When I turned 30, I had an epiphany: I realised that this was it and going forward, it was to be downhill all the way. I suddenly understood that I would never have more energy, or enthusiasm, hair, or brain cells than I had at the time. It was a sobering thought and enough to drive a man to drink. 

You can imagine what the thought does to said person now, 36 years later. But one cheers up any which way one can, and George Burns is generally recommended: “It’s good to be here….but at 98, it’s good to be anywhere.”  

In my late 40s, Rebecca was promoted to a senior government position and began travelling the world as the country’s trade negotiator. As was my wont then, I thought it would look unseemly if I accompanied her. Indeed, I never, even once went to her office. Happily, Raisa had no such compunctions and accompanied my wife on numerous overseas trips.

In 2013, Becca’s alma mater in the US announced that it would present her a “Professional Achievement” award and she asked me to accompany her. But she had to stop by Japan first for some work and she decided that we’d fly to Atlanta from Tokyo.

And so I accompanied my wife on an official trip for the first, and last, time.  

For some reason, it was on SQ and I remember being seated in F99, in the middle of a 5-seat aisle row, flanked by two Filipino gentlemen who looked as perplexed as Little Bo-Peep.  Becca was, of course, in B1 or some such, but the good news was that we were near the toilets. 

I’m sure of it because there was, shall we say, the whiff. 

To compound matters, the Filipinos’ perplexity vanished after lunch only to be replaced by an extreme drowsiness and both ended up sleeping on my shoulders until Narita.

There are some experiences in life that should not be demanded twice from any man and one of them is, definitely, F99.

Time marches on and I retired followed by my wife, two years later. But a stint as executive director of APEC drew her back to work and subsequent travel, after nearly two years of Covid-induced lockdown. 

And that was how I came to accompany her to Bangkok three weeks ago.

It takes slightly under two hours to fly from Singapore to Bangkok and the Thai capital felt warm and muggy when we stepped out of its airport. 

Our hotel was located by the river and the wind lifting off the brown, and indolent, Chao Phraya felt cool and comfortable against our skin. Unlike the last time I’d been in Bangkok – over 20 years ago – the river didn’t smell at all. 

It seemed the Thais had cleaned it up. Indeed, everything about the capital appeared clean with little evidence of paper or plastic trash. We later learnt that single-use plastic bags had long been banned. 

Even so, there is little “green” to be had in the city of 10.7 million spreading out all about us in a vast concrete and glass jungle. There are attempts at greening everywhere but it still falls far short of Singapore or, for that matter, Kuala Lumpur. 

Unlike KL, however, there is little trace of migrant labour about although our friend Kavi, a Bangkok Post columnist, told us over lunch that there were at least 5 million people from Myanmar seeking refuge here. 

We found the food great and relatively inexpensive; and learnt that places like Phuket are easily 30% cheaper. And coups or not, the government does not impede the private sector at all – an exhibition in our hotel, featuring agricultural innovation, part of the APEC meet, showed clearly that the Thai sector was not just flourishing but streets ahead of its Malaysian competition. 

Apart from being polite, the Thais are extremely patriotic. They are very proud of their singularity (never having been colonised, for example), their food and culture, even their royalty.  Deep down, they think they are the best in ASEAN.  

Who’s to say they’re wrong? As Kavi might have said, I think therefore I Siam. 



Fiber: edible wood-pulp said to aid digestion and prolong life, so that we might live for another six or eight years in which to consume more wood-pulp –  Writer and humorist Robert Benchley 

“It ain’t the heat,” baseball player Yogi “Malaprop” Berra used to fret, “it’s the humility I can’t stand.”

Raisa knows the feeling. 

She came to Singapore two weeks ago and, for someone born and brought up in equatorial Malaysia, began seriously perspiring the minute she stepped out of the airport. Being an island, the city-state is far more humid than Kuala Lumpur and almost three years of life in Europe had caught my daughter off-guard. 

But she became accustomed to the weather in short order and wanted to eat the stuff of her childhood, generally unattainable in Amsterdam but easily available in Singapore, give or take some differences. 

We sampled durian and mangosteens along the roadside in Geylang, tried chili and pepper crab in a restaurant on the East Coast, munched roti-chanai (called, rather grandly, paratha here) and chicken rice near Orchard, and tasted what the island tries to pass off as Hokkien mee in Tanglin.  

Meanwhile, I found out there is no such thing as Singapore fried meehoon in Singapore.  Go figure.

But Raisa had heard that the city boasted a certain famous restaurant and wanted to eat at Spago because she never had. Neither Rebecca nor I knew of its existence in Singapore. Apparently, we didn’t move in those circles! We Googled the place and finally secured a reservation ten days later. 

It was certainly grand enough, located as it was on the 57th floor of one of the towers of the Marina Bay Sands. Raisa asked Das, a knowledgeable waiter from Johor Baru, what was good, and he replied: “Everything.”

But Das let it slip that English chef Gordon Ramsey had come in some months ago and, having ordered the laksa with bream, had subsequently raved about it to anyone who would listen. 

Of course, Raisa had to have the laksa. Becky had duck breast, which smelt heavenly, and I ordered the wasabi-infused black cod.

My fish was melt-in-the-mouth gorgeous and good enough to convert the vegetarian. Becca reported that the duck was similarly divine. 

Spago, it appeared, was the creation of one Wolfgang Puck, an Austrian American who was, after Julia Child, the first, genuine celebrity-chef. Like Child, he was a television personality but, unlike her, was also an entrepreneur with a brand of frozen pizza and, at one point, 63 restaurants spanning the US and extending from Shanghai and Tokyo to Singapore and Sydney.  

Before Wolfgang, American cuisine was humdrum, non-existent and boasted Chinese takeaway at its zenith.

Haute cuisine’s philosophy at the time might be distilled into a solitary sentence: if it looked like a duck, sounded like a duck and smelt like a duck, it probably needed a little more time in the microwave.

Wolfgang changed all that. He made cooking a sought after, even glamorous, profession and brought respectability and better pay to a job long regarded as a necessary, if thankless, one. It brought with it a certain grandeur to the experience of dining out.  

And we probably have him, now 70-plus, to thank for the ever-present cooking show – Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, for example – we now catch on television. 

Raisa flies back tonight. But she goes home happy.  



We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid. – Benjamin Franklin

There are reasons why people come up with sayings like “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Dr Afifi al-Akiti might be contemplating life somewhat ruefully right now. A video of the religious adviser to the Perak Sultan being present in a Kuala Lumpur nightspot surfaced on Twitter recently and it’s sparked a buzz over social media, with phrases like “forbidden fun” among the more charitable descriptions being bandied about.

The gentleman, wearing a baseball cap, is seen air-drumming along to a rock tune being played by a band on-stage. Meanwhile, a lady seated next to him is seen nodding her head in time to the music.

That’s about it and nothing much to shout about otherwise. Unless, of course, you want to quibble and mention that such places are generally the ones frowned upon by Malaysia’s Moral Majority, those holier-than-thou purveyors of piety who routinely vilify such nightspots as “immoral” where Muslims are concerned.

And this is exactly where the situation begins to turn ridiculous. Reason: one Ustaz Husam has rushed to the adviser’s defence, claiming that the good doctor was merely there to distribute pamphlets about Islam.

In short, would you believe he was proselytising in a nightclub? In a home where the buffalo roam, and the beer and the loud rock bands play?

Maybe it’s not as weak as the old “the dog ate my homework” ploy but methinks many people would beg to differ.

Ridiculous excuses have been going on for millennia. Take, for example, the reasons sportsmen come up with when they are caught for doping.

Czech lefty Petr Korda, once ranked number two in the tennis world, attributed his fondness for veal, especially those injected with steroids, as the reason for his failure in a 1998 dope test.

But dope, or its measure at least, is an exact science. To match the amount of steroid in his system, the science showed that he would have had to eat 40 calves every day for 20 years!

Then there was US sprinter Dennis Mitchell’s “too much sex” explanation. Caught in 1998 for high levels of testosterone, Mitchell explained he’d had sex “four times” with his wife the night before the test.

The US athletic body accepted his explanation but the international association wasn’t buying. While sex does increase the hormone’s levels, it would not reach the dizzying levels it actually did in Mitchell’s system.

He got banned for two years.

And this, from Michael Blodkin, a New Yorker pulled over for recklessness: “I wasn’t driving dangerously. I was just swerving to the music.”

And, finally, this ironic blow to hypocrisy. Former Republican Senator Larry Craig – who has a history of supporting stridently anti-gay policies – was arrested by a plain-clothes policeman for attempting to solicit sex in an airport toilet. After initially pleading guilty, Craig quickly backtracked when the story gained public traction and claimed he merely adopted “a wide stance when going to the bathroom.”
Now, would that have sounded reasonable to Ustaz Husam?