Human Categories?

Before I babble, a few favourites and faraway-summer-dreaming.

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Dungarees bring back memories of England. I’d slide in the buckle and feel all countryside yet proper. Rustic warmth in denim fibres.

To the point.

So you see, I’m always laughing on the inside.

When I see a girl or boy on the street trapped in a bubble. Of the latest trends or ways of communication. Of happiness and nonchalance. Of bits and bobs of life’s seemingly finest. Polka dots and stripes and all the huppdeedoo patterns in between.

Of course, who am I to judge. They’re probably just like me or far greater under all that. They feel obliged to present themselves in such a manner and perhaps I myself am trapped in a bubble of dissonance and lowly curtness. I, Alex, The Psychotic Observer of this peaceful and harmonious world (well sometimes, especially after the Boston fiasco. My prayers reside amongst their graves, together with those in the Middle East. We tend to talk heavy on a western bias when it comes to death, don’t we?)

No, these people are probably not blindly following trends for the sake of doing so; that girl with 5 inches of make up, bright pink stilettos and purple peplum top might just have earned a PhD in economics at Harvard university.

Same goes for that round and soft human being hanging around corners in a baggy shirt with peace sign logos and jodhpurs. On the other hand, someone who looks the most smart or put together may not necessarily be just as so on the inside. This might sound as stupid as saying a girl eating a croissant isn’t always French, but then again, sometimes circumstance and context throw me off board, together with a human sentience and empathy threshold. Really, it does, and sometimes I’m plain embarrassed by it. Every day I walk past people I don’t know personally and immediately fasten them into categories; categories they might not even belong in or which they only feel inclined to be a part of due to selection pressures in the Great Social Survival.

I recall walking around with my dad at the Botanic Gardens and coming across a meek old man with stiff and oily silver locks half covering thick spectacles, which in turn gave his small eyes a demeaning glaze. He stopped for a while to adjust his stained brown running shorts. Sweat made his translucent singlet fully transparent, with some bits clinging to rather unflattering areas.

‘Hey, Prof!’ Dad walked over to Brown Man. The latter held his ground, his stare thoughtful and a tad crazed, if I might.

So. Professor and lecturer at NUS (National University of Singapore). Taught my dad in the 80s and still going strong. I could literally feel an outpouring of speechless respect and unknowing adoration from this selfish and judgmental soul of mine.

There was a huge barbecue party at my house once, thanks to an abundance of leftover charcoal from the robust remains of last year’s soiree (newly stocked!) An olive-skinned, gangly woman in her 30s or 40s came in looking every part the look-at-me Caucasian socialite. Her perfectly manicured fingernails could have killed a tiger cub. That crotch-skimming dress reeled in all the looks. All this whilst I was on my second serving of homemade tiramisu, hair a straggly mess. When I greeted her and offered some champagne, I must’ve looked like I was sprouting algae.

But oh wait, she’s only a doctor with a professional background in the Art of Violin Playing.

I guess my assumptions are my mistakes. Lesson learnt.

A Very Fishy Ramble

Before I blabber on nonsensically, I would like to first tell you about the literature blog Ruru and I set up for the benefit of all literature-loving peers: sjiinookofbooks.wordpress.com. Belles-Lettres was a good way to go. A feminine start to our bright passion! So do go and support us.

So now. Gotta shout it from the rooftop, hollering till my lungs fail and collapse and dissolve into the dense air. Declare it loud and proud. Before I proceed, I must warn you that this post might be extremely non-sequitur, since my mind likes to twirl and fall off a direct one-way path.

I have a very, very fishy fetish. Quite literally, too. I mean I can be fishy at times habits and personality wise but this, my friend, is an entirely different matter altogether. Most people cringe at my ghastly penchant for any animal with an attached edible head and most importantly, brain. For who am I kidding, that’s the best part! No incertitude there I promise.

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Little twins. These two guys look very similar, though really they aren’t. One’s from Sushi Tei and the other, Ichiban Boshi. I actually prefer the former, since it bore more crunch and sourness (two things which encourage a great deal of guilty pleasure whenever I do feel like ordering this.) Squeeze on all the lime and liberally apply some crumbled radish or ginger or both. Cast away the knives and forks and all sense of common dining etiquette. Crack your knuckles and exercise your joints a little, just to get ready for the task at hand. Smile and tuck in like how our ancestors did thousands of years ago. We were born to do it like savages.

One bite of fish head warmed and softened by an ooey gooey light grey brain and slighter darker pituitary gland plops angels in the backdrop of this harmonious dream, singing an ecstatic chorus of fishy glee and rounding out my senses, forcing me to even close my eyes just to savour the wondrous saliferous joy of fish head. Fish tail and stomach is good, don’t get me wrong, but the joy of popping those bulging eyes of translucent, wobbly jelly is simply indescribable. You eat around the perimeter of the head before cracking the very middle with your teeth and swallowing the tender chewiness of that brain. Carnal? Yes. But oh so painfully pleasurable.

And why on earth am I suddenly talking about this?

It got me thinking, as I sat down to another round of head gorging last night, as I sucked on crab roe and bit into a chicken head’s brain for the first time in my life. (I am now extremely proud to say that I, Alexandra Lim, am no longer a chicken head virgin.) Heads bring me such inexplicable joy and excitement it’s ridiculous, childish, absurd. Never mind the weird looks my friends give me, or the slight twerk in my heart as a little show of guilt whenever I imagine that animal as an unborn embryo cooped up in its promising shell before the first signs of cracking. But by gum I just love it. Not just me, of course. Many share the same fishy passion as I, though I’m pretty sure the majority don’t. It’s like the whole durian thing again. And may we all just admit that messy eating is the best thing ever.

But how do we really perceive something to be ‘odd’ or ‘strange’ in the first place?

Bring on the TOK (Theory of Knowledge) talks. I was listening to my ex-math teacher Mr S a few days ago, on human perception and ideals in realism, or how we assume things to be the way they are in the real world. Hell, we are humans with two eyes and a nose and mouth. But how on earth can we take that to be normal with our partial comprehension of the ever strange and glorious world which surrounds us, and which we face on a daily basis? All these shapes and silhouettes make up a minuscule fraction of what actually exists, that is, if we take all those scientific conjectures to be full-on true. Incredibly shattering just to think about this one side of a notion. We looked at the story of Helen Keller, who was an extraordinarily gifted woman in spite of being BDD (blind, deaf and dumb). But to her, this never was a disability, since she never could fully or freely experience the other three senses. She was trapped in a mental gate lock which only her helper Annie Sullivan could pull her out of, with unbelievable persistence made doable by the miracle of love. Nothing is strange or odd or a disability if one has never experienced the fullness of life without any shortcoming. We must be pretty miserable creatures since we only possess only 5 out of a possible 1000 senses. Just because we don’t live in darkness and can enjoy stuff like foie gras terrine.

Charles Baudelaire said that ‘strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.’ Looking at it one way, I like fish because ever since I was younger I’d crave the simplistic and pure white flesh of the red snapper or the juicy amber goodness of the common salmon. I saw no joy in much else, except peas perhaps, which my father would pour on the ledge of my high baby chair as a toddling duckling. Pick and mash and mush and happiness galore. Nothing strange about eating fish head, but maybe what gives it an odd edge is the fact that I find it almost to be just like a drug. I have to have it at least twice a week. Ice cream is similar, though not half as much as my love for fish head and gory bits and bobs which people pick out and happily leave on their little places. And I now come to my second honesty claim: I am a dreadful picker.

Can you imagine how annoying it is for me when I’m surrounded by people at a table who don’t lick out the bone marrow of chicken thigh bones or don’t polish up every little strand and nickel of fish hanging limply on their scales? It’s chaotic mental paranoia. I’m almost afraid that by not engaging in this OCD with bony bits, they might actually miss out on a fleeting taste of heaven. So strange but absolutely part of me. This is the sad way my mind works. Only natural to feel my brain cogs turn and clack when I see a pile of abandoned onions or half picked at fish or chicken bones. I become fretful and worried. I think I even started sweating once. No, Baudelaire, this is not a beautiful trait of mine, but I have indeed almost come to embrace it once or twice, as I feel so accomplished when I feel  the fish head snuggling in the pit of my stomach, not gone pitifully to waste. But it’s sad how I only enjoy these leftover, unwanted nicks and nacks. As if by eating them comforts the inanimate things into knowing that no, they are never always abandoned.

So to me, this is normal, and to other people, strange.

To people who wear a lot of makeup regularly, such habit comes  naturally, but i find it the oddest thing in the world to wake up at 5 every morning just to perfectly conceal that one red smidgen of a dot on your upper cheek.

People like white chocolate, but I (and Ruru of course) find it so one-dimensional.

People throw on a purple or green blouse or dress as and when they feel like it, but I just can’t bear to. Unless I actually feel an aggressive chemical connection, of course. Now that’s an exception. All these things I find strange, strange, strange, but the only thing which separates me from you is our perception of the world and all the existing things in it.

And I find the combination of familiarity in all the stored memories of my existence as well as a cold oddness inherently beautiful.

‘There is no excellent beauty that hath some strangeness in the proportion’ – Francis Bacon