The road to my grandmother’s house is lined with farming and fishing villages. House after house, prayer hall after prayer hall rush past, a never-ending train of mute, box-shaped olive green and purple coaches. There are quick glimpses of a child or two engaged in play. Then the ground gradually begins to sink. After a time only the roofs are visible – close little clusters of earthy eaves peeking over the road side, hiding the homes of invisible people. And then quite without warning, with quite a grand flourish, swaths of green-gold paddy fields explode into sight, opening up beyond the rooftops, rolling out into the vast horizon, further and further from the speeding car, the road,…then screeching to a halt at the feet of a quiet row of coconut trees bent gracefully over Lilliputian houses.

I remember being a little girl and looking out for a glimpse of sea between the dark green clumps of trees. I believe I’ve seen it. But as I grow older, as visits become less frequent, sometimes I think I imagined them – a childish confusion of real life with years of disappearing into the pages of Enid Blyton and Narnia.

Each time I get in the car to my grandmother’s, each time the sun-drenched landscape streams past like painted canvas beating about in the wind, I try to remember to seek them out, these elusive little glittering patches framed by rooftops and tree trunk and childish dreams. But I don’t know for sure – maybe they were never there. Or maybe being an adult means forgetting to pay attention.

To break the humdrum at the office, my friends colleagues and I strive daily to find ways to annoy the heck out of one another. We decided to make a list for posterity’s sake. Do not try this at home…try this at the office (duh).

Here goes evil:

How to be Obnoxious in the Workplace

1) When conversing, point finger very closely at colleague’s face at every opportunity.

2) Say “Woah woah woah!!” with palms raised and turned outward at every remotely self-complimentary statement someone makes.

3) Constantly remind colleague of that one embarrassingly enthusiastic remark made when he was a newbie. E.g. “Oh yeah, ’cause you’re competitive.”

4) Use bosses’ first names and vague elaborations when describing a work activity that, by chance, only you and said boss are attending to give impression of exclusivity. E.g. “So [Boss name] and I have this thing this weekend…”

5) Mimic colleagues’ oft-expressed catchphrases and apply out of context.

6) Recycle out-of-context management aphorisms enthusiastically at every possible unsuitable occasion. Where possible, get it wrong. E.g. “You know what they say about “ASSUME”?… There’s no I in team!!”

7) Replace clear articulation of anything at all with the word “thingy”. Especially suitable for giving driving directions.

8) Make dirty jokes in presence of nice-guy colleague, then point and remark loudly when said colleague exhibits embarrassed reaction.

9) Go AWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW really emphatically and over-affectionately whenever said nice-guy colleague makes a genuinely kind remark.

10) Hover silently behind any colleague deep in concentration on the computer screen. Lean in abruptly, point at screen, say “What’s that?” then casually walk away.

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The author would like to thank Mardhiah and Hui Lin for contributing to this report…and Shazwan for contributing to real-life events.

How serene the world looks from behind the windowpane! A big tangle of orange and black disrupted only by stalwart buildings determinedly rising from the mess…tiny cars that weave in and out of sight, sleepily tracing bejeweled, haphazard paths of streetlights strung together like lanterns at a garden party.

But it is a battle of the senses, of seeing against believing, because my mind knows – Fast cars look sedate, dark enclaves look small, sounds drown in silence, only from such distance.

Should I lean out and sweep through the cool silken air with outstretched arms, I would feel the hushed intensity, like a boiling kettle on the verge of commencing its plaintive wail. And then a honk here, a thud there, a revving far away, a light goes out, and the kettle huffs and sighs into silence as the flame is quenched just when the kettle squeaks and the window is pulled firmly shut.

I recently attended a workshop to discuss how financial services providers could contribute to making the world a better place for persons with disabilities. The first day started typically enough. Icebreakers. Bla bla. Then we were split into groups – by design, each group one person with a disability. Mine had a man who is blind.

And so began a week of revelations.

I had never known a blind person in my entire life. Our groupmate works as a counselor in the Welfare Department. He takes the bus and then the train to his office every morning. He has a wife, also blind, and three children. “I have too many blind friends, we tend to hang around another,” he said. None of his children, however, are blind. How does he explain blindness to his sighted children? “They kind of pick it up as they go along. But the danger is that sometimes I may accidentally tread on my infant daughter.”

In the course of our group work, we had to carry out little social experiments to understand firsthand how (in)accessible our environment is to a person with disabilities, one of which was to take a walk through the mall with our blind groupmate to carry out basic financial transactions. Here is a map of our journey (Click to enlarge):

Journey Map

In my 3 years of work in…developmental stuff…I have grown accustomed to collecting information from a distance – research papers, surveys, interviews, lots of Googling. The “needs” of “underserved segments” – rural communities, poor urban households, “the disabled”, paddy farmers – are curated, and then the fragments compacted as tightly as possible into Powerpoint slides. We come across terms like target groups. Clients. Customers. Beneficiaries.

Looking at our blind groupmate squarely in the face, accompanying him on a casual walk to carry out the most mundane of errands, the word “beneficiaries” suddenly seemed kind of awkward. Is this man whom I have been so liberally labelling a beneficiary? Beneficiaries…as if we so magnanimously granted them a benefit. As if they owe us for merely providing them a walkway with guiding blocks so they can make it to the LRT station in one piece without having to ask some grumpy commuter for help. Us, the kind benefactors who made such ill-suited schools and malls and restrooms in the first place, and then compensate by concocting euphemistic names like “OKU” (Is it disabled person or person with disabilities?), applying tender adjectives like “special”, pasting stickers of stickmen in wheelchairs on doors…But then forgetting to teach service staff how to converse with an “OKU” without fidgeting uncomfortably or trying to avoid eye contact (And with a blind man, no less! How ironic!).

Now if the world were built by blind men, if society was 85% disabled and 15% able, as opposed to the reverse reality, things just wouldn’t have been designed this way. Isn’t that so fascinating? It never pays being the voiceless minority. Most certainly not in this country.

Age is not to be devalued to being JUST a number. That it is a number is of such importance, because our days are numbered. And if our days are numbered then age is a number on the way to the end of that finite series of numbers.

And, knowing that and possessing perhaps a bit of self-worth, inevitably leads to an avalanche of self-examining questions – am I a good enough person? Have I read enough? Am I wise? Am I too proud? Should I be more forgiving? Am I loved or am I loving enough? Am I happy? Am I too jealous, too angry, too impatient? Am I still dreaming or have have I really even begun at all? Will I ever get anywhere if I keep on with my careless, procrastinatory habits? Am I a crap writer? What can I do about being a crap writer? Why does my neck and lower back ache, should I begin to exercise? What do I know? Am I dumb? What happened to my resolve to become an erudite smart aleck, all-knowing on the ways of the world, with a side ability to sing like an angel?

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