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Testimonies in South East Asia

CHICKEN RICE : BUT WHERE’S THE MEAT?

Michael Chan

It’s a dead giveaway. The floppy hair, the perfect English, the limp wrists and the sashay (read: yo-lai-yo-kee in Hokkien). It’s no surprise that I’ve been branded a sissy. Just my good manners and reserved nature alone gave the guys enough reason to make fun of me. It was a frightful experience to say the least, but the trauma of taunting was my definite turning point. Desperately wanting approval, I embarked on an intense mission to display all the qualities which would gain acceptance from the guys. Physical strength, a cocky attitude, vulgar languages. I quickly mastered them all. If anyone sees me today, they’ll never ever find any trace of femininity.

While I succeeded in changing the outer packaging, inside I remained pretty much the same. It wasn’t that I felt feminine or anything, but I didn’t know how true manhood was measured and therefore, couldn’t see the masculine in myself. It’s so inconsistent: what’s inside and what’s outside. Come to think of it, this reminds me a little of the popular “Ayam Brand” of canned food. The bright red label outside screams “ayam” (chicken in Malay), but it’s really sardine inside.

In school, the courageous and outgoing guys were my role models as I admired them and envied those who were their friends. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but with puberty, admiration turned to sexual longing lengthening of something quite sexual. Because these feelings came naturally, I did not find them wrong nor disturbing. What was more disturbing were these other guys in school who pretended to be chicks. They were the unnatural ones whose feminine wiles got all kinds of abusive attention from everyone. Served them right; they asked for it! As for me, effeminacy was so nauseating that I processed it out of my life to be canned forever.

While I often appeared confident and bold, I was terrified of being rejected should anyone find out about me, especially guys whom I secretly adored. I had no intention of becoming an object of scorn, so I chickened out of telling and kept the torment of my problem to myself. Sometimes when the going got tough, I would say a little here, a little there, but was deliberately vague and confusing. I was such a tease: all fluff and feathers, but no meat.

Eventually, I got involved with a guy but kept it a deep dark secret. Soon, my life spun out of control and the affair found its short-lived sordid end. I was so devastated that I avoided everyone I knew and hid away from sight, agonising in solitary silence. I was deadmeat by then and could not handle more rejection in any form, especially from friends and members of my family. One day, after numerous attempts, Tom managed to look me up. He was a friend of many years and noticed my absence from my usual haunts. He hadn’t seen me at the gym for many months and became very concerned about my disappearing act. He knew me well enough to know that I would never miss my dumbbells and bench press for a day, even when I was physically unwell. “You can tell me,” Tom said as we sat by the pool in the cool of the morning.

It was a one-sided conversation that lasted an eternity. Tom sat patiently and listened, and listened and listened. As I whined, I braced myself for his rejection as I didn’t expect him to understand nor be my friend any more. But after I was finally done with the cackling, Tom sat up and responded with just one sentence. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Do you want supper,” he asked. “Er yes, of course. Supper’s a good idea.” Stunned to find unconditional acceptance from a straight guy, I added in glee: “For today, to hell with my strict, weight-training diet. So, no counting of calories coz I’m eating meat, skin, rice, achar, soup and all.” Yummy, my all-time favourite grub, Chicken Rice.

[From the book, FOC: Freedom of Choice by Leslie Lung (Singapore: Aquanut Agencies, 2000). Used by permission. All rights reserved.]


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Testimonies in South East Asia

THE NAKED TRUTH  OF DIVINITY IN HUMAN FLESH

Tonia Wong

Daily idol-worship and star-gazing at specific time-slots (TV series); regular scriptural studies (magazines, newspapers & books); and the payment of tithes and offerings (monthly subscription fees). There’s more: High priests of cool (supermodels) and hotshot evangelists (super salespeople) preaching the saving message of consumerism (buy one, get one free). Why buy? Because we¹re worth it. Yes, it’s definitely a religion.

It’s belief is simple: the more you possess, the closer you are to paradise. I thought I had finally arrived: A beautiful home, big car, great job and lots of money. These were rewards from my lifetime of devotion to the almighty power of hedonism. Materialism offered a glowing sense of contentment and wealth was my blessed assurance of salvation. But of the holy trinity of wine, women and song, it was one woman who brought me the most secure feeling in the world. Her name was Chloe. Long straight hair, later short, then permed then long again, I’ve seen them all. Just a whiff of her favourite perfume, Poison, would conjure up multiple images of her in my mind arched when delighted; the curvature of her full lips when she smiled; and the hidden marks and moles that were on her body. 15 years is a long time to be together.

How complete my life was as I possessed every creature comfort of the good life, including the ideal person to share that heaven with. Every moment of time would be spent together in the private sanctuary of our home. We read each other’s minds, knew each other’s passions, desires, timing, location and drank of each other’s wines of success. It was like that for a long, long time. Then omens of impending doom started to appear. At first, it was the odd minute or two. Then she needed to spend the day together with that mutual friend of ours, shopping for a gift. “Another afternoon shopping?” I mused. “That’s so unlike the homebody she is. Maybe she’s just going through a phase.” I should have realised what was happening but I was not the suspicious one. On hindsight, it could have been denial on my part because mulling over our many petty quarrels was extremely unpleasant. “No need to deal with it, can’t be that bad,” I would often reason our squabbles away.

An occasional outing soon became a long weekend, then with increasing frequency, she made excuses to be away from me. “It’s over; I’m leaving,” Chloe scowled as she combed the house to separate our things. All at once, I walked through another dimension of time. In one second, 15 long years of bliss replayed in my mind. “How can it be ending? It¹s all too sudden. Surely it’s not happening!” A stuffed NTUC plastic bag with all my belongings hanging out assured me of its reality. A bra flew in my face. Then my pearl earrings.

For months, my mind lingered on that humiliating moment of rejection. All the peace, happiness and security I¹d ever known had flown out of the window. “Ungrateful, @$#%-ing, two-timing snake! Is this my reward after all that I’ve done for you? I’ve given you nothing but my undivided love and devotion.” Chloe had wronged me with adultery, even if it was an unholy
liaison involving three women.

A year later, the confident and optimistic person whom I used to be had become wretched and bitter. The venomous sting of betrayal was unbearable as my head and chest throbbed with pain from an agonising constriction every few seconds had experienced was discovering a tiny scratch on the bumper of my brand-new BMW. How it contrasted with the stabbing gashes from a dagger that had plunged deep into my heart.

All my worldly wealth could not comfort me. Who cared how many types of crystal apples I owned! How shallow it all seemed now. Nothing mattered any more, not even the exquisite flavours of food which I had enjoyed so much.  It was completely tasteless now. For an eternity, I did nothing but wallow in my own vomit of self-pity, appalled at how much has changed since then.  Chloe was gone, I had been retrenched and my mother had been stricken with a deadly disease. As I lay motionless on the cold marble floor of my empty house, I eventually saw the light. It was a sacred moment of revelation as streams of living water coursed through my body, soul and spirit. Through hazy eyes, for a brief but lucid moment, I saw the naked truth of divinity fleshed out in human form. Chloe had been my god.

[From the book, FOC: Freedom of Choice by Leslie Lung (Singapore: Aquanut Agencies, 2000). Used by permission. All rights reserved.]


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Testimonies in South East Asia

UNTYING THE KNOT : CUTTING SOUL-TIES

K P Rai

The sweet and invigorating wafts of jasmine flowers at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple in Tank Road will always conjure up a particular memory for me.

I remember exhaling deeply, then inhaling in pulsating patterns to take in the cool crisp air of the night. It was a Pranayama technique of meditation I learned during Yoga lessons to release any tension that was building up in me. That Saturday night, with a jasmine garland strung around my neck and a gold necklace concealed tightly in my left hand, my breathing exercises for relaxation did not bring any relief at all. A zillion questions blazed through my mind. Did I remember to bring everything? How was I going to deceive the priest? What was the proper blessing sequence? Did my hair look alright? A quick flick with my comb left nothing to chance.

At once, Raju noticed my discomfort and gave me a long and reassuring look. Then, reaching out to remove a mischievous jasmine petal that had landed on my moustache, he cupped my face lovingly with his strong, steady hands. At last, the day had come often dreamed about it and wondered who the man would eventually be? It hurt badly thinking that none of my family members would ever be able to share in my joy and enthusiasm on this auspicious occasion. In fact, not even the closest of my friends would approve of my relationship.

Raju and I were to be pledged to one another. We had known each other for almost two years now and were both thankful to the gods for our well-consummated tie. This was my only relationship with a man to have lasted that long. Ever since I met Raju while shopping along Serangoon Road, I believed that our union must have been pre-written in the stars. We were the perfect match, although somewhat unconventional. It wasn’t just because we were two men in love with each other, but more so because of our differing temperaments. Outwardly, Raju was fearless and appeared strong and manly with his athletic disposition. Yet, he was always an emotional wreck and often looked to me for strength and direction. On the outside, I seemed like an airhead as I would be flustered each time I saw a cockroach scampering about in our bathroom. However, it was I who had the nerves of steel to organise stealthy events like this mock marriage ceremony of ours.

It was nearly closing time at 9.30pm as we hurriedly laid out all the items for blessings by the priest: A platter of fresh fruits, flowers and especially a heart-shaped pendant and chain rehearsed my lie well in advanced: I had brought these items for blessing on behalf of my sick mother who would be taking them to my newly-wed sister in India. But as the priest came towards us to consecrate the objects with fire and a Sanskrit chant, he beamed, as if knowing full well what was happening. I twitched nervously and lifted my bowed head to peek while chanting a personal prayer.

I sighed in relief. The priest’s demeanor, long-flowing hair held back tightly in a pony tail, and dark piercing eyes had “The Look”. There was no need for my elaborate lie nor any explanation. “He understands. He’s one of us.” Just as the prayer ritual was completed, I was surprised to hear the sound of beating drums and festive music. Coincidentally, an actual wedding ceremony was taking place at the hallway behind the main temple.

Five long years have since gone by. Each time this memory is brought to mind, it brings on painful knots in my heart. My liaison with Raju did not last the year. I have since returned his pendant and chain, and renounced this soul-tie. I am now with another, someone who has died for me, and whose spirit lives forever in my heart. He too would not approve of such an affair. I am going to see how long this union is going last.

*Thali: A beautiful Hindu symbol of union, the thali is a necklace given to a woman by her husband during the wedding ceremony and removed only when widowed.

[From the book, FOC: Freedom of Choice by Leslie Lung (Singapore: Aquanut Agencies, 2000). Used by permission. All rights reserved.]