The difference between nice and polite

It is difficult to like hospitals, and government general hospitals are even more unlikable because of their labyrinthine nature. You could walk for hours and end up in the same place and then ask someone in uniform where a particular ward is when it just so happens you’re standing right next to the ward you want to go to.

Today, during a particularly busy hour, I found myself jammed at the back of the lift going down to the third floor lobby. The passengers who got in with me on the top floor had just come from visiting patients at the maternity ward, and were naturally smiling and chatty. The lift then stopped at the floor with the oncology wards, and two passengers get on board, and it takes a couple of seconds before anyone notices that they’re sniffling, stifling sobs, and dabbing their eyes with tissue paper.

Later, the car valet at the National University Hospital’s Kent Ridge Wing car park says, “eh, boss how are you? Your wife ok already?”, because he’d seen Naomi and I go back and forth the specialists’ clinics at the hospital before our extended stay at the wards this past month.

The auntie who works behind the Delifrance kiosk at the Main Building’s semi-al-fresco food court knows me as “double espresso takeaway”, and the Prima Taste stall waffle auntie calls me “two peanut butter”. She also sees through my “my wife, who’s warded upstairs, really likes the peanut butter waffle, so could you make mine first please because she’s in great pain from spinal surgery?” ruse, and said to me yesterday afternoon, “don’t bluff lah, ownself want to eat don’t say you buy for wife lah”.

Then there’s the flower and gift shop auntie who asks me repeatedly if I want to wait for the dolphin, after I’ve just selected a dolphin balloon to cheer Naomi up, and because I keep answering repeatedly, “No, I want my dolphin balloon now”:

“You want weight for dolphin balloon?”

“No, I want dolphin now”

“No, you want weight for the dolphin balloon?”

“No, I want dolphin balloon now! Why I want to wait for the dolphin balloon?”

“No, WEIGHT for dolphin balloon. WEIGHT, WEIGHT, WEIGHT!”

Dowan! I want now!” What for wait?”

“No, I scared you don’t have WEIGHT for the balloon, later you go outside it will fly away. Many children lost their balloon like that!”

“Oh. Ooooh. Weight…. No need. I tie to my pants”


Then there are the staff nurses at the maternity ward which Naomi was lodged at for two weeks because there weren’t beds left in the orthopeadic wards. Don’t give them medals because medals won’t do them justice. Don’t give them food because they won’t stuff their faces with snackies because they’re too busy really, really caring for people. These are nurses who, when they merely overhear me talking to a doctor agitatedly, take it upon themselves to go to Naomi’s room and offer a listening ear and a consoling voice.

Ward 96 staff, you’re champions. If there’s anything that takes the edge off the pain of illness and hospital cock-ups, it’s your fantastic attitude and care. You are genuinely nice. And we thank you for that.

Men’s Health: Man2Man: I Quit!

Originally published in Men’s Health (July 2007)

 Magazine Images Mens Health
A few weeks ago I had a very bad dream. I was walking back home from Holland Village, just a stone’s throw from where I live. It was getting dark, and it was a bit drizzly, and between the knuckles of my index and middle fingers of my left hand was a half consumed cigarette. As I quickened my pace to get home before the deluge, I took deep puffs from the cigarette, exhaling from the side of my mouth. One of the drags was perhaps too deep. I coughed, and then I woke up.

Ordinarily, I’d forget this sort of dream. But because I am a newly-minted, fresh-breathed ex-smoker, I woke up in a cold sweat, horrified at the vividness of the dream, even remembering the taste and the spluttering cough.

In that sleepful way one stumbles around the room, I looked around for clues to what could possibly have triggered the dream/nightmare. Did I really light one up in my sleep? At what point during my walk did I start smoking? Where did I buy the pack from? What brand was it?

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Men’s Health: Man2Man: Fear & Loving

Mens HealthOriginally published in Men’s Health (May 2007)

You know how as kids, we were indoctrinated at a young age about how truth and honesty trump untruth and dishonesty? I was such a believer I decided to put that into practice when I was about five. And who else to demonstrate that new found knowledge to than Mummy.

We were dining in a coffee house (that was what cafes were known as in the 1970s) and because I was the clumsiest kid around, knocked over the sugar dispenser and spilled sugar all over the table.

Only thing was that my mother had turned away to get the waitress’ attention when it happened. And so, a moral dilemma presented itself, and just as quickly, what was learnt at kindergarten that very week suddenly sprang to my young mind and it was clear that I would tell THE TRUTH when the time came for THE TRUTH to out itself, or for untruth to push THE TRUTH off the stage after THE TRUTH had outed itself!

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My favourite colour is very nice

Far East Plaza Chicken Rice

This is an exercise in self-awareness. I still have the habit of not answering questions properly. No, let me clarify that. I still have the knack of not answering questions – by giving an incongruent answer.


Q: What’s your favourite colour?

A: My favourite colour is very nice.

Q: Does it taste like tomato?

A: It feels like tomato.

Q: Are you hungry?

A: I feel like chicken rice.

Anyone whose ever borne the brunt of such answers, please, accept my sincere apologies on behalf of answerers of a similar ilk. My wife sympathises with you too, because I unanswer questions like this several times a day.

Q: What time is it?

A: Not hungry yet.

I’m told some wars were started because of this.

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