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Mar. 8th, 2010

Valentine's Weekend, Day 3: Chili Challenge

Hello, Friends!

There are three kinds of Thai restaurants in Hong Kong:

1. The kind that serves tempered flavours to suit local palates (usually found in shopping malls);
2. The kind that charges you too much for too little (usually found in Central );
3. The authentic kind (usually found Kowloon City).

Thai restaurants in Kowloon City are as real as real ever gets. But Kowloon City can never offer an authentic sense of scale and grandeur, even if you close your eyes while sipping a perfect Tom Yum. Open your eyes and you're surrounded by car repair shops.

But enough complaining. If you therefore wish to enjoy an honest-to-goodness Thai meal for cheaply, fly thee off Bangkok without haste.

***

For a chili lover like me, there's nothing more frustrating than a menu that roars with lip-smacking chili ratings but disappoints with dishes that hardly cause a whimper.

And so it wasn't without a small amount of trepidation that Chris and I trekked to Bo.lan, an upscale Thai restaurant. Especially after I was informed upon reservation that only the seven-course degustation menu would be served for Valentine's dinner.

***

Bo.lan is tucked into a residential soi somewhere on Sukhumvit. The moment I saw the restaurant's signage, I was filled with a sinking feeling. It was sponsored by "Jacob's Creek," an Aussie supermarket wine.

I wasn't any more comforted when we got to the reception desk. Our table wasn't ready, and the young receptionist was a nervous basket case. "Never mind," I calmed myself down. There's no use throwing a diva hissy fit, like some high-maintenance gay boys who behave as though the world owes them everything. Besides, neither Chris nor myself have ever been on a proper Valentine's date. What's the of point ruining our first time with a foul temper?

While waiting, we were served a bowl of sexed-up rice crispies flavoured with salt, sugar, galangal and spices.
 
 


***

The meal started off promisingly enough - with an amuse bouche that instantly set my entire mouth on fire.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there - the lowest point being having been served a chilled "pink shiraz" from Hua Hin.

What was particularly laughable was an appetizer labeled "For Him" and "For Her" - no doubt a valiant effort to cash in on Valentine's Day fuzziness. It was Chris who first saw it on the menu and wondered aloud who would be served which. It would take a server with just the right balance of cheek and discretion to ask a homosexual couple what they'd like. Our server simply plunked down the dishes without further preamble. Chris got served the dish "For Her" and I got the dish "For Him."

I happily snapped photos.

*** 

The meal - from the enormous portions to the utterly obscene dessert served on a hilariously lengthy plate - tried too hard to hard to give "value for money." Sad, because the restaurant was actually beautifully appointed and obviously attracted the local hi-so. In fact, after we were seated, several couples had to be turned away because there simply wasn't any more provisions left for walk-in diners.

***

Thai restaurants in Bangkok serve food that's almost always uniformly good. But still, there are three, distinct kinds:

1. The kind you find along the streets (usually frequented by locals and the late-night party set);
2. The kind you find along the tourist belt (usually with dumbed-down versions of only the most recognizable Thai dishes);
3. The kind intended for gullible tourists and expats with deep pockets (usually painfully hip and stylish, nothing more).

Thai food is to the East what Italian cuisine is to the West - down-to-earth, cheap to make, the kind that your nanna makes best. Any tourist that falls into the pretense of hoity-toity Thai food deserves to be taken advantage of. You'd be stupid to pay a premium for Thai cuisine here. After all, this is Bangkok. Where better to find every street littered with an embarrassment of tasty Thai treats?

It's not as though you were in New York, London, or worse - Hong Kong.

***
 
"What was most memorable to you about the meal?" I asked Chris as we lay in a post-dinner vegetative state on the couch.

He answered: "Excess."


With Affection,
Astron

Mar. 6th, 2010

Valentine's Weekend, Day 2: Avatar

Hello, Friends!

Chris saw "Avatar" with his friends in Byron Bay the same week it came out. Almost two months later, I, along with every creature that lived under a rock, still hadn't seen it. Not my fault. It's hard enough to plan a few hours ahead; every single cinema from Lo Wu to Lantau was booked weeks in advance.

And so when Chris and I got to Bangkok, I made it a personal mission to see the blockbuster in Paragon's badass cinema.

***

I should have learned by now that all movies in Paragon's IMAX cineplex start way later than scheduled. It's annoying. It didn't help that Leona Lewis' "I See You" was on loop. By the 48th time it played, I was ready to pull the hair from my eyebrows.

***

The movie was awesome - blue skin, floating mountains, braided hair and all that. The image of a mystic tree as a sort-of supercomputer that  automatically downloads and stores all Na'vi memory was pretty darn cool, I thought.

Until I got hit with a memory of watching Hanna-Barbera's "Smurfs" with my cousins. Until I discovered that it takes barely four hours to get to Hunan, where the real Hallelujah Mountains are. Until I realized that I have always liked braids on men - I used to play "Street Fighter" on Sega 'til my eyeballs turned white; Dee Jay was my favourite character. Until I remembered uni lectures on Carl Jung's "reservoir of the experiences of humanity," a.k.a. the "collective unconscious."

James Cameron is an enterprising thief.
 
***
 
"How did you like seeing the movie the second time around?" I asked Chris.

"I enjoyed it better this time," he replied.

"Why?"

"IMAX," he reasoned.

"Hmp," I pouted. "I thought you might have enjoyed it better the second time 'coz you were seeing it with me."

"Of course. That, too" he swiftly recovered.

We burst out laughing.

"Donuts?" Chris cocked an eye at me.

"Yes, please!"
 
***

Our Friday night ritual consisted of vegging on the couch - Chris with the TV remote control and myself with Imogen Edwards-Jones' trashy novel, "Fashion Babylon." In another life, in another time, I would have been doing push ups or exfoliating my face to get ready for a wicked night in DJ Station - it's a meat market where you're likely to rot if you're not up to the impressive "industry standard" set by Thai boys.

But I was quite content then; I didn't feel a need to do anything else.

Suddenly, Chris got up.

"Here," he tossed me a red suede pouch before returning to the couch. "Happy Chinese New Year."

"Thanks," I said, confused at the gesture. Were we meant to exchange lai sees?

I hurriedly untied the string.


Out fell a pack of Oxfam's fair trade cashew nuts.

"Aww, thanks. How sweet of you," I teased him.

"Open it; I'm hungry," he deadpanned.

We wordlessly shared the bag of nuts whilst settling into a movie on HBO: "Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa." 

At that moment, a vision of our manic, high-octane Hong Kong lives flashed in my mind. I quickly shook the image off and directed my gaze, instead, towards the window, onto the widely scattered lights of Bangkok's skyline. I was thinking:

Maybe I should ensconce myself in bioluminescence, in frenzied incantation. Like in Avatar. And then in one magical, Big Bang-esque instant, my Hong Kong existence would be unified with this idyllic Bangkok escape.

I shook my head and smiled inwardly, snuggling closer to Chris. I willed myself to focus on the cartoon.


With Affection,
Astron

Feb. 28th, 2010

Super Size Kee

Hola, Amigas!

"Size 6," Tina guessed, regarding me with critical eyes as I sashayed down Kee Club's foyer to greet her. I had on a fitted white jacket and high-waist palazzo pants in black brocade, both by Emmanuel Lejeune. I felt like a million bucks.

"Uh-hm," I confirmed.

"We're the same size?" Tina half-gasped as we air-kissed each others' powdered cheeks.

"I wore your baby blue latex minidress to the 7th anniversary party of Dim Sum," I reminded her. "But none of your shoes would fit me."

"Size 39," she explained.

"Size 43," I sighed, reminded yet again that scoring a pair of quality drag queen shoes is next to impossible in this city.

"Here, try these on," Tina offered, peeling off her peep toes, as though taking perverse pleasure knowing that they wont fit me, any way.

"Well," I shrugged, removing my right boot. Why not, if only for a laugh. After all, we're just in Kee Club; the nice folks are always discreet and tolerant of eccentric behaviour. In fact, I think it's encouraged. I endeavoured to squeeze my toes into Tina's shoe.

"It doesn't fit," I feigned nonchalance. But really - my foot, silk stockings notwithstanding, looked shockingly manly beside Tina's dainty footwear.

"You're the ugly stepsister!!!" she shrieked, gleefully snapping photos of my Cinderella moment.

***

27 February, 2010.

The cream of the pink glitterati descended en masse onto Kee Club for the gala after party of Chi Heng Foundation's "A Single Man" charity premiere.

Spotted: Mr. Gay HK 2009, Rick Twombley, accompanied by his usual coterie of impossibly gorgeous creatures; irrepressible columnist, Johannes Pong (all together now: "Bitch, please."); HKLGFF Director and DS Magazine publisher, Joe Lam; BluInc Media's charming maestro, Olivier Burlot; Les Peches' Betty Grissoni & Abby Lee; Fridae.com's Nigel Collett and partner, Austin; man-about-town, Doug White; plus a sea of other namedroppables. Manila fashion fixtures, Mannix Peña and Ricci Chan, crossed over for delightful cameos.

People looked good in their "Black & White" outfits; some deviants flouted the dress code and were consequently dismissed by the savvy paps. Hello, didn't you see the film? Nothing is ever out of place!

"Just follow the drag queen around and keep taking photos!" an editor barked at her photographer.

"Thank you," I smiled sweetly, both flattered and flustered. Fabiola doesn't have the same marquee wattage as Coco Pop, Lovely Cox or La Chiquitta just yet - and the attendant confidence that comes with celebrity.

I inhaled and channeled my inner Tyra Banks. Fake it 'til you make it.

I worked the room and left a trail of flashbulbs in my wake.

No apologies for being a starlet.

***

It was hi-so bedlam on Kee's main level from midnight to 2AM. Difficult to imagine that barely three hours ago, Coco Pop, Emmanuel and myself practically had the entire club to ourselves. Softly piped Nu Disco and the elegant rustling of make-up brushes were the only ambient sounds. Conversation is impossible whilst one is putting one fake eye lashes.

"I'd like you to try something else on," Emmanuel suggested, digging into his trolley. "It will make you look more expensive than that black top you fitted in my atelier. I just hope this fits..."

I winced as soon as I saw it. "Ooh, it's gonna be tight." I gamely took my shirt off, anyway. Why complain? A couturier rarely services a drag queen personally, unless her name is Ru Paul. "No bra?"

"No bra," Emmanuel confirmed.

The jacket was so tiny, Emmnanuel practically had to pour me into it.

"Uhm, can you hold your breath for a few seconds," he grunted as he wrestled with the buttons. There must have been more than twenty, which allowed the garment to maintain its silhouette whilst accommodating my form. Thankfully, the palazzo pants had a high waist and so functioned as a sort of corset that held all of me together. I felt like jelly in a glass jar.

"Now, put your shoes on."

I regarded my skyscraper boots with great trepidation but followed Emmanuel, nonetheless.

"Beautiful," he pronounced.

"I can't breathe," I declared. "AT ALL."

"It's fashion," he explained plainly. "It's not meant to be comfortable. It's meant to look good."

***

Coco had just finished performing to Whitney Houston's "Million Dollar Bill." Onstage or off, the paps couldn't get enough of her.

It was 2.30AM.

Coco's every little move, every little utterance, was still being recorded for mainstream consumption. Hong Kong is blessed to have such a charismatic personality representing drag culture.

"Don't forget Fabiola," she admonished the paps playfully.

"Oh, please! Don't even look at me!" I protested. I was busy loving Sasa's wet wipes - an efficient and cheap solution that lifts make-up off with one swipe.

That's Fabiola – a gossamer fantasy, a fleeting fancy. Blissfully retired by night’s end as a pile of well used make-up wipes. The rest is kept in a familiar, chocolate brown Nike satchel.

Just as well. After all, It's James, not me, who eventually re-emerges into the strangely familiar comfort of another typical, drunken Hong Kong weekend.




I Remane,
Fabiola
xoxo

Feb. 19th, 2010

Valentine's Weekend Day 1: Manic Macau

Hello, Friends!

"Manic" would be putting it lightly. I had to send Mr. Gay Hong Kong off off to Oslo, finalize Valentine's and Chinese New Year at FINDS, tie loose ends with the 65th anniversary of Thomas the Tank Engine, AND zip to a 5PM Cotai Jet to Macau to catch an off-tangent flight to Bangkok.

My head was throbbing and my heart was beating so fast, coffee would have killed me.

I needed a burger and a beer.

"We have 20 minutes ," Chris warned as I ducked into 7-11 to grab two cold cans of San Miguel. I hurriedly tooted my purchases with my Octopus Card, after which I made a dash towards McDonald's.

"What do you want," I asked Chris, but I really wasn't asking. It was my way of saying that it's useless arguing with me. By hook or by crook I was going to have my burger.

"Anything," he sighed, looking at his wrist watch.

"McCrispy Chicken Fillet Burger and Double Quarter Pounder, please!" I snapped at the clueless crew member.

Toot! Paid, done.

We zipped up the escalators towards the bridge. We made it onto our vessel with three minutes to spare.

I popped my beer open, flipped the other can to Chris, and ripped my teeth into my burger.

"Cheers," I said, with a mouthful of beef patty.

I was starving.

***


Traveling through Macau is nasty, especially after we've been so spoilt by our Airport Express. You may leave Hong Kong Island just an hour before your flight and still make it to Chek Lap Kok with enough time to powder your nose and / or eat caviar.

Even the Cotai Jet's no escape from hardcore gamblers with glazed looks, eyeballs rolling like the rotating bits in a slot machine. Unpretty.

I slept soundly throughout the ferry ride.

***


For a city that makes an obscene amount of money more than Vegas, I expected more from Macau's international airport. Instead, I was greeted with haphazard queues, substandard restaurants and harsh, fluorescent lighting. Eew. Even more shocking, there was a notable absence of a book store that sells the usual airport trash that makes one willingly forget about the less-than-pleasant environs.

Thankfully, there was ~one~ shelf that valiantly held books amongst rows and rows of cigarettes and disgusting chocolate covered macadamia nuts. The first book I sighted was an attractive paperback called "The Joys of Self Love." Right. Promising.

I wasn't hopeful at all, until a vulgar blurb caught my eye: "Fashion Babylon has supplanted The Devil Wears Prada as the fashionista's trashy read of choice."

I grabbed the thick volume and never turned back.



Chris was perusing the pages of something called New Moon. An image of a shirtless Taylor Lautner flashed for a hot moment before my eyes.

"Take it," I admonished.

***


Our flight was delayed for 45 minutes, which was a bummer. Worse, when we finally got into the plane, we were seated behind a boisterous Portuguese family that enjoyed playing with the seat's recliner. I was in aeronautical hell.

Fortunately, I had my book to buoy my spirits. And it looked like Chris was enjoying his book, too. "Engaging," he described it begrudgingly.

Right.

***


"At least Immigrations will be deserted when we reach Bangkok," I reasoned, after checking that it'd be half past one in the morning when reach Suvarnabhumi.

Wrong.

Seems like half the world decided to be in Bangkok the same weekend as Chris and myself. The lines were kilometric and were moving very leisurely. I was officially grumpy. I whipped out my trashy paperback and tuned out the hoi polloi - never mind that I, myself, had arrived through a budget carrier. Thank you, Air Asia.

***


I was stinky and sweaty by the time Chris and I arrived at our borrowed condo on Sukhumvit. Ed's place never fails to cheer me up - intelligent appropriation of space, stylish decor, plenty of air.

Chris popped open a can of Singha; I made a beeline for the bathroom for a much needed shower. What I saw cheered me up instantly:




(C)lean on me
When you're not strong
I'll be your friend
I'll help you carry on...

God bless gay boys and their idiosyncratic products.

I was instantly uplifted.


With Affection,
Astron

Nov. 17th, 2009

MGHK in the media

Hello, Friends!

Mr. Gay Hong Kong, which I co-produce, is in today's edition of HK's most venerable English language broadsheet, the South China Morning Post.



MGHK has also - funnily enough - reached Shanghai, Guangzhou, and beyond!

Photobucket



With Affection,
Astron

Nov. 16th, 2009

Mr. Gay Hong Kong 2009 - The Journey Begins

Hello, Friends!

As the Airport Express approached Kowloon Station, I cast my boyfriend, Chris, a nervous look. We had just arrived back from Beijing and I was to jump right into the Mr. Gay Hong Kong pictorials at the W Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. I had butterflies in my stomach - a mixture of excitement and nervous anticipation.

Would the candidates get along? Would we have more dropouts? Will pictorials go smoothly?

Noel wasn't picking his phone up, which made me even more nervous. He must just be busy, I thought, deciding to ring Joe, instead. Joe Lam, publisher of Dim Sum Magazine, is Mr. Gay Hong Kong's resident stylist.

"Hi, Joe. It's James," I greet him.

"James Gabbana!" Joe greeted me back boisterously, referring to the butchered pronunciation of my family name at the recent Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival fundraiser.

I sigh with relief and laugh at the inside joke. Joe sounded like he was in good spirits, so the pictorials must be going well.

"I'm almost at the W Hotel," I say.

"OK, I'll send someone to come down and pick you up," he promised.

After about three minutes of waiting in the lobby, my attention is caught by the pinging of the lift. I turn around and see Noel coming out of the lift with a big smile. I am instantly reassured.

"We're almost done," he beams, "ahead of schedule. We're finished with the pool shots and the bedroom photos. We've only got the head shots left to do, and then we're done."

We share a hug, after which he quickly gives me a briefing on the elevator ride up to the suite where pictorials were being held.

"One boy has quit," Noel says matter-of-factly.

"What?!" I exclaim.

"He had issues with the pictorial. We had a good conversation about it. He doesn't feel as though he's ready for it."

"Wow..." I exhale. "We've got nothing to say to that...."

As the doors open to the suite, I am greeted by a beautiful sight. The suite was huge, and I see that W's staff had graciously prepared a snack trolley for the team - replete with water, orange juice, coffee and some fresh cut fruits. Later, more coffee and cookies would be sent up to us.

"Hi guys!" I greet everyone. All the candidates looked very good. Robin Lomas, Senior Stylist at Paul Gerrard Hair+Beauty, was trimming 's Rick's hair. Van Tengga, our young photographer, was taking Jason's head shot. Gilbert was sprawled on a beanie, reading a magazine. Billy was by the window, also reading. Joe and a friend were playing a game of checkers. In the adjacent room, Lata Pamnani, our make-up expert, was finishing up on Ziggy, who held up two shirts. "Black or white?"

"Black," I reply without much hesitation. "I like the sequins on the shirt. Nice texture."

Noel immediately drew my attention to the sheaf of papers he was holding up. "Jamesy, have a look at my designs for the Grand Finale."

While we went over Noel's drafts, I my eyes are drawn towards the handsome young man playing checkers with Joe. "That's him," Noel nodded quietly towards the boy's direction. Noel showed me some of the boy's photos from the poolside pictorial earlier in the day (the boys wore sexy swimming trunks from Private Structure), and they were, indeed, stunning.

"What a waste that he has quit," I thought to myself. Still, joining Mr. Gay Hong Kong takes extraordinary commitment - a decision that must be well-formed within each individual candidate. "Maybe next year, or the year after," I shrug with a smile towards Noel. We're not giving up on that boy.

"Staff photos," Van yelled.

I groaned, checking my appearance in the mirror. I had "airplane travel" written all over me - a frumpy sweatshirt, unstyled hair, face unshaven, and dry skin from a premature winter in Beijing. Nonetheless, I jumped in front of Van's camera. Meanwhile, Noel asked Lata to dust some make-up on his face. "Not fair," I yell. Still, Van clicked away. He got my shot within five frames.

The final shot Van had to take was the candidates' group photo. Decked in stylish Spy Henry Lau shirts and black H&M trousers, the boys looked like real gentlemen - stars. I was beaming with pride. After Van got his shot, Joe announced: "That's a wrap!"

Noel gathered the candidates and the production team around for a meeting. His first order of business was explaining one candidates' departure, which Noel did very frankly. "You're all here out of your own will and we're very happy to welcome yo to the fold. However, now that we have begun this journey, perhaps you realize how serious it is. Next week will be our Press Party. A lot of attention will be focused on you guys."

"Which makes your commitment to join this pageant even more remarkable," I rejoin. "There's a lot of time involved in the preparations, and we'll need an extraordinary amount of patience from you."

"The shoot went very well today," Joe shared. "No drama."

"Which is a big kudos to you, guys. You did a terrific job," Robin stressed.

On that note, we ended the day. We tidied up the suite and said our Thank You to Ms. Ellen So, W's superb Duty Manager. Noel, Joe, Van and myself piled into a cab back to Central, carrying shopping bags overflowing with clothes from the day's shoot. More light and laughter ensue inside the taxi until we all get dropped off on Queen's Road.

Two days later, I receive an e-mail from CNN requesting for the candidates' photos for a special Mr. Gay Hong Kong article on CNNGo.com.

This flight has departed. There's no turning back.



With Affection,
Astron


Oct. 25th, 2009

HKLGFF @ KEE

Hello, Friends!

I recently performed at the fund raising party for the Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (HKLGFF), which is organized by my good friend, Dim Sum Magazine publisher, Joe Lam.

I wondered, "How bad could it be to kit out my vocal chords yet again?"

The last time I sang in front of an audience was at my sister Teri's wedding. But that doesn't count because friends and relatives are practically obliged to be appreciative. Or else.

So I told Joe I'd be happy to do it.

Joe had the wonderful idea to make me sing pop hits, but to twist the gender references in the lyrics to suit the occasion. Fortunately, Peter Lally, my 70 year-old pianist, was adamant that he'd only play standards. (Obviously, obstinacy came with age.) Peter got his way. Lucky for me because I like singing standards, anyway. I couldn't imagine myself singing "Bleeding Love" or "Disturbia."

The soiree was held at the super swanky Kee Club. Marc David, who runs the club, explained early on that the in-house sound system wasn't built to support live musical acts. There weren't any provisions for an equalizer suitable for singing; neither did Peter have the jack needed to link the keyboard to the speakers. 



"Are you nervous?" Chris stroked my hand.

"No," I slowly sipped from my glass of pinot grigio, enjoying Kee's house pour. "I'm done being nervous. I just wanna sing now."

And then Dean and Dan Caten (of dsquared fame) arrived.

"James, you're on in two minutes," Bryan Chan (a.k.a. Coco Pop) yelled above the din.

I emptied my glass of wine in one swig.
 


I sang "Someone To Watch Over Me," "Dream A Little Dream," "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," and "Come Fly With Me."

Listening back to yourself is always a pain. There are always things you wish you could have done differently.

But I'm happy (relieved, really) that the crowd was hospitable enough and seemed to go along for the ride.



With Affection,
Astron


Oct. 6th, 2009

Enter the Dragon

Hello, Friends!

Chris and I were scheduled to ascend Taiwan's highest peak, Yushan, in the first two weeks of of November. That is, before a recent barrage of storms battered the island and wiped the nature trails away. Ignorant to the fact that our travel itinerary has been thrown in limbo, Chris decided to whip me into shape for what he had planned to be several days of trail walking in Taiwan.

Our warm-up walk was the popular Dragon's Back, "only" eight kilometers long. Peanuts, I told myself. I cycle twice that distance in the gym while watching Kylie Kwong's cooking show.


When we got to the starting point, I was encouraged by a smiling cartoon of a dragon on a signpost.

It was deceptive.

The trail began with meandering ascents and descents, which alternated very quickly. There were far too many steps, instead of gentle slopes. Within five minutes, I had a side stitch. Within ten minutes, my quads were burning. It didn't help that, along the way, we encountered a lot of geriatrics who seemed to be having an easier time than myself. "Excuse me," said an old timer, as he sped ahead of me.

"Stop," I pleaded, grabbing Chris as we reached one of the peaks. "Rest, please."

"Okay," he acquisced, leading me to a wooden bench. He dug into his backpack and energetically attacked a sandwich. I tried to eat, too, knowing full well that my body needed the energy. But my throat, parched raw from huffing and puffing, didn't quite take to swallowing dry bread. I finished my bottle of Gatorade, instead.


The view from the peak was exhilarating. I've grown accustomed to overcrowded high rises and the metronomic hum of construction where we live, in Sheung Wan. But up there was so much space. I would happily drag the next person who complains that, "Hong Kong is so small!" up to Dragon's Back.

Still, I was quietly proud that we finished the walk in two hours, which was half an hour shorter than Chris' book, "Hiking All In One," suggests.

As we approached the end of the trail, we were welcomed by the smell of meats gently grilling over charcoal. "Yum," I inhaled, my tummy grumbling from not having had breakfast.

"Lunch now or later?" Chris cocked an eyebrow at me as I eyed the meats hungrily.

"Later," I replied, forcing myself to walk away. The beach beckoned. Big Wave Bay - the reward at the end of the trail.



Leaving the camera on timer sucks. Unknowing folks innocently enter your frame, and you are not quite sure, either, when the shot has finally been taken.

Chris and I ended up having fish and chips at the beach because I was too lazy to make the walk back up to the barbecue place. Beside us, a couple of beautiful Eurasian kids tucked into sloppy cheese burgers. The boys' father, a skinny Frenchman, quietly chewed on a chicken wrap, while the mum, a waifish Chinese, daintily nibbled on pork skewers from the barbecue place. The aroma of the meat's charred goodness taunted me as I dutifully did my best to ignore the happy family. I proceeded to drown my big, fat chips in ketchup and hungrily dug in. 

Unlike South Bay Beach and Middle Bay, there were hardly any Speedos in Big Wave Bay. Board shorts were de rigueur. There were gay boys around, to be sure, but even they had been pragmatic enough to observe the beach's culture. In my teeny Arena swimming trunks, I collapsed onto my beach towel in embarrassment.

The pressure in my left ear started to bug me. "I'm going for a dip," I told Chris, hoping that the salt water would help ease the dull ache.

Powerful waves and tiny swimming trunks don't go together. The curls would hurl me forward, my rubbery legs providing little support. As the heavy tides retreated back, I'd be pulled into the water once again and dooown my swimming trunks would go. I needed both hands to keep the waistband up, lest I expose myself unnecessarily to the hordes of squealing kids.

When I finally made it out of the water, I flopped in a heap onto my towel.

"Let's leave soon," I pleaded, trying not to sound too much like a baby about the pressure in my ear and my sore head.

We passed by a chemist for some ear drops on our way home.

"I had no idea you were feeling so poorly," Chris apologized, administering the medicine while I lay limply, like overcooked pak choy, on the couch.

"I was okay when we started," I reassured him feebly. "I was excited to do the walk."

However, I might have bitten off more than I can chew. After several recent occasions when I've had to wear stilettos, putting on a pair of trail walking shoes on a proper nature hike - for "only" eight kilometers - shocked my system so badly.

***


 

The next Friday saw Chris and myself faced with another sort of Dragon's Back - the cocktail kind.

       

My friend, Phil Oakden, General Manager of the gorgeously restored Marine Police Headquarters - renamed "Hullett House" - graciously invited us for a pre-opening dinner at "The Parlour," a restaurant within the new design-led heritage hotel. The drink was a delicious poison of muddled dragon fruit and lime, topped up with champagne. It glowed from within, like dragon's breath. Before Chris and I knew it, we had had three each of the potent elixir. And by the end of our delicious dinner, Hullett House's Graphic Designer, Alvin Cheng, had convinced us to down a couple more shots each of Jack Daniels. These, on top of the red wine we enjoyed with our mains and the dessert wine we had with our lemon merengue. 

"Just make sure you can still walk after this," Chris warned me before Alvin and I threw the last bit of caution to the wind.

 

By the time the three of us made it to Volume for the "Vegas, My Ass" event, my mind had thankfully adapted the memory of a fish. I had blissfully lost all recollection of the events that happened next.

"I just saw James walk by with a look of thunder on his face," Justin told Chris.

I don't know how, or what time, Chris and I got home. But when I woke up the next morning, my hair was still unwashed and my contact lenses were still glued onto my corneas. Noel and Rai gleefully briefed me on my monstrous transformation the night before.

Apparently, I myself, had turned into a dragon.
 


With Affection,
Astron

Sep. 13th, 2009

Brüno and the Basterds

Hello, Friends!


Thursday

The afternoon's string of meetings came with the requisite caffeine loading - a glass of iced lemon tea after a tall mocha frappucino after a shot of espresso. I am happily bouncing off the walls when I finally meet Chris in Pacific Place at 7PM. We give each other a perfunctory kiss, mindful of the peak hour mall crowd. "I'm caffeinated," I confess, my eyes as wide as saucers. Chris, ever so wise, leads me straight to the concession stand. "This should slow you down a bit," he cheerfully thrusts a Corona towards me. Beer in hand, we proceed to our seats in House 5.

The movie opens with a scene showing a comely French lass hanging linen out to dry. This is followed by a tableau of two men engaged in what looks like a social call over milk and cigar. The chapter ends unceremoniously with German soldiers gleefully raining bullets down the floorboard to masscre a Jewish family hiding in the basement.

My system selectively forgets about the bottle of beer I just had. I tremble in my seat, the afternoon's caffeine deposit promptly re-activated. Welcome to "Inglorious Basterds."

***

"A fine piece of filmmaking!" Chris enthuses as we make our way out of the cinema.

I keep quiet, my thoughts marinating in a thick stew of wink-nudge references: good, old Westerns; Spanish surrealism; Hitchcock, for crying out loud; comics-to-celluloid flicks; and even apocalyptic Hollywood movies. "Inglorious Basterds" is a droll observation on the history of cinema. My inner nerd is sufficiently satisfied.

"I was waiting for a flashback explaining the scar around Brad Pitt's neck," I muse as the tram merrily ambles along Des Veoux Road.

"Hm," Chris considers. "Did we miss it?"

"No; it was never explained."

"Maybe it doesn't mean anything."

***

Saturday

The previous night saw me battling a debilitating bout against a stomach bug, culminating in a midnight rush to the Queen Mary Hospital in Pokfulam. Vomiting, diarrhea, and fever are never fun. Hence, my disposition today is in stark contrast to my state of overcaffeination a couple of days ago.

I lift the arm rest between Chris's seat and mine and I rest my head against his shoulder. I fall into a blissful state of half-sleep as movie trailers parade one after another. No matter; I am soon jolted awake by a sticky lick of house music. "Brüno" has arrived. I scoot closer towards Chris. Heck, we're watching "Brüno," not The Ten Commandments. Who is going to take issue with two grown, consenting men having a snuggle? 

Sacha Baron Cohen is a vision as a vacuous, bottle blond, celebrity wannabe. I am instantly reminded of the reality "star," Heidi Montag, who, despite a clear absence of any discernible talent, manages to ingratiate her presence into our lives. They're so alike, they could pass for twins:

peoplestylewatch.com


Brüno is mostly a light romp through the perfumed garden of homophobia. Perfumed, because there's nothing controversial here, really. If there's any doubt left that the LGBT community's fight for equality is the civil rights movement of our time, one just has to look towards the residual chatter about Prop 8, Alexis Arquette, and yes, the Mormons. As Madonna says, "I've heard it all before, I've heard it all before, I've heard it all before." The laughs come freely because the movie plays for it.

In the end, Brüno is an OD akin to "carbicide." It sends you on a heady sugar high, and then drops you down to carb hell faster than an elevator gone amok. And as all self respecting gay men know, flabby arms and a distended waistline are fates worse than death.

The movie ends with a gay version of "We Are the World," with Brüno dressed up as a Victoria's Secret Angel. With Elton John on the piano, of course.



With Affection,
Astron

Sep. 7th, 2009

Why Whine?

Hello, Friends!



FINDS' affable Restaurant Manager, Rico Mario Haus, conducted a blind wine tasting this afternoon to sharpen the team's knowledge.

We tasted a total of eight wines and nibbled Jaakko's yummy sourdough in between to cleanse our palates.

Among the winners was Laurence of Margaret River's Cabernet Merlot (Australia 2004). It has a brilliant ruby hue and a delightfully effervescent nose of berries. The tannins in the Cabernet provide a definitive but gentle structure, while the Merlot highlights a rich, plummy softness. When Rico peeled off the silver foil to reveal the bottle, we oohed at its unusual curvaceousness and at the rendition of scarlet blooms in sumptuous acrylic.

"It's a hit at weddings," Rico shared. No surprise there. The bottle alone can make any table look instantly prettier, I thought.

Not all wines we tasted were winners, though.

"Smells like poppers!" Kaisla grimaced upon sniffing wine #4. I peered at Jaakko's tasting notes and he had succinctly scribbled, "Yuk."

The conversation then segued to amorous affairs in Amsterdam and torrid trysts in Tuen Mun - the common denominator being accidental popper spills and the ensuing journey to lofty heights.

"Kills millions of brain cells in such a short amount of time," Rico dimpled handsomely while pouring the next wine. 

And there, I wondered, why oenophilia hadn't inspired a more refined topic.

"It's Monday," Kaisla pointed out.


With Affection,
Astron
 





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