Wednesday, September 7, 2011


475. "At least you two are close friends...," Anna says. "Yes, but seven months and then that's it, you know...," I say. "Why? You can still email and chat and..." "He doesn't like writing," I explain, as the preemptive apology flashes in my mind. I'm not very good with keeping long-distance friendships, he once confessed, and then we must have had the same thought, because he looked at me and added, Sorry. "And he doesn't even use a chat program," I give Anna yet another reason why the friendship is surely going to be doomed. "I mean, what kind of people who don't use chat programs?"

On the familiar walk back to our offices after yet another weekly Wednesday group lunch, I tell Anna about my experience of faded friendships, even if these were built after more than half a decade of training, extended traveling and living together (chess teammates), or after more than half a decade of approximately ten birthday celebrations each year, countless BBQs, fishing trips, Kris Kringles, New Year's, and weekly get-togethers (Down Under friends); and Anna tries to convince me, also from personal experience, that people can still stay close friends even if they only talk once every two months. 

As we take turn to debate about what it means and what it takes to be friends, I can't help but wonder whether the post-Brussels friendship that Anna and I are pondering about is not actually between the social-networks-challenged boy and myself, and I feel a lump in my throat.

476. Remote office-mates are highly recommended. 
ROM: Yes, we had a lot of fun! We were actually staying with people we know, like, say: my parents, grandparents, brother and family :-) 
Me: That's a lot of people :) And *everyone* survived the trip? I'm impressed. 
ROM: Yes! We don't talk to each other anymore, but we are alive. (I'm kidding.) (N. [ROM's adorable toddler] and I are still good friends.)

477. Unknowingly playing Never Ever Have I, the third edition in the flat -- without the alcohol-induced effects afterwards.

Last year, when abruptly leaving a one-person apartment, my first choice had not been to move into a shared flat. I am too old for that, the twenty-four-year-old version of mine had smugly thought, picturing flatmates leaving dirty dishes in the sink and partying drunkenly all night long, the self-hypocrisy clearly lost on me at the time because (my) dirty dishes and unwanted (to the landlord) evening company were the two main issues that eventually drove me out of that apartment in the first place. In the space of one month, basic math and Google helped my personal stand evolve from, I am too old for that, to, I am too old for that but OK maybe I can share a place with someone I know, to, I need to live with strangers and their dirty dishes if I still want to afford things, like, food and shelter and stuff

This philosophical development meant two things: one, money is a powerful brainwashing tool, and two, I was then living with two complete strangers. To get to know each other, J., E. (my flatmates at the time) and I have enthusiastically played Never Ever Have I, where we took turns to make a true statement, Never ever have I done something something, and then the others would have to drink a sip of beer if he or she had done the described action. 

Within two hours, I went from not knowing what were the last names of my flatmates, to knowing every person, every location, and practically every position that J. has ever you-know-what. It says something about the basic human curiosity when all the Never Ever Have I statements -- essentially thinly veiled questions about other drunken participants -- are about moral sins and sexual activities. I know we were not the only ones fixating on these topics because, exhausting the collective creativity of questions about moral sins and sexual activities, J. Googled for more Never Ever Have I statements, 99% of which were also about moral sins and sexual activities. The morning after, I was still clueless about the last names of my flatmates, but until this day, every now and then, sitting in the car I am still wondering how on earth J. managed that position -- the gear stick just seems so inconvenient. I'd say I got to know J. well. 

Which was a minor pity because a month later, he moved out; then, two more months and E. followed suit. One after the other, Tintin and Gaston arrived. The first question among us was not about who would be the nominated rent payee. It was about when we would play this great ice-breaker Never Ever Have I. The answer was at the pre-Christmas party dinner, which was arguably the best timing because it is impossible to find a better time to play Never Ever Have I than just after the consumption of fresh oysters, sausage-wrapped-in-bacon, well-marinated juicy steaks, creamy cake with ice-cream, and three bottles of wine between three persons. Moral sins and sexual activities once again proved the popular (or only) themes; unfortunately (or fortunately) most details escape me now because if the three bottles of wine were great for loosening us, they were also excellent for joint activities like romantically dancing (Gaston and I only, Tintin now dialing for a follow-up party), romantically vomiting into the toilet while sitting on the bathroom floor next to each other (also just Gaston and I, Tintin already getting ready for the follow-up party), braincell genocide and memory loss (all three of us). 
Saturday December 11, 2010. We have hidden the first bottle. And the cuuuute diners.

When Smurfette moved in, what with her being a primary school teacher and loving quinoa, it never crossed my mind the thought of suggesting the game. This might also have had something to do with us not seeing each other for eight out of the first ten weeks living together, but either way, there has not been a replay of Never Ever Have I. Until tonight. As we gulp down the flavorful creamy wine broth of our mussels (Smurfette's successful second "Tuesday dinner"), she tells us about a four-day field trip next week that she is going on with her kiddies. Having never been on an overnight field trip with school, I ask Smurfette what hers would entail. "Nature," Smurfette's boyfriend tells me. "They will actually see things like, a cow!, or, a sheep!" "Cool," I say, then make the colossal mistake of half-muttering to myself, "I have never really seen a sheep."

"YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHEEP?" Smurfette's boyfriend's eyes are widened, just in case you miss the surprise in the sheer volume of his voice. There might have been a sheep in the Adelaide zoo that CS and I once took my nephew to, but might have is a little vague and, anyhow, it is one second too late for clarification. As I play around with the mussels shells on my plate, the information sinks in Gaston's head, and you can tell the precise moment that it finally clicks, because that is the moment when he turns around to stare at me, and goes, "YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHEEP??" I point out to Gaston that Smurfette's boyfriend has already said that, but clearly no one cares for originality, because Smurfette, having heard the French translation from her boyfriend, echos, "YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A SHEEP???"

The next half an hour is a long list of animals. "A donkey?" "Uhm..." "YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A DONKEY?" "I have seen it on, uhm, Shrek?" "What is Shrek?" Smurfette's boyfriend wants to know. "It is Shrek," Gaston repeats precisely what I just said, but somehow in a French-ish way and it works because Smurfette's boyfriend then goes, "SO YOU HAVE NEVER SEEN A DONKEY?" "A cow, what about a cow?" "Yes!" I am palpably relieved, choosing not to mention that at the age of seven, after seeing a cow for the first time in Da Lat, I came home innocently telling my father that he needed to go there to see a cow, because I believed that (a) like me pre-Da Lat, my forty-two-year-old father has never seen a cow in his life, and (b) Da Lat is the only city with cows. "Phew...," goes a collective sigh from everyone. A camel? An elephant? A horse? Yes, I have even been on a horse, for the whole minute, long enough for a photo to be taken... "I have never been on a horse," it is Smurfette's boyfriend's turn to commit a grave error. Smurfette swiftly turns sideways to give one look at her boyfriend, then turns back to us, with the well-practiced manner of a primary school teacher, "All together now...," then the three of us, in perfect unison, "YOU HAVE NEVER BEEN ON A HORSE?"

It turns out that you can, after all, play Never Ever Have I without fixating on moral sins and sexual activities, or ending up vomitting. Which is a good thing, because I wouldn't have wanted to waste all the creamy tiramisu that Smurfette prepared for us, and 'a cute primary-school teacher who cooks well' is all I want to know about my new flatmate for now. Moral sins and sexual activities can wait. Maybe until the next pre-Christmas party. 

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