Poetry Sunday #3- School Holiday Night

School Holiday Night

 

Ten’ o clock at the 24-hour café

Ambient yellow lights and air-conditioning

Queues for overpriced coffee and cakes keep forming

 

An entourage of adults occupy the second longest table

Talking loudly over loudness from elsewhere

None of them have hearing aids or decorum

Their children huddled at one end of the longest table

Shrieking even louder at a smartphone

Their legs swinging amid bar-height furniture

At the other end of the table I shut my laptop

On my right my girlfriend types away unperturbed

I glare at the nuisance as I leave for a walk

 

Warm night air fills my heaving lungs

Up ahead streetlights flicker from a roadside park

Unused exercise machines flank the footpath

Short grass kissing their stainless steel legs

Where the grass ends barbed wire fences gleam

A large supermarket towers over park and road

Its ugly blue facade less discernible this hour

Its surroundings as quiet as its carpark empty

Bright white lights filter from its entrance

Giving away a lone man with a cigarette in his hand

June ’17 Earworm- “Soothing” by Laura Marling

When I listened to “Soothing” again recently- this time with the comfort of a quiet background and decent earphones- the epic track blew me away and left an earworm in my brain.

I first heard of Laura Marling in my car while listening to BFM (an English radio station in Kuala Lumpur that plays everything but Top-40) earlier this year. It was the latest single of her highly-acclaimed Semper Femina album, “Soothing”. The BFM deejay compared her with Radiohead, which is akin to comparing every good movie to The Godfather- a bit unimaginative. As I was concentrating on navigating through heavy traffic on a notorious road (you’ll be stuck forever if you do not focus), I did not give her music the consideration it deserved. But the music had enough going throughout the four minutes to leave a last impression on me. In that sense, Laura Marling does compare favourably to Radiohead. But Laura Marling is a songwriter first; Radiohead less so.

“Soothing” is a perfect song. Laura Marling delivers a seductive melody with deliciously vulnerable vocals. The lyrics go hand in hand with her vulnerability- it appears to be an a rejection of her ex in song- the lyrics are analysed by other listeners here (the salacious interpretation of “who touched the rim” is amusing).

What makes Soothing even better is the captivating instrumentation. It is a standout not only among the mainstream, but also among Laura Marling’s own catalogue. Her typical Joni Mitchell-like guitar work is replaced by a delicious bass line and ambient strings. The result is a cinematic aural landscape that compliments the soaring chorus. Laura Marling’s voice echoes out into a subtly ominous organ-led coda that allows the listener to ponder the weight of her impassioned words.

The song is moody but majestic. On Semper Femina, it serves as a strong opener which would probably stun fans who are more familiar with her lighter, occasionally Dylanesque songs. I do think it is her best song on Semper Femina, and one of the best of 2017. With this masterpiece in “Soothing”, Laura Marling has unwittingly thrown the gauntlet to the new generation of artists to craft songs that are melodically, musically and emotionally profound.

Check out the intriguing “Soothing” music video, which was directed by Laura Marling herself.

Tiger Thoughts: The Lament of a Night Owl

There is a lot of us out there. We identify with each other with little effort. We feel passionate and wronged about our plight. Yet, we do little to challenge the status quo which caters to the majority who are exactly like us but for this inevitable dichotomy. Ideally, we would like the world to accommodate us as fellow human beings but things are so set in stone that most of us are resigned to the inconvenient reality.

The above platitudes are applicable to any silently-oppressed people who belong to the unfortunate side of certain dichotomies: heterosexuals and homosexuals, religious and atheists, able and disabled. It goes without saying that some countries are more sensitive to these dichotomies than other. For example, the UK mandates all workplace to maintain a disabled-friendly toilet through its Equality Act while in Malaysia where I reside, a wheelchair user would struggle with the toilets in most commercial buildings throughout the tropical nation- I digress. As I contemplate how often everyone hears the sighs of the nocturnal and offer little more than a blink in return, it occured to me that perhaps the most silently-oppressed people in the world are night-owls.

The idea of working from 9 to 5 seems rather primitive- you work while the sun is up. Yet puzzlingly, in a post-electricity, post-globalisation era, mankind acquiesce, if not accept, such an anachronism. Granted, there are an increasing number of employers who do recognise the utility of flexible working hours, but that still appears to be a niche rather than a trend.

These days, sleep is trendy (for example, check out this Guardian article) and there is a correspondingly large volume of accessible research on any wh- questions one can think of on “sleep”. Seasonal articles on sleep (this was the big one in spring: The Purpose of Sleep? To Forget, Scientists Say) are as ubiquitous as articles on sex and diet. But what about features on the curse and struggles of being a night owl? Well, one cannot run article that could potentially rock the boat. It has to catch the attention of night owl readers without offering any radical ideas (Night Owls are smarter than those who go to bed and wake up early). “How dare you suggest something as unthinkable as flexible ideas! Stick to journalism!”

As a child, I was a lark. I can recall sleeping at 10 every night and waking up … some time in the morning. However, I did not become a night-owl immediately upon reaching adulthood. The transition from lark to owl took place between age 11 and 14. By 15, I was part of this significant minority (or are we in fact the silent majority).

At eleven, I realised that I was more productive/willing to work at night than in the morning. In the afternoon, I would not be interested in doing schoolwork having just returned from school. Instead, I would play computer games or play in the park. The seeds were truly planted when our schoolteachers started giving us an insurmountable amount of homework. This is a regular and banal occurrence as I went to school in Malaysia, not Finland (Why do Finnish pupils succeed with less homework?). I can still remember doing my Mandarin homework- which required us to look up the Dictionary on the thousands of alien characters and idioms- up until 2 am in the morning. I didn’t mind doing that as much as I do now. There are two reasons: One, Lite FM used to play more Elton John (whom I like) and not Taylor Swift (whom I like less). Two, I had an infinite amount of energy at 11, which seemed to vanish the second I entered high school.

In high school, I encountered two new problems that would irreversibly condemn me to owlhood:

Firstly, as mentioned earlier, I lost the boundless energy I had at eleven and could no longer live on 4 hours of sleep every day. This meant that I had to sleep at the earliest opportunity, which would be every afternoon after school. Daily naps were like heroin addiction. Falling asleep on a hot afternoon was a daily euphoria. Sleeping for 3 to 5 hours without any care in the world was utter bliss. And then comes the withdrawal syndrome when I wake up. I would be an empty shell. Languid and destroyed by sleep inertia. I would be unproductive for the rest of the afternoon. And this acedia would persist until late in the night or early in the morning. And the entire cycle would repeat.

Secondly, I have difficulty with sleeping early. And I mean this literally. If I managed to fall asleep at 9 or 10 pm, I would almost certainly wake up at 1 am. I have attempted this countless times throughout the past decade of my life in attempting to have a normal sleep cycle, and as sure as the sun would rise, I would wake up again at 1, or if I am lucky, 3. After years of experimenting with different sleep times, I have concluded that my body is not meant to rest before 11 pm and attempting to do so only results in waking up far too early.

Being a night owl is a manageable condition for a university student. Because the traditional method of assessment is through final examinations, I can get away with scoring a respectable grade even though my attendance at lectures and seminars are appalling. I also get around the typical morning examination schedules by not sleeping the night before. If I were to sleep, and that would be a very late time given my difficulties sleeping early, I would wake up tired and disorientated. It is easier to not sleep at all and rely on caffeine and internal adrenaline. Consequently, I got through college and university having not slept the night before for every single paper. Even the evening papers. And yes, evening papers were hell.

Work is less forgiving for the night owl. 9 to 5 (or in my experience, 9 to 11) is incredibly punishing for the night owl. I have adapted unsuccessfully to the rigorous working hours by catching power naps during lunch hour, but that requires immense mental effort and discipline. And I have learned that I am far more productive at 11 pm when it is all calm and quiet than at 3 pm. Unfortunately, because of the need to wake up early the next morning, I have rarely been able to utilise the 11 pm runner’s high.

Personally, I am most productive between 5 to 7 in the morning. Unfortunately, it is not practical to harness the potential from this time slot because of my difficulty with sleeping before 10 the night before. So, even if I do wake up at 5 on the back of 3 hours of sleep, I would almost certainly collapse in the afternoon.

Would I rather be a lark than a night owl? I would without missing a heartbeat. But sleep is one of the greatest challenges I have struggled with. I have overcome the difficulties of falling asleep numerous times in my life and I consider this a personal triumph, but the  greater issue of staying asleep remains. Is it possible to reconvert into a lark? There were a few times over the last year where I succeeded in sleeping at 11 and waking up at 7 over a few consecutive days, but the subsequent ease in which I relapsed to sleeping late due to not being able to sleep at 11 suggested that being an owl is by default. Also, I felt that the quality of sleep I was getting from 11 to 7 was not great. I woke up feeling somehow more tired than sleeping later. However, I cannot sustain 5 hours of sleep for more than a week as I will fall asleep.

This post is simply a lament of a hopeless night owl. There may be foolproof sleeping methods or plans out there for those who struggle with sleep that are reminiscent to diet plans for those who struggle with weight, but it is a tedious task to research into the science and to filter out the quacks. And Dr. Oz’s advice probably does not take into account the hot and humid nights in Kuala Lumpur. In my opinion, the best way to learn and improve one’s sleep is by a combination of knowledge and empiricism. It takes time, mental resolve and for one not to lose sleep over it.

KittyTiger has a new logo

The KittyTiger blog serves as an outlet for two like-minded creative individuals living in Kuala Lumpur (with radically different personalities and talents, however) to express themselves. Naturally, the blog needs a unique logo. As creative individuals, it is not always an elegant act to borrow (or pilfer) images from the internet. So what does one do when one suddenly wants a logo but has limited skills in graphic design and photoshop? One draws of course! The above logo was hastily drawn in 5 minutes. It has a bit of an amateurish feel, but it’s better that way, cuz it’s unique.

Possibly the best Fish and Chips in Kuala Lumpur

Fresco @ Intermark

As someone who loves eating fish and who has tried some of the best fish and chips in England, including the no. 1 fish and chips joint in London according to Trip Advisor, I consider myself a qualified amateur reviewer when it comes to this English dish.

Fresco is a deli-like restaurant annexed to Jaya Grocer on the lower concourse floor of The Intermark. One of the memorable things about Fresco is that you can buy a fresh fish at Jaya Grocer and walk a few steps to Fresco and have its staff cook it for you. I have never tried that service because fresh fish in Jaya Grocer is extortionate. However, I have tried the Fish and Chips, which at the time of writing sells for RM19.90, and it is the best Fish and Chips in Kuala Lumpur. And by the best, I mean it is perfect and unrivalled. Here’s a breakdown of the perfect Fish and Chips.

The Fish

Fresco uses flounder for the fish. This is not common: English joints use cod, haddock or plaice for the dish; Malaysian restaurants and hawkers use salmon for the upmarket version and frozen dory for the generic good ol’. The flounder fillet does not taste frozen to me (sadly, the fish fillets served in the majority of Malaysian restaurants have that awful frozen taste), and the texture is excellent in its own right. Fresco serves a generous portion of two fillet. I believe the batter is tempura and not breaded. Fish is evenly cooked and delicious.  Perfect.

The Chips

The Chips are very well seasoned- I can see a bit of rosemary on the chips and this is a huge turn-on. The chips also have a bit of skin on, which is also a huge turn on. Crispy with right amount of salt. Not too greasy. Perfect x2.

The Coleslaw and Salad

The coleslaw is probably from the deli section. The coleslaw is light, crunchy and sweet. Salad is inoffensively fresh. Perfect x3.

The Mayonnaise

The mayonnaise is really tasty and has good consistency. I cannot tell if the restaurant made the mayonnaise itself or if it is using a premium brand, but it is probably not your average Heinz. I usually eat my fries naked, but I asked for extra mayo for my fries at Fresco.

The Mushed Peas

I have had countless fish and chips meals in Malaysia since being introduced to “Western Food” at around age 7, but never once did my fish and chips have mushed peas. Peas, yes. But mushed peas? No. Not even in expensive fish and chips that range between RM30 to RM50. So imagine my surprise when my RM20 Fresco Fish and Chips came with a generous serving of mushed peas! The mushed peas were flavourful and fresh. Perfect x∞.

Perfect for its price

Fresco’s Fish and Chips is the best Fish and Chips I have had in Malaysia. And that is taking into account the other more expensive Fish and Chips I have had over the years. I have had Fish and Chips at Fresco several times, and the dish is pretty consistent. If you are about to nominate a competitor to Fresco’s, please ensure that your nominee’s dish has mushed peas. Also, there may be a fine-dining restaurant that serves fish and chips using ultra-premium ingredients (Bluefin Tuna fillet?)- but do bear in mind that fish and chips is a commoner’s dish. It is meant to be simple and delicious celebration of fish. And that is precisely what Fresco’s Fish and Chips is.

Fresco @ The Intermark is at 348, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur. This is a recommendation, not a paid review. Hope the quality and the price remains the same as at the time of writing.