Crazy Tasty!

Consider the humble tin of spam. It goes with anything: you can have eggs and spam, ham and spam, tomato and spam, eggs, tomato and spam, eggs ham and spam… the list goes on. It’s the most versatile food there is.
As I was tucking into a delicious home-cooked meal of Spam Goreng the other day, I came to a sudden realisation, a kind of Archimedean “Eureka!” moment. I realised that, in a very real sense, I am a tin of spam.
First of all, I’m compact. Secondly, I am the perfect accompaniment to any meal. Thirdly, I am encased in a hard, metallic casing, making me tough on the outside – but if you can find the key and persevere long enough, and manage not to injure yourself on my sharp edges, you can … actually I’ve kind of run out of steam on this metaphor. But importantly, like the spam you get in your email box every day, I am capable of rapidly churning out nonsensical text of no possible interest to anyone. This post is the latest example. Enjoy.

Ripping Yarns

In my ongoing meditative quest for the answer to the ultimate question of Life, The Universe and Everything, including subsidiary topics such as “Why is the sea boiling hot?” and “Do pigs have wings?”, fate has brought me to Bali. Not only have I had the privilege to attend the not-pretentious-at-all “Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival 2007”, which attracted such literary luminaries as Kiran Desai and Richard Flanagan, I have subsequently been persuaded that it would be a good idea to stand on a plank in the ocean while a large wave approaches, in the hope that I will be carried to shore still standing. This pastime is commonly known as “surfing”. Apparently it is quite popular.
Of course, as I was explaining to Singapore’s renowned novelist Catherine Lim over tea the other day, I am immune to so-called fame. The fact that I was in the same room as Kiran Desai, winner of last year’s Man Booker Prize, means nothing to me. Due to my spiritual journey through the backpacker hostels of Asia (and bistros of the European Alps), I am above such things. However, I must admit that I do enjoy a good read as much as anyone; and, as I was lying on my board waiting for the large green foam-flecked mass of water to arrive, not at all perturbed by the flailing limbs to either side of me in the beginner’s surf class, I began to muse that despite the superficial difference between the two activities, there are in fact deep underlying similarities between, on the one hand, the appreciation of literature, and on the other, catching an awesome breaker.
Firstly, dude, you have to understand that literature is totally, like, awesome. And so is surfing. Secondly, and this thought occurred to me as I felt the swell of the sea under my board and began to move forward at a startlingly rapid speed, it is true that in the world of books, one can be lifted up by a story and transported, as it were, on the crest of a wave of inspiration. Of course, getting up to the standing position on a surfboard requires a leap of faith, much like the suspension of disbelief we need in order to surrender ourselves to a narrative. This is an almost religious moment, a kind of surrender to the awesome power of the sea or story. Finally, as I struggled to surface through the salty turbulence, and was hit soundly on the head by my surfboard, I reflected wistfully on the similarity between the hard, unyielding texture of fibreglass and nothing at all in the world of sitting on a deckchair with a long cool drink and a paperback.
I hope this latest nugget of wisdom has provided the level of inspiration and philosophical insight that you have come to expect from my blog. Please feel free to recommend me for any awards or prizes you feel are appropriate, although of course they will mean nothing to me.

Who ate my soap?

I was going to blog about the lovely time I had at the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, which finished a couple of days ago, but I’ll put that on hold for now. Breaking news is that somebody – or something – has been eating my soap.
On Monday, I checked into the Grand Natia Hotel in Candidasa, East Bali, a lovely place where the rooms are arranged as cottages in two rows along either side of a long carp pond (or “Basil’s Expressway” as I now call it). Having spent a pleasant evening with Andy and Sowmya Chakravarty, who are here on a kudge* holiday, I returned to my room, and spotted a small figure scurrying away up the wall of the open-air bathroom, his long tail flicking over the top. There was a distinct plop as he leaped from the wall into the pond and made his escape. Examining the bathroom for any damage, all I could find was the evidence pictured above: teeth marks on the top, and a chunk eaten out of the side, of my bar of hotel soap.
After sending sms messages to a few of my friends (the best response was from Su, who asked if the rat had started foaming at the mouth), I went to the front desk, where the hotel manager decided to turn into Yoda.
“Rat flourishes in darkness but vanishes with light of day,” were his exact words.
“Do you mean I should leave the light on?”
“Yes.”
He also gave me a couple more bars of soap. But sure enough, the next evening, I returned to my room to get changed, and the tell-tale teeth marks were there again.
I have several theories about what is going on here. Perhaps there is an island-wide cheese shortage, and the local rat population will go for anything that looks vaguely similar. Or maybe this particular rodent used bad language in front of his mother, and she told him to wash his mouth out. Or maybe it’s some kind of spa treatment for rats, in which case surely cinnamon or ginger soap with lavender extracts would be more appropriate.
In any case, the events of the last 36 hours have set me thinking, once again, about the meaning of life. It seems to me that, in some very real sense, we are all rats, swimming around in a carp pond, looking for bars of soap to eat. If somebody moves the soap, then all we have to do is wait around until they have another shower, and more will appear. It also proves that however disgusting something may taste, there will always be someone around who thinks it tastes great. One rat’s cheese is another rat’s soap. (This helps me understand why Durians are so popular, for example.)
It also seems to me that the office workplace is just like a load of rats eating hotel soap. To put things simply: in order to move forward and increase soap productivity turnover, one must leverage the available resources, avoid the office carp (who always finds reasons projects won’t work), scurry through the drainpipe and call regular all-rat meetings where rodents are empowered to take ownership of client-centered emulisification apparatus, leading to overall satisfaction and ultimately delight. I have captured this key insight in an easy-to-digest form (scratched into the surface of a bar of Palmolive), entitled “Who Ate My Soap: Management for Rats,” available by return post from Satan, Ninth Cirle, Hell – simply fill in the order form, enclosing your soul as payment.

Of course, my new friend deserves a name, and there’s only one I can give to a rogue rodent in a hotel. I’m calling him Basil.

* kudge, a. Posh, high-class, flashy, expensive, exclusive