The Blogfather Origins: Enter The Runt

This post was originally titled “Enter the Runt”, and written as an introduction to another blog I used to write in. I adapted this for the Blogfather because it is an origin story that won’t change no matter which of my blog’s I plonk it in, and because I can.

I was born in the late 70s, the first and only one of my siblings to be born in one of those new-fangled government hospitals called KKH. I suspect I was named after 2 entities; I bear the dialect name of a property tycoon based in Katong, and my English name is a cigarette brand. The latter I attributed to my father’s smoking habit, and often would retell the very special can-never-be-re-enacted tale I concocted myself of how my dad was smoking Winstons in the hospital room while I was being delivered.

My first memories of life consisted of:

  • climbing the metal gate at our Ang Mo Kio HDB flat,
  • standing at the walkway into our living room one random afternoon and peeing on our doormat (while my pants were still on) then screaming for my mummy, and
  • writhing around on our granite tiled floor, imagining the walls to be the ground and “resisting gravity” by pushing myself off with my legs from wall to wall, doorway to my mother’s legs, and generally making mopping the floor a less tedious task than it should be (or so I thought).

My father was in immigration. In his heyday, he was placed in a special task force pursuing and arresting illegal immigrants. As age caught up with him, he would retire his pistol and take on promotion after promotion, until the government ran out of positions to promote him to, and created a new position to promote him to (his highest position attained prior to his retirement was that of a “Senior Immigration Inspector – Special Grade”; besides being a royal pain for me to write in forms requesting parental information, the phrase “Special Grade” also raised some eyebrows).

My mother came from a less exciting, albeit rather distressed beginning of her own. She had an abusive mother, who gave her away to an even more abusive foster mother. She peddled cigarettes in and around what is now the Fullerton Hotel, and went home each day with her earnings, all to be kept by her unbiological guardian.

All her life, she only ever dated and loved one man. Fortunately, that was the one thing in her life where she got her way (it helped that my father was a government-sanctioned hooligan at the time).

My parents didn’t get much of an education. My mum never stepped into school a single day in her adolescent life (she took senior citizen English classes when she hit 55, and now bids us farewell in English with confidence, “Bye bye! Take cab! I lubyew!”) and my dad walked out of class the first day of attending his new secondary school (allegedly due to a “misunderstanding” between himself and his form teacher that involved him raising up a chair in “fling” position along the general direction of said teacher).

Their educational background (or lack thereof) never got in the way of providing their children with only the best education Singapore had to offer; my eldest sister is now a practicing lawyer, my second sister has an architecture degree, and my third sister has an MBA, three kids and leads the most stable, normal life among all of us (we suspect she was adopted).

Unfortunately, the buck stops there. Something happened on the way from heaven, and I came out, the boy to carry on the family name, an underachiever, constantly getting “He can do better than this” written in his report cards under the Teacher’s Remarks section, lost in my youth and still trying to find my way to this very day.

I am the Blogfather. This is my story.

Dealing With Death

At the tail end of my secondary education, I had this really whacky idea about writing a book about Death.

Yes, with a capital D. The ageless concept of the final chapter of the human condition, anamorphised into countless human, post-human and non-human forms across every religion and culture known to Man. A collector of souls, a servant of God, a Devil’s despatch, a messenger of the underworld, a guide into the afterlife.

Call me an emo kid; goth, even, if such an intrigue into the concept of death and dying counts as a membership card into the subculture of black clothes and eyeliner. The only real reason I thought about it so much was because I never actually had to deal with it up close and personal until recently (pet guinea pigs do not count; I don’t care what the SPCA would say to that, but at 9 years old, no one would know any better).

The idea of the story has stuck with me to this very day, though through the twists and turns through the years, I was never able to properly organise a cast of characters nor storyboard the set of plotlines that would justify the gigantic scope that such a subject matter would require.

Since then, death came knocking on a number of occasions, though the first few times seemed to be just sales calls.

My very first experience with human loss was when I was 14. I was alone at home, my parents out for a company dinner. I was in the midst of a shower when the phone started ringing in the living room (let’s not start musing about Murphy’s Law here). Dripping wet and in my towel, I came out to pick it up. A woman’s voice asked if my mother was home, to which I said no. As the woman proceeded to continue with her next sentence, she started sobbing uncontrollably, saying, “When she comes home, can you tell her her mother has passed away?”

I put down the phone, momentarily stunned, mind emptied with only the thought that I was to announce my maternal grandmother’s passing to my parents. Granted me and my siblings were never close to that side of the family on account of my mother’s estrangement from her family, but I was still unsure how my mother would take the news.

As it was, before long, my parents came home, and I broke the news. The reaction I got can only be described as less than lukewarm: “Oh, okay.”

It confused me. My years of social studies in primary school, of watching tacky heartwarming Chinese serials featuring families of 3 or more generations sharing moments together and respecting each other, infused in me a notion that the passing of a grandparent should really be a bigger deal than just “Oh, okay.” But there it was, and little more was said.

My paternal grandmother’s passing a few years ago, though, was a much bigger deal. It began with all of us at the hospital, watching my dad’s mum in her deathbed, wired up to as many machines as her body had space to place tubes in, chest spawning in sharp gasps more or less in rhythm to each beep of the heart monitor. At one point the youngest of my dad’s brothers went in to have a moment with her, and while adjusting her pillow accidentally shifted her breathing mask. After placing the mask back to it’s position, my grandmother started gasping at a quickened pace for a few seconds, and in the frantic between my uncle calling in the nurses and doctors and my aunts outside the windowed room screaming for their mother, she left.

Of course, my uncle’s perceived mishap with my grandmother’s breathing apparatus was mere coincidence; we were all gathered to witness her last moments of life, after all. Still, what must have been running through his mind as he walked out of the room after my grandmother died I can only imagine must have involved a facepalming among other things.

Strangely enough, I was quite heavily involved in the funeral arrangements; my eldest paternal uncle was recovering from a recent heart bypass, and my dad was second in command in the family, but he wasn’t in his bet state of health and mind at the moment. My mother and eldest sister motioned for me to assist my father, and together we both began co-ordinating and managing the entire funeral, including financial arrangements, wake scheduling, catering, cremation and interring.

For the most part, it was a sobering experience, seeing how great a contrast our family dealing with my father’s mother’s death was in comparison to that of my previous grandmother. Just as sobering was seeing how my father had become a shadow of the man I grew up with; though a colon cancer survivor, he had more recently been diagnosed with heart problems and high blood pressure, and the medication was taking a toll on his energy and mind. In the back of my head I wondered how I would deal with his passing when his time finally came, and to this day I still have trouble grasping the notion.

A few days ago, I caught wind of a friend’s passing through a text message an old classmate sent me. Looking through the condolences posted on his Facebook account, and offering my own through a phone call placed to his brother, I thought back to all the times when Death stood near me, and the sudden emptiness that would wash over me whenever the moment of realization that a life had come to an end. Not a feeling of loss, but a true flatline of emotion, feeling and thought, as though I had somehow partially transitioned into the state of the deceased’s physical shell.

And I still don’t know what to make of Death.

Of Lost Ambitions and Shattered Dreams

I wanted to be a pilot when I was a kid. Then in Primary Two, I had to be prescribed with spectacles because I got myopia from late night story book reading. Pilots are required to have near perfect vision.

I was talked into wanting to be a doctor and heal people and save lives. Then at Primary Five I watched Friday the 13th for the very first time and decided prematurely blood and gore was not my thing (I am actually quite into horror movies and slasher flicks, but it’s a tad late now).

In secondary school I wanted to be a rock star. I enrolled into a Yamaha pop drum course, only to be told on my first day in class that they had put me in the pop guitar course instead. Six months into watching my guitar instructor living out his dream to be Gary Moore in front of 8 clueless students, I got demoralized and quit.

(I still play now and again. I’m actually good enough to impress girls, but not good enough to go pro, and I’m married already, meaning I’m no longer eligible to impress girls. Another useless talent to add to my list.)

I got an art award from AT&T and thought maybe I could be an artist. I was collecting comics for a few years and envisioned myself imitating the masters in my figure sketches; Jim Lee, Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane. But such delusions of grandeur and a lack of opportunities for such artists in Singapore (so I believed) prevented me from walking down that path. I sometimes think back on this and wonder.

I entertained the idea of being a commando in the army just before I got enlisted. For a full 15 minutes.

I went into bartending and found it did a great deal of good to my market value in the dating arena. Then I started flaring bottles and was told by my management they didn’t want any more broken bottles and bleeding heads.

I did stage crew work and was surrounded by music from all corners of the world. It was beautiful and exciting. We did everything from weddings to WOMAD, got backstage passes to the best concerts, exposed ourselves to workshops and met drunken girls offering us drinks and their phone numbers. But the hours were long, the tempers too hot, and the pay not worth the abuse. 5 months later, I walked.

I took up a government job transcribing court proceedings recorded on cassette tape 15 minutes at a time. On hindsight, I never should have quit; welfare was the best of any job one could find, work was simple and enjoyable, and life was good. But I succumbed to greed, and forfeited what would have turned out to e a stable life with little worry for a job that paid twice as much but did half as much good for me.

I thought I wanted to be an ad man. People call them creatives; creatives who had all the Big Ideas, creatives who came up with taglines that stick in your mind like annoyingly catchy one-hit wonders, creatives who made the media industry work. I signed up for a Mass Communications diploma, aced my interview, and scored above average with more than a few distinctions under my belt. I graduated, and came out thinking I was finally ready to do what I was meant to do.

5 years later and on the last legs of my professional youth, with a resume that boasts my abilities for everything but media communications and design, and a portfolio that furrows eyebrows instead of raising them, I was lost again.

I never thought I wanted to write.

Updated Every Tuesday & Thursday

If you’re visiting for the first time, have some fun and start from the beginning (only 100 posts or so, but take your time). And if you’re revisiting, hey, good time to reminisce, yeah?

I’d love to hear your opinions about this blog as well, such as how it can be better organised, or if I should include or exclude anything. I always look forward to any comments, so if you are reading any of my posts, just drop in a comment to say hi or let me know if you like what I wrote. I really would love to hear from you!

Prologue

I’m giving myself 2 months.

I originally intended for this website to showcase my portfolio and creative writing samples. I gave it a lot of thought (and about US$20 budget); played with domain names and prefix variations (konstrukt.me would be the landing page, while de.konstrukt.me would be a collection of blog posts I’ve done over the years, and re.konstrukt.me would be the graphic design portfolio).

And then, having tendered my resignation last August and posting out a lot of resumes, I got my first job interview almost a month later.

My world would come crashing down during that interview.

It was a good interview, to be honest. I spent an hour and a half with the director of the company going through my resume, my reasons for leaving my current job, my portfolio. He told me he was able to envision me doing work for the company – just not the work they had advertised for. I was able to tell through his perusing my portfolio on my own laptop screen that I didn’t have the chops for entering any creative field, even though I knew how to use the software. The words he used to confirm it: “I don’t think I can put you in a designer position with us.”

Throughout the interview, he seemed really hopeful for me to join his company, but the question that was left hanging was, as what? My resume was too diverse to pin me into any one position, and I was good enough for all of them to work, but not good enough in any of them to advance; the proverbial jack of all trades, master of none.

My own bosses would give me advice in the hopes of keeping my hopes up and “doing it right”. But they would always add, the problem with me is, I’m good at the get-go, but lose steam when I’m at the home stretch. That line, repeated again and again, from the different mouths of people who have lived with or worked with me, was ultimately what devastated me, because I knew they were right.

It is quite evident now that I’m no longer using this site to help me showcase my work (any prospective employer looking at this job candidate’s writing sample would cross out my resume after reading that last paragraph). Instead, I’m going to try putting my life into perspective through my writing, digging out stories of my past in a bid to find out what it is exactly that I was meant to do. and for all I know, that calling I’m looking for might just turn out to be… writing. But I’m not going to jump the gun.

I’m giving myself 2 months.

I told my wife, this is something I want to do properly. Plan out my writing, schedule my posts, put images into my articles, make sure I’m good and ready to churn out something I can at least be proud of reading myself. And most importantly, I need to find myself. And if you’re reading this, I’m gonna really need your help too.

Please, let me know you’re reading this, or anything else that comes up here in the future. I know I’m doing it for myself, I am a sucker for reassurance and words of encouragement. So if writing really is supposed to be my path to happiness, I need to know I’m doing okay. If you’re a family member, do what you always do. If you’re a friend, doesn’t matter if you’re close or distant, tell me what you think. And if you’re just passing by, if you’re enjoying it, if you’re hating it, if you got anything at all to say, or even if you don’t, do please drop in a note; it gets really lonely looking at my own website otherwise.

Check back here again on the 9th of November, 3.45pm (yes, there is a reason). The retrospection will begin then.