational slow number. They even brought the song. You cannot see me now but my eyes are narrowed to wry, Garfield-like half-mast slits as I typed that.

The taqsim portion was only a 28-second solo bit. By virtue of the name, it means improvision. Yet these two took detailed notes and recorded every move at each 5-10 second intervals. They even counted out the movements and used a stop watch to time them. I knew then these two would never be able to truly perform a lyrical piece. They had no soul. Everything was calculated. They will never realise you cannot calculate soul.

I have a signature dance but I have never performed it the same way twice. The basic choreography is there but I might change a particular combination of movements here, or the direction or the number of repetitions there. Because each performance is danced with a different energy and soul. Sometimes they are the same – the mournful lover waiting for her beloved’s return. Other times, the angry, scorned lover takes over. Yet others, the shy and fragile girl or the cheeky flirt. They decide how the dance will go. Not the number of counts. Not the detailed notes stolen from the movements of another dancer.

I immerse myself into a character or song prior to performance much like method actors. For weeks before a show, I listen to the song again and again or songs with a similar cadence, feel, sound or energy. I listen to the whispering in my ears, my head, my soul. I identify who is speaking to me and I begin to inhabit and open myself up to that soul. Each time I perform that song, a different muse sings to me.

If it is the gentle, mother-earth figure full of curves and soft caresses, I am quieter, more introspective, calmer and softer in my interaction with people. If it is the angry, vengeful lover, I am edgy, fiery, slightly dangerous and high-strung. If it is the shy, bashful girl, I try to avoid people that entire week. That’s not to say that I am schizophrenic but that these traits, already in me, come much more to the fore and are heightened during the week before performance.

But what happens if you have back to back shows and they are two very different dance styles or energy? These past weeks I have been planning and choreographing two very different pieces of music. Talk about dual personality!

One song is a Latin song which calls for fast, fiery movements with a subtlety seductive and slight jazzy beat. It calls for an upbeat, cheeky, fiery and passionate interpretation. The other is a classical lyrical piece full of mournful, soft wails, sensual saxophone tones, flowing rhythms and light, gentle fluidity.

Fluctuating between the two is challenging. Like two lovers, they are jealous and possessive and demand complete fidelity and attention. I’ve never been good at two-timing and thus, the past few weeks have seen me struggling to juggle between them without sacrificing one for the other. Switching between the two muses takes a huge conscious effort and will.

Sometimes one muse will speak much louder than the other and you have to heed her. Other times, the other will pout and hide herself away in pique because you have neglected her. Muses are capricious things and can wreak havoc should you underestimate their importance or fail to show them the due respect.

How so many of the dancers out there can dance without a muse puzzles me. Yesterday, I met 3A and J for afternoon drinks. Sitting in the balmy outdoor café of the Oysta Bar, part of the Indochine group, we caught up on gossip, news of the dance world and serious discussions of the social issues our age group face.

The abysmally slow service forced us to have a longer and more leisurely afternoon than we would have like. It must have taken us about 30 minutes just to get our check and another 15 minutes to get our change. During that time, 3A made a comment about a fellow dancer, S’ decision years ago to focus on dance as a career. She scoffed at S’ naiveté and her lack of real feeling for music or dance. I wondered at the paradox of S’ decision when she did not seem to harbour the same love for dance as many of us. For most of us, we live, breath, eat and drink dance even as we go about the daily routine of our lives.

S and I once went overseas for a performance. There was nothing to do in the afternoons while we were there but rather than dance or practise, she preferred to spend her time watching telly in our hotel room. I was so bored and in the end, managed to harangue the hotel into arranging for a function room for me every afternoon to practise, choreograph or just plain work out. Yet this is the woman who claimed to love the dance so much she gave up a career for it. I just do not understand it.

After knowing her for many years now, I also realised she does not fully choreographs her dance numbers, preferring to wing it. While I believe that you should dance with soul and not mechanically, when you are a stage performer, you do need some element of planning - showmanship, impeccable timing, cognitive and intelligent usage of the entire stage area, awareness of lighting and many other elements in order to deliver a performance that restaurant or club dancers cannot aspire to.

Again, 3A condescendingly told me I was the one who was naïve and not everyone was obsessive-compulsive like me. O … K …

With shows likes So You Think You Can Dance and the coming, farcical, so-called international dance contest that is about to hit Singapore next month, it is little wonder that so many aspiring dancers enter the scene with little comprehension and appreciation of dance. They see the bright costumes, the dramatic make-up and the accolades of the audience and they crave the glitter and glamour of it all.

What they do not see is the broken toe nails, the blistered soles, the torn ligaments, the sprained joints, the pulled muscles, the hours spent repairing costumes, the vast amount of money spent at master classes, the hours and hours spent in front of the mirror working on one single combination of moves again and again till it is perfect. They do not see the struggle to keep the body limber with the onset of age, the aches and pains from past injuries and the fickleness of audiences.

As I reflect on this, I am icing my ankle and hoping for the best tonight. A broken down dancer, sitting gingerly on the bed, balancing the fragile remains of her instrument, counting the shortening threads of her life. It’s a hard lot I chose. Or did not choose, if you consider that my family made that decision for me from birth. If given the choice, would I do it again?

Yes … definitely.

I once hung up my shoes for many years to please the selfish and insecure desires of an undeserving spouse. I did not realise I not only shelved my shoes but also my happiness, freedom and passion. I lost myself. When I truly had nothing left, it was dance that lifted me and made me feel alive again.

For every broken ankle, every torn ligament, every tear of pain, every crippling insecurity, every insult to dignity, every blow to the ego … it is worth it. I do not want to imagine the day when I cannot do this anymore. When my body finally concedes the battle. It is a frightening thought and scares me more than death. I fear when that day comes, I may turn around and realise I have nothing to live for.

Photo from http://www.freewebs.com/var1/bussellshoes.jpg

So ... Injury. Injury. Injury. I’ll take that. As long as I can still dance.

Monday, May 22, 2006

So You Thunk You Could Dance?

I love foodblogland. Only here would someone see a funny video and think of you. OK, that may happen in real life but here, that someone would even send you the link to the video so you can enjoy it too. Bless!

I recently received an email from
Tankeduptaco stating that he'd just seen a dance video and instantly thought of me. At first, I was not sure what to expect and this was at 7am - a time when my mental faculties are never at the bluntest, what more sharpest.

But what a fabulous way to wake up to the day ... laughing my arse off. I just had to share it with all of you. Especially those of you from my world of dance.

Note: It's a 6-min, non-stop performance and any of us who have to do solos will know that that can be tiring. The poor man obviously lost steam in the last 20 seconds but it was definitely a worthy performance and one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time.

Makes me think of the time when I wanted to put together a comedy dance show taking the mikey out of all the different dance styles and the Singapore authorities did not see the humour in it. Oh well.

Enjoy all. I did. Thanks Neil!


WHB#33 - Radishing Spring Time with Stephanie Salad

It's been a while since I participated in Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Kalyn so I thought I should contribute again even if my post does not expound positively on the "herb" of choice. Hopefully it will pass mustard ...

It’s tough overcoming childhood prejudices and trauma. One of my greatest culinary trauma was being sent to visit an aunt at a young age.

Aunt Jane married a Shanghainese man and swiftly entered family history as the only one to marry a Chinese until Aunt Kris joined her rank decades later. However, unlike Uncle Francis, who had to endure the unnerving judgement of the family, Aunt Jane’s spousal choice was made without consultation. So when she turned up with a cheerfully round Chinese man as fait accompli, they were left with no choice except to learn more about the newest member to the family.

Fortunately, Uncle Ed was a very nice guy. Round, short, dark and perpetually cheerful, he was an odd foil to hatchet-faced, bad-tempered, catty and bitter Aunt Jane. There was only one problem with him. His cuisine.

To be honest, we knew as much about Shanghainese cuisine as the workings of jet propulsion. Wait … one of us, being a rocket scientist, might actually know more about the latter. When Uncle Ed started teaching Aunt Jane to cook Shanghainese cuisine, she was understandably quite keen to showcase her new skills to us and we were delighted for her.

Some background information on Aunt Jane … I am not fond of her but rationally, I can understand what made her such a bitter person. In our family, every newborn has his or her fortune read at birth and that document is kept hidden by our grandmother. Every decision regarding the child’s upbringing is decided by that document. I think it is unconscionable as it has created many tragic situations in our family.

Aunt Jane was one such victim of this ridiculous tradition. Apparently, it was foretold that she would bring misfortune to her blood relations and be a terrible blight to her parents. Thus, she was fostered out to allay this catastrophe. From a very young age, she was separated from us and sent to a Chinese family who took her away and unbeknownst to us, forced her to work in their factory as child labour.

The family lost all contact with her for many years till by some lucky coincidence, a relative relayed news of her existence. Grandpa located her and brought her home. By then, Aunt Jane was a young teen and a very angry teen at that. She came back to the family home embittered, hateful and with a chip on her shoulder that would have crippled Atlas. She never recovered from what she perceived as the family’s betrayal. She never forgave my grandmother and spent the rest of her life hating her and begrudging every member of the family.

Her time away from us also gave her a marked difference from us. She spoke Chinese and barely a word of English. She was uneducated but taught herself how to read – a feat I greatly admired and give her huge kudos for. She was very Chinese in attitude and preferences. We might have doubted her lineage if not for the fact that she had the aquiline family nose, light coloured and wavy hair, deep set eyes, pale vanilla skin and high cheekbones that marked almost all the sisters. She was also a less attractive version of my mother.

Aunt Jane’s alienation from the family meant she did not have the benefit of culinary training. She could barely cook and what she did cook was absolutely disgusting. When Uncle Ed began her Shanghainese cuisine training, we were over the moon, thinking it would improve her dismal cooking skills as she steadfastly refused to learn anything from us. How wrong we were. I do not know which part of Shanghai Uncle Ed came from but it must have been some village where they only eat big, flat, elliptical-shaped, white noodles with tasteless broth and lots of spring onions.

Aunt Jane’s Shanghainese food was ghastly and I remember being very hungry and ill during my visit. My mother had gone off on one of her trips again and was loathed to return me home in case her visitation rights were revoked so she dumped me with Aunt Jane instead.

I spent a week listening to Aunt Jane detail the faults of every member of the family, complain about how mistreated she was, rail about how spoilt I was and how I was the spawn of the devil – she hated my father. Not that she particularly liked my mother either as she was always jealous that my mother received all the beauty and opportunities denied her. Placing me in Aunt Jane's care was the most irresponsible of all the irresponsible acts my mother committed.

Aunt Jane was also very cheap so each meal was extremely spartan. For some reason, she had an aversion to salt so her food was incredibly bland. One of the most traumatic meals that scarred me for life was a soup made of radishes with the ubiquitous white noodles that she declared to be typically Shanghainese. I barfed after the third bite as the radishes tasted like pooh – not that I would know what pooh really tastes like ...

I lost 2 kg in a week and I was already a very skinny child. When I returned home a week later, my grandmother sent me to the doctor and he diagnosed that I was suffering from starvation. That’s how bad Aunt Jane’s cooking was. I would valiantly force myself to eat her food only to puke my guts out. Lucky guts ... at least they could escape while I was trapped with Aunt Jane.

The repercussions from that visit were manifold. One, my mother was refused visitation for a long time and the custody battle was prolonged for more years. Two, I never had to visit Aunt Jane again – ever. Three, my diet was monitored closely for years after that and I had to eat way too many health supplements, giving me a phobia of taking pills for life.

, I developed a hatred of radishes and refused to eat them for years. The only acceptable radish was horseradish and even then, as a condiment only. It was only in my mid-20s when I had to eat daikon at a Japanese dinner that I learnt to accept and appreciate it. Even now, eating radishes is a conscious effort.

Recently, in a bid to boost my health, I bought a red radish. OK, OK … I was attracted by the vibrant crimson hue. I am such a visual creature sometimes. I liked the red radish so much I spent an inordinate amount of time photographing it. I rather think it flirted ridiculously with my camera as the ruby seductress came across rather sexily on “film”.

I decided to make a crisp, fresh salad paired with prawns for a healthy lunch. I sorely needed colour and texture to perk my lagging appetite and restore my health. The end result was wonderfully gratifying and, I must say, a great success. I present my Spring Time with Stephanie Salad but as usual, measurements are iffy as I cook instinctively … so taste as you season.

Spring Time with Stephanie Salad

1 ½ cup red radishes, sliced into semi-circular pieces

1 cup haricot verts, trimmed and cut into 3-inch pieces
1 ½ sugar snap peas, trimmed

1 cup zucchini, cut into thick matchsticks

1 ½ cup fennel, sliced – I included the leaves as well

1 cup carrot, julienned
1 tbsp sesame seeds
About 1 tsp dried Italian herbs – I used the McCormick brand
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
About 2 tsp honey
About 1 tsp nam pla aka fish sauce
Peppered Prawns:

- 4 large tiger prawns, unpeeled
- ½ red onion, sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
- 2–2 ½ tbsp white pepper powder
- ½ tbsp Shaoxing wine
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil

1. Heat up some oil in a pan and add the haricot verts, fennel, sugar snap peas, zucchini and half the radishes

2. Add a couple of pinches of salt and the dried herbs and sauté the veggies till they are just cooked through but still crisp

3. Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds

5. Toss all the vegetables together, both cooked and raw

6. Whisk the lemon juice, honey and nam pla together. Taste and adjust seasoning till it is lemony, sweet and salty at the same time.

7. Pour into the salad, add the sesame seeds and toss well. You'd wanna let this sit for a wee bit so that everything has a chance to meld together and intensify in flavours.

8. Heat another pan with some olive oil and sauté the garlic cloves and onions till softened and starting to turn golden

9. Add the prawns, the wine, salt and pepper and cook on high, covered, stirring occasionally till the prawns are cooked through and the pan is quite dry

10. Plate the salad and garnish with the peppered prawns

Despite my aversion to radish, the salad was quite tasty. The fresh crunch of the raw vegetables intermingled with their softer, cooked counterparts worked well with the plump, succulent prawns. The clean, sweet, aniseedy flavours of all the veggies really played well with the aromatic bite of the white peppered prawns. It was very satisfying and delicious and I felt all virtuous and healthy with each morsel.

My eyes were seduced by the colourful mélange while my teeth relished each crunch. The complex flavours cavorted merrily on my tongue. By turns sweet, peppery, tart, salty, herby, licorice-like and juicy, this dish was a playful culinary adventure. I had fun making and eating it but I do admit that it was a fair bit of prep work.

I give the Spring Time with Stephanie Salad a 10/10 for health benefits and an 8.5/10 for taste. Perhaps one day I might eat radishes again without flashbacks and any hint of nausea. Perhaps then this salad can warrant a perfect 10. Till then I rather photograph than eat it.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Be True To Yourself


Things are dire when your gay friends start telling you to date more. My best male friends are usually gay and tend to be a rather protective lot, becoming impregnable human shields when they sense the unwanted attentions of an unsuitable straight male (they have exacting standards - Mr Fashion Disaster, or Bad Hair-Do, or the more common Mr I Wanna Shag Your Friend Rotten and Be Generally Disrespectful Towards Her) who has trained his shagdar on me.

It is amazing how an extremely camp friend can suddenly turn all macho and physically threatening, enclosing you in a tight circle between him and the bar counter when USM (Unsuitable Straight Male) starts zeroing in on you. I would blink rapidly with a stupefied gaping fish look when this happens. Most of the time, I am very grateful for the rescue since I have the unenviable talent and supreme arse luck of attracting real wankers who will piss me off within 3 seconds of their stripping me nekkid with a single glance.

Getting my well-intentioned friends to turn off their protective shields can be a real battle which I have resignedly conceded. Perhaps they just do not want to lose their favourite fag hag. But when they start haranguing you to date, you know there’s something fishy in the land of Singapore. Did the men in Singapore suddenly rise up in estimation of my discerning and extremely fastidious friends? Or am I suddenly aging so badly that they decide I need to get hitched before I lose all physical attraction?

The first conjecture is fairly laughable as we spend so much time eye rolling and shaking our heads at the antics of local straight men. The second is an extremely scary thought which sent me to the mirror for a few minutes.

My Aunt Kris can spend hours in front of the mirror. She would disappear halfway through dinner and would not return for ages just to gaze fondly at herself in the mirror. The first time her boyfriend-then-but-later-to-become-her-husband came to dinner, he very confusedly asked me what the deal was. I told him she had to make her nightly pilgrimage to Land Narcissus to offer the customary dinner time offerings of practiced poses, smiles and facial examinations.

My father could never walk past a mirror or any reflective surface without coming to a standstill to admire his own image. He would always have a comb (oh, to be related to a Westside Story character) in his back pocket which he could withdraw with a flourish to drag through his greased up hair-do. Because of all these embarrassingly vain quirks which run in my family, I developed a slight disdain of mirror time as I grew up.

Despite many people’s common misconception, I spend very little time in front of the mirror. The only time I do is in the mornings when I am doing my morning ablutions to hygiene and put on my face in order not to scare little children and small animals. Other than that I do not look at a mirror except to glance at myself when I go to the loo and at the end of the day when I remove all the makeup.

The longest time I spend in front of the mirror is when I am doing my stage makeup and examining my costumes so I do not have a costume malfunction a la Janet Jackson “accidental” mishap.

Perhaps it is because I am actually embarrassed by my own image. I hate seeing pictures of myself and I can barely watch me on screen. When I see any recordings of my performances, I would watch it only with clinical eyes to dissect my dance and stage techniques. Otherwise, I would cringe and wince in pained embarrassment and wish that I could be swallowed up by the ground.

I think it’s because I do not feel like I look. Apparently, I look sexy and that is a common perception. People take one look at me and peg me as some kind of (gag) walking sex bomb. Therefore, how people respond to me at first encounter is usually very insulting. They either hate me at first sight (usually women) or they imagine me in weird and unpleasant situations with them (usually men with not a chance in hell).

Seldom does anyone look beyond this. And when they find out I seldom go out to clubs, detest pick-ups, am a goofy clown, and would slap anyone silly who even looks at me wrong, there is always a look of great shock and disbelief before they awkwardly and hesitantly readjust their small brains to see beyond their cartoon caricature perception of me.

I always wonder at the great divide between how I see myself and how I come across to people. But apparently, according to my friends who never hesitate to tell it as it is, I come across completely differently and it is only after getting to know me that people realise I am nothing like what I physically appear to be. In the words of a friend, I look “like a porn star” but am the “biggest clown” around. She ended this by saying “It’s always a shock to find out that you are soooo nice when you look like such a bitch.” … Niiiice. Thanks, Sue.

From decades of self reflection and helpful and eager contributions from friends and acquaintances, here’s the current analysis.

My self image is of a rather brooding character who smiles and sparkles because she was trained to but who would rather hide in her little sanctuary alone.

“You are the most bubbly and sociable person I have ever met.”

A definite façade. I have to be in my work but unbeknownst to all but my closest friends, the wider I smile, the more I dislike you. A perpetually wide smile means I think you are an idiot and am contemplating the many ways to disembowel you. Watch the eyes. If they gleam, you are dying a hundred horrible deaths. If they sparkle, worry. If they are soft and really look at you, you are a friend and I am going to ask you soon if we can blow the joint and go somewhere less pretentious and real. Like a food court to eat. Otherwise, I am silently yearning to be home alone.

She is very goofy and extremely clumsy, gets lost easily and has many freak accidents because her head is always in a cloud of music or contemplation of what kind of taste combinations would work in a recipe.

“You are so sexy and graceful. You look like sex walking.”

Eeeuuww! Yeah, rrrright. Until I walk right into a mirrored pillar. Or have a scaffolding fall right on top of my head. Or fall down into a manhole. All true stories, people. Sex is definitely the last thing in my head when I am walking around trying to figure out where I am with my phenomenally poor sense of direction. And I walk according to the song I am listening to. Fast song, fast walk. Slow song, slow walk.

She is a real clown who makes many wise cracks and finds way too many things funny.

“You are soooo funny, you kill me! So weird because you look so seriously glam and you turn out to be such a joker!”

Glam? Me? Sure I like to dress up but I think my style is more bohemian and eclectic than glam. I avoid wearing clearly discernable brands because I think it is tacky - why should I model and market for them for free? And I love humour! Without it I would have sliced my wrist ages ago.

She is private and hates being the centre of attention. She is a paradox because she loves performing on stage but hates being watched off it.

“You are so dramatic! You get attention because you crave it! People watch you because you are such a diva and there is a spark about you that people will just notice and watch.”

Drama queen, eh? I only want attention when I am on stage. Off it, it makes me feel like I am being stalked. Creeps me out. Makes me nervous. I start looking over my shoulder to see who is watching me. I get a little nauseous and I want to run home to hide. I admit I am quite dramatic and animated with close friends but it is certainly not to be the centre of attention - it is a genetic thing.

She is klutzy and awkward and has a face only a grandfather can love (her mother considered her the weak link in a family famed for their beauty and her grandmother thinks she should have looked more Chinese and less mixed).

“You are so graceful and sexy. You have a face that is neither here nor there and people do not quite know what to make of you. Exotic and Chinese blokes tend to come on to you because they think mixed girls are easy.”

Gee, thanks. We already covered how graceful I really am. A dancer friend’s mum told me that for such a graceful dancer on stage, I am a bloody disaster off it, as she bandaged my knee after I fell off a chair at her house when I laughed too hard. True story. No, I was not mothered … just clumsy. Can’t help the face. Born with it. Note to self: Avoid Chinese blokes.

She is too gangly and has an unbalanced body.

“You have such long limbs – a real dancer’s body.”

Not true. Double jointed, which spoils the lines. Knobbly elbows. Short waisted which makes me look matronly and top heavy. Boobs too big for a dancer, and legs way longer than body, throwing the balance off. Sigh.

She is shy around people she does not know and gun shy about talking to men in case the first words they say is “Do you know you have nice tits?” or worse, say nothing and start trying the old let-me-put-my-hand-on-the-small-of-your-back-to-guide-you-to-your-seat-and-hope-you-do-not-realise-I-am-coping-a-feel. Pervs.

“You look up for it because you are so friendly and open. The tits thing? What to do, they are so out there. Coping a feel? Hey, they’re guys … what do you expect?”

This is from a gay friend. I am so too shy. Which I cover up by being all sparkly and smiley. I am usually super friendly towards women at first meeting - probably trying to gain their acceptance when I see the instant dislike in their eyes. The goofy humour is to put them off guard. Once they start laughing, they usually start hating me less even though they still harbour a wariness that I will try to steal their men or attention from them. Most times, once they get to know me, they start treating me with a fond condescension as the token “safe” sex symbol in the group.

As for the pervy guys. Avoid, avoid, avoid!!!

Why this long self analysis and narcissistic posting today? Because I spent last night teaching a class and then meeting a gay friend for coffee. As I made my way to meet him, my taxi driver started conversing with me and began the usual line of questioning. What you, ah? You do what, ah? You very beautiful and sexy leh, you married aleady? Why you don’t date one, so pity? You free some night?

Sigh ... bang forehead against keyboard. All I did was tell him where to go. And before you ask, I was wearing a long skirt, a printed top over my sports bra and had my hair in a messy bun. Nothing sexy about it. More like work-out sweaty and messy looking.

Upon meeting A, I complained bitterly and asked him why I was always so arsed luck and it sparked a long debate on what pheromones I may be emitting. He speculated that in my past life I may have been male and a real dog so this life, I am being punished for the transgressions of my past life. Not sure about all that but if it is true, I wanna go back to my past life and beat the shit out of myself.

Should we apologise for how we look and attempt to dress or look how we want to be perceived? In work, we dress for success but are we true to ourselves? I’ve tried to dress down, look demure and blanket any personality I have in order to gain acceptance. But they never do really accept you. How can they when they do not know you?

Much as my physical appearance creates eddies of trouble for me, I do not think I want to change it. My inner self image might not mesh with public perception but at least I can recognise myself.