Monday, October 17, 2011

Being Comfortable in My Own Skin. Diet Cafe, Cheras Business Centre, KL.


(halal)

Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways. 
~Pessoa, from the Book of Disquiet~

Diet. Do I Eat Today?

“It’s your Birthday!” the Bank Teller proclaimed loudly as she returned my identity card, which was held hostage during my application for a new account.

I forced an insincere smile and hurried her along and muttered an expletive under my breath. 

Birthdays.

I never celebrate them voluntarily. At least not in the conventional way. The last birthday bash I had, was in Bangkok. A merit making ceremony by donating food early in the morning as the Monks from a nearby Buddhist temple walked around my neighborhood to collect alms followed by lunch at an orphanage where kids are treated to fried chicken and ice cream plus toys.

No boozing, no gifts, no expensive dinners for friends who can jolly well afford to feed themselves better than I can feed them, and none of the obligatory social canoodling and the superficial niceness that reeks of hypocrisy and affectedness. Laugh if you may, at the thought of a cynical, irritable yet servile android being dragged by friends to kneel and offer alms to a monk. The ultimate snigger will be the thought of a torpid me, spending lunch in a room filled with screaming kids trying to blend in with the spartan furniture in an orphanage.

It seemed like a brilliant idea at that time. Shamanism is rampant in Thailand, attested by the ubiquitous Spirit Houses. Maybe a benevolent Spirit possessed me at that time, or I just wanted to please my two Thai friends who always celebrated their birthdays that way. The lunch ended with a repeating chant playing in my head, which said, “Next time, just give cash.” My friends of course had a good laugh when I told them how uncomfortable I felt throughout the ordeal. It could be worse than that. In an effort to blend in with friends during schooldays, I couldn’t say I want to keep my birth date a secret. That would be termed “antisocial”, (a misnomer actually, because the proper term for is actually asocial). 

Apple Crumble

After a miserable 21st birthday spent with a lot of people I didn’t like but was obliged to invite to my birthday because they were a part of my “social circle”, I made a firm resolve not to divulge my birthday except to those who reside in my sanctus sanctorum of my heart, a pledge I kept from the day I graduated from University until now. 

My birthday has only been celebrated with a few people in my lifetime. I celebrated some birthdays with my family mainly out of obligation too, but that stopped following the death of my mother. Even then, with my own family, I felt a bit embarrassed by the cake and candles and the usual rites and rituals associated with birthdays. I suppose I could tolerate the discomfort of being the center of attention for my Mum, who used the occasion to show me how much she loved me. She had done so much for me, and that was the least I could do for her and would love to endure many, many more hours more uncomfortable cake blowing if she could still be around.

I guarded my birth date like a national secret and hate it if somebody tried to pry this bit of privy information from me.

Unfortunately, this is the least of my peculiarities. 

Bread and Butter Pudding

There is always some music running in the background in my head, and my favorite past time is matching music to some situation that I am facing, living my life in a soundtrack of my own creation. I am obsessive about my books. A crease in a page or the cover of my book gives me goose bumps just like listening to someone scratching on a blackboard. I hate yellowing pages in my novels and have given away and re bought many copies of my favorite books. 

I am fixated on Tristan und Isolde and currently have 5 versions of it in my collection. 

Snakes and reptiles give me nausea and vertigo.

I hate having my photograph taken; I hate to be recognized in the streets or anywhere else. My mobile numbers are seldom given out, and if I give it out, I would expect it never to be divulged before my consent.

My fork and spoon has to match, likewise for chopsticks, otherwise I will be suffering from agitation throughout the meal, fearing something awful will happen that day.

If you think that I am weird, rest assured that you are not alone. I think I am weird too. It took me a long time to come to terms with who I am and what I am.  And if you think I am a difficult person to live with, do consider the fact that I have to live with myself 24 hours a day.  This is compounded by the fact that I am aware of what I am and how difficult it is for me to fit in with others.

I was only truly free after the death of my mother. I no longer had to fulfill her expectations of what I should be, how I should behave and whom I should be nice to. I only have to live for myself and became a total Prick. But I am happy. I no longer had to stifle my annoyance and am ready to snap back at anybody I had hated last time, but kept timid out of respect for my mother.

Outside my working life, I was no longer milquetoast and embarked on a new project to mundify my life of all its annoyances. 

I started with people who had unrealistic expectations on how I had to behave, dress, drive, live and eat. They were not there during my most turbulent period in life. They should not have any expectations from me as I never expected them to be there for me too. They had NO right to judge me or criticize me. I showed them my Middle Finger and purged them from my life.

Warm Chocolate Cake

To them, I will be the chimeral chronic underachiever, the impulsive and eccentric bachelor who dresses shabbily, mixes with the wrong company and curses like a dockyard coolie. But I am happy, and that’s what matters most.  The only place I tried to fit in is only at work. The only reason why I am doing what I am doing is out of gratitude for my Boss, who had been a real brick during my mother’s illness, convalescence and ultimately her death.

I knew after her death, I will not have the drive I once had to excel, to conform and to compete because that was never what I wanted. Previously, I just wanted to live up to my mother’s expectation of me. To be as iconic as my Boss and to be recognized and lose my privacy would mean the eventual loss of my sanity as well.

I wore a mask at work, and I wore it well. I serviced my Bosses and their clients like a whore who utilizes every trick in her book to satisfy her clients, and like the whore, they can have my body, but they will never have my heart. Everyday I battled with my conscience and suppressed my desire to do what I like best, to be free and unencumbered with the constraints of normalcy and redundancy. Nobody noticed that everything I did was rote and passionless and I trudged on until this day.

Next on my list to expunge from my life were people in my contact list that contacted me when they needed something and then leaves the conversation hanging after obtaining the information they require. People who do not even bother to respond to a simple “Hi!”. I don’t know why social interaction behind an electronic screen seems to make people forget the common courtesies. You wouldn’t turn your face away when an acquaintance says, “Hi” to you on the street to you. I used to be almost apologetic when some people ask me why they have been deleted from my Blackberry and try to make up some lame excuse like a change in Blackberry Device or something similar. Nowadays I am more direct. I just tell them straight in the face that I think they are rude, and just do not wish to interact with them via Blackberry.

Mama Panna Cotta

I live my life fully compartmentalized, like separate sets in a Venn diagram. Work, Family and Social. Only rarely and for certain individuals I absolutely trust, are they allowed to come into the intersections between the sets. Social Order in my little obsessive world meant keeping my little circle of contacts in confined, separate mobile phones, separate email accounts and separate Facebook accounts.

After a long while, I started to feel comfortable in my own skin. I learned to accept and even embrace some of my peculiarities. Like most people, when I feel comfortable, I let my guard down and started to feel snug and secure. I felt confident enough to blog and allowed the exposure some of my thoughts and feelings in the big, bad www.

I knew that it would open up another sphere of people and my neat little circles with its beautiful microscopic Reuleaux Triangle residing in the centre would be in dire jeopardy. I took the proverbial plunge and exposed my identity like the virgin exposing her neck to be corrupted by Nosferatu, seduced by the promise of eternal life or in my case, damned to an eternity of bits and bytes in a remote server.

Club Sandwich

Friendship is polysemous. To some, it is an avenue to show off, to gloat, a scratching post or worse still, as something to be used for personal gain. I am unable to define precisely what it means to me, but it has to be something more than that. I was rewarded by my foray into blogging with meeting with some of the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life, but have also gotten to know and meet some of the most soulless, superficial, narcissistic and shameless hacks on the face of earth. Like Malaysian Politics, these hacks will one day will be the big names in cybersphere.  I bear no animosity with them, and treat them like an occasional annoyance that I can swat away by logging out from twitter.

Nothing prepared me to get to know some of the unkindest specimens of mankind. The Time Wasters.

I was invited to a dinner recently but there was a last minute change in the time. It was rescheduled to the next day and the person who changed the day informed everybody but me. Most of you would think that this is just a small matter, and I shouldn’t have gone apeshit. Well, first of all, being the precise, punctilious, obsessive worrier, I had to drive to Hartamas a day before, which is way off where I usually hang out. I arrived early and armed with two bags full of laptop, tablet, phones, gadgets and photography equipment, I sat down and waited in a hot pot restaurant. (Another OCD trait that I posses is I will not leave home without my gadgets, otherwise I will be thinking about them, and I am currently obsessed with Crumpler Bags.)

The 40 Minutes spent waiting at the restaurant was unnerving. I felt that the whole restaurant was staring at me. I felt eyes gnawing into my heart, and exposed the desolate bareness of my internal milleu.  Every laughter emanating from other diners obviously having a good time there, seemed to mock me, and like the percolating soup boiling in the hot pot, my mind was in a raging turmoil. Hurt, anger, dismay and betrayal just like the multiple sauces offered in the restaurant was heaped onto my empty plate and empty stomach, the perfect condiments for an outburst. I called up one of my fellow diners and was surprised to hear that the date has been changed and the person who changed it had told her she would be informing me. I paid up and left and sought comfort with my Burmese Migrant worker friends.

Sauteed Button Mushroom

I awaited for an apology for three days. None came, except for a small little message saying that she changed the date and knew I will not be free and therefor did not inform me. A statement that is very flawed logically. Even if she considers herself to be the Queen of the Fucking Universe, but this little minion is not gonna go down without shoving his middle finger up her nose.

If friendship was going to be my weltschmerz, to hell with it. The suppression of my anger and the desire to give her a shelling on the phone wore me down for days. It would be pointless to confront an idiot. I did the next best thing. I nuked her from my life, starting with emails and trashed and blocked her address. I deleted her from my BB. Entered her phone number into Call Blocker and threw away anything that reminded me of her. It felt good. I was free. If there is something I can do well, is to love and hate something with the equal amount of intensity. 

I can never be sure if it was a sin of commission or omission. All that I knew was that she did send a message on my BB one hour before I left home for the restaurant, yet she didn’t mention anything about canceling the dinner. Either way, death by disembowelment with a dessert fork would be an option to consider as just punishment.

I was jolted out of my comfort zone again. I was feeling out of sorts and started to think if I had made a big mistake by blogging, by sharing my unconventional thoughts with so many strangers.

I remembered a meal I had at Diet Cafe.

Cajun Prawn Sandwich

The interior of Diet Cafe is a bizarre mishmash of bric a bracs, from lights that resembles alien flying saucers to small little kitschy object d’arts that hardly conforms to functional minimalism. Despite the hodgepodge, a sense of calmness prevails especially when one has experienced the harrowing traffic along Jalan Pudu and Jalan Cheras. The menu is fairly extensive for a restaurant that size and a few items stand out.

I have praised their beautiful Risotto which was satisfyingly rich with the prefect texture in another post. Their pesto was youthful and fresh which saved it from being drowned in oleaginous slick like John Travolta’s mop of hair in Grease being saved by the vigorous exuberance of his dance. In this case, the verdant freshness of the Basil did the trick.

Spaghetti with Pesto (Off Menu)

The statuesque Club Sandwich was gloriously thick and could do with a denser bread, though it was slightly overdressed to kill.

Diet Cafe's working class roots was reflected by it’s offering of Bangers and Mash which is usualy only as good as the sausages. Although Diet Cafe uses premium Chicken Sausage, it can never replace the more endowed Cumbria Sausages sheathed sinfully in Pork Intestine and filled with ground Pork Loin and seasonings. The onion gravy was abnormally sweet although the texture of the mash was lovely. Apparently, I was told by my British friend, that the name “Banger” interestingly came up during the Second World War. Food rationing was imposed in Britain, and as a result, sausages had a higher content of water than usual, resulting in the sausages exploding when fried at a high temperature.

Bangers and Mash 

The Chicken Parmaggiana was moist and tender. The effort was commendable but one can only do so much with a piece of breast. 

The entrees were perfunctory. Prawns in Spicy Tomato Sauce was served on a piece of bread that had just ran a marathon through the desert and did nothing much to elevate the juicy, bouncy prawns that just got off a trampoline. The Sauteed Mushrooms were blissfully doing a backstroke in a light, garlicky sauce.

Desserts were more pedestrian but managed to satisfy our desire for a post meal sugar rush.

Lamp

The most captivating quality of Diet Cafe was it lack of pretense and is confident to offer what it does best. Reasonably priced food that is well prepared and served at very welcoming hours. It does not boast to indulge you in fine dining nor boast of using the finest ingredients. The desire to please is evident, service is cheerful and ebullient. Any imperfections or flaws are easily overlooked. This was clearly a restaurant with a character of it's own and the owners and chef are really comfortable being what they are and realistic enough to know what they can offer.

I used to view the world with askance, and isolated and limited myself to interacting with the barest minimum amount of people. Thanks to this unpleasant episode, I am returning back to my little shell. Do forgive me if I insist on asking to the point of paranoia about who is going to be there for our meals. I am just comfortable with knowing the few people I have already known and you know who you are. At this juncture, I have completely no desire to meet anybody new. You are free to disavow me, and unlike the vengeful Abrahamic God, I promise no retribution in this world or in the afterlife.

I am also taking a break from blogging, and may not be updating much here, not that I have been diligent. I have however, started a new neurotic blog to spare all of you from having to read my tiresome descriptions of my neurotic life here. And if I do blog here, it will be to share about food and much happier things. I wish to regain my anonymity.

I love observing people and how they behave, recording their conversation in my mind and observing the little nuances, their accent, their gestures and then form little vignettes of their life on my own and imagining a soundtrack to accompany it. It is as if by silently observing others that I can fill up the gaps in my own life, by experiencing some of the things that I will never encounter. To be a successful voyeur, one has to remain anonymous. 

To those of you who do not know me, I want to be the owner of the pair of slitted Chinky eyes training you from a dark corner in a decrepit coffee shop. Looking at you as you receive a break up text message from your boyfriend, with my eyes tearing, possibly irritated the thick veil of nicotine smoke that separates me from you.

However, I can never put my arms around your shoulder to offer you solace, for it is not me to do so. I am not wired that way. I take a long, long time to warm up to people and some of you are just probably feeling that I am friendlier now after knowing me for 2 years. I will never, never again trust anyone without knowing them for a length of time.

Light Fixture

Some people may think that I am seeking attention by being different, by being aloof. I can assure you, I am not. I can't help being what I am and if you think you know me, you are wrong. I don't even know myself.

When you see me, you will just see fragments of a mutilated me. The government demands me to be lobotomized , my vocal cords cut out and my heels nailed to my butts. Forever forced into a supplicant kneel in gratitude to my oppressors. At work, the corners of my mouth are stitched to my ears to deform my mouth into giving everybody who sees me a macabre smile, my heart ripped from my chest to be a compliant robot. I'll be damned if I need to mutilate myself when I am with friends.

Picking up my own fragments and reassembling myself like a jigsaw puzzle to fit into the mould of what others deem to be sociable is getting to be quite a chore. So is repressing the desire to kick thoughtless buffoons.

All I know is I have to accept who I am, what I am capable of and what I am not, with all my neurosis, my obsessions and flaws. More than a 13 inches macbook air with 256 Gigs of flash drive upgraded with i7 processor, more than owning a complete set of Fellini or a copy of Ulysses signed by Joyce himself, I just want to be myself and  be comfortable in my own skin.

Just like Diet Cafe.

Diet Cafe
27, Jalan 3/101c, Cheras Business Centre,
Cheras, 56100
Kuala Lumpur

Tel: +6.03.91.30.17.00

Hours: Mon-Fri 10–12am; Sat-Sun 8–12am


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Unless stated otherwise, all the posts and food here is paid for by the Paranoid Android. He dose not receive any financial compensation for posting in this blog. The views expressed here are an opinion and as usual, taste is subjective and varies among people, time and mood as well! Please feel free to contact me at humanist dot philo at gmail dot com. Unless otherwise stated, the photos here belong to the owner of this blog. You are free to use it for any non commercial purpose. As courtesy, just drop me an email and credit the photo to the blog. Thanks for dropping by!

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