Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Big 5-0 And I Don’t Mean Hawaii


Well it’s done, over, and there’s nothing at all I can do about it. My birthday this month signified the end of my forties and the beginning of…another decade.

For the past couple of years I’ve been anticipating the moment without trepidation, and I might even be able to say I looked forward to it but as those last few days ticked away, I found myself obsessively repeating, “I’m in my forties”, I’m in my forties”. I went to bed late on the 13th, not wanting the day to end but alas there was only one way to avoid the inevitable and that was not an option.

I didn’t go through any of this trauma when I was thirty-nine turning forty however twenty-nine was another story, and much worse than forty-nine. As tends to be the case with twenty-year-olds, the idea of turning thirty was mortifying. I thought life was over and it was time to put aside my foolish, fun ways and get serious about life. I had long hair until then but cut it short for something ‘sensible and mature’. It was only to shoulder-length but that was dramatic—my hair was so important; it consumed hours every day and a bad haircut warranted a meltdown. Each decade it gets shorter and shorter. By sixty, I’ll have a buzz cut but at least I no longer care what happens to it; (even that Christmas red, barely there ‘style’ didn’t phase me); I know it is unimportant and for that, I would not trade being fifty for a chance to be twenty-nine again.

So what does turning fifty mean for me in practical terms? Another plan. I’m a prolific planner; I have goals and plans for everything: annual, monthly, weekly and daily. I’ve kept an exercise journal for several decades albeit it has a lot of blank pages. And now I have a 10-year plan, which is something new. I hope when I turn sixty it doesn’t make me laugh.

Of course, nothing much has changed since turning fifty. I’m still waiting for maturity to arrive and life is as it was earlier in the month when I returned from Africa with wonderful new memories to keep me company in those twilight years (nineties). I’ve been welcomed to the club by others who assure me it is ‘the best club ever’. I’ve been told fifty is the new thirty and I should make an appointment for a colonoscopy. I think I’ll get a haircut instead. There’s so much to look forward to I can barely contain my excitement.

What about you? How do you cope with a changing decade?

Therapeutic Chewing Gum is OK


I came to live in Singapore in 2004, which was the year the Singapore government relaxed its ban on chewing gum to permit the import of gum that has a therapeutic value. And since chewing gum is allowed solely for this purpose (therapy), citizens like myself must buy our stash from the pharmacy, actually consult with the pharmacist, and sign the Chewing Gum Register. The Register includes your name, ID card number, signature and how many bottles of therapeutic gum were dispensed. If there is no pharmacist on duty at the time you happen by, you are connected by video to an on-duty pharmacist elsewhere who asks a few questions and checks you out through a camera lens before authorizing the purchase. Pharmacists who do not observe these rules could be jailed for up to two years and fined $2,940.

Therapeutic gum available at the pharmacy includes Wrigleys Orbit (for healthy teeth) and Pfizer Inc’s Nicorette.

Since chewing gum is now imported into Singapore arising from the 2004 United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement (USS-FTA), there is a misconception amongst citizens that this means it is OK to bring your own supply into the country whenever you return home from overseas. Not so—even small quantities for whatever purpose are technically prohibited under the “Regulation of Imports and Exports (Chewing Gum) Regulations.”

Singapore has a global reputation for being the cleanest, tidiest city/country in the world, and it is a well-deserved title. Chewing gum was banned because it was causing serious maintenance problems in high-rise public housing flats, with vandals disposing of spent gum in mailboxes, inside keyholes and even on elevator buttons. Chewing gum left on floors, stairways and pavements in public areas increased the cost of cleaning and damaged cleaning equipment. Gum stuck on the seats of public buses was also considered a problem.

In 1987, the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) began operations. Shortly thereafter, it was reported that vandals were sticking chewing gum on the door sensors of MRT trains, preventing the door from functioning properly and causing disruption of train services. Although the incidents were rare, it was costly, and so the ban was implemented in 1992.

Since 2004, street cleaners have complained about the return of spent wads on our pristine pavements, albeit therapeutic wads. Should this continue, those of us in the Chewing Gum Register might well be rounded up and asked to explain.


The Trouble with Leigh is…


My name, Leigh, means meadow, which is a curious meaning to apply to a person although I do like the outdoors. Leigh and Lee are the same and traditionally, Leigh was for boys and Lee was for girls, but that does not seem to apply anymore, and obviously, I have the boy’s spelling and I am not.

I have never thought much about my name—it’s not an unusual name, and it is recognizable in the west, but in Singapore, it presents some problems. The locals have no idea how to pronounce ‘Leigh’ and I am usually called Leg, Lay or Layjj, and other interesting creations. My solution to this problem was to switch to the other spelling of my name, Lee, which I figured would be easy for the locals as Lee is a common Chinese surname. This however, was a mistake.

In Asia, a person’s surname appears first so when I switched to Lee Cunningham, it was assumed that Lee was my surname and Cunningham was my first name. Asians also tend to have two first names, for example, Kong Weng or Wei Peng so my ‘first’ name(s) became Cunning Ham. I was therefore welcomed or introduced as “Cunning” or “Ham” for example, “Good morning, Cunning,” or “Hello, Ham”. At one place, I devoted considerable time patiently and clearly (with perfect diction) explaining that Cunning was not my name; my name was Lee, but the next time I visited, I was once again welcomed as Cunning.

I have reluctantly reverted to Leigh and now accept whatever pronunciation it inspires with a silent D’oh!

Back when I was employable and working as an executive, people would call and ask to speak to “Mr Cunningham”.  My secretary delighted in never correcting the caller so when I answered the phone with “Leigh Cunningham speaking,” they would again ask for “Mr Cunningham”. When I  repeated that I was Leigh Cunningham, this was often greeted with silence then “You’re a girl,” to which I would think, ‘well thanks for letting me know.’

My middle name is Kayrene, a name my mother created by combining her nickname and my aunt’s name ie Kay (officially Catherine) plus Irene = Kayrene.

I have several nicknames. My childhood name, still used by Steve, family and friends, is Leighzie. Steve has several other nicknames for me, but mostly he calls me Leo, which originates from The Paul Hogan Show. Leo Wanker was an inept daredevil stuntman (see Leo in action), and I have no idea how Leo the stuntman became associated with my good self—you would have to ask Steve regarding the commonalities he obviously sees.

Steve also calls me Baldrick or Balders for short. This originates from a British sitcom series, Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder and Tony Robinson as his dogsbody, Baldrick. Since I am now a fulltime writer, and unemployable :), Baldrick/Balders reflects my current station in life. I don’t believe there are any other similarities between myself and the ‘real’ Baldrick, although we do make Cappuccinos the same way.

Basically though, given the aborted efforts at my real first name, I will answer to just about anything.

Do you have a problem name? Do you blame your parents?