Monthly Archives: August 2011

Offa: My two-way learning process

Offa: My two-way learning process

Yes, that is Offa in one of his extremely playful moments.

Offa has been with me for a week. And in this past week — 8 days, to be exact — I’ve learned a great deal about cats and taking care of them, to the point where I think I actually prefer cats to dogs now. From observing Offa and all the little things he does, I can see why it’s so easy for people to have cats as pets, despite the mythical perception that cats are ungrateful and arrogant.

The thing that people have to realize about cats is that they are remarkably fast learners. I found this out when I shut Offa in the maid’s room with his bedding and food and water on his first two nights here. I was worried about him being scared and not knowing what to do all by himself in the room. Afham assured me that he would be all right, and he would figure it out for himself where his litter box and food were. Sure enough, by his third night, we could already leave him out in the living room to sleep where he pleased, and he never soiled any other part of the house.

Another thing Offa has also learned — and now exploits to his great advantage — is that he is loved to death. So he has learned that I have a habit of hugging and petting him first thing in the morning, and now, if I’m preoccupied with making breakfast when I come downstairs in the morning, he’ll remind me that I’m supposed to pet him first by purring and mewing incessantly and putting his forelegs around my ankles.

One thing that I haven’t been able to teach him, however, is not to poke about my food. He likes to lie on the dining table because the granite is cool, and he insists on getting up on the table even during mealtimes, which results in him sniffing about my food and me trying to swat him away. He also hasn’t learned that my mug is off-limits, so at times I catch him with his head in my mug and drinking happily away from it.

King of the house

King of the house

So we got ourselves a cat.


A cat.

I, who have never really been a cat person primarily because I had dogs my whole life, am now the owner of a cat.

I always talked about having some sort of pet after I moved to the new house, because I had grown up with dogs and I missed having that calming presence that only animals can give. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a dog, because there wouldn’t be anyone at home enough to care for it, so I decided I would get a cat — a Scottish Fold, or a British Shorthair.

Or, because I was ambitious, both. But because I had to be realistic, I settled for just one — for now, at least. And I got this very handsome male Blue Brit — a British Shorthair — at Ikano Power Center’s Pet Safari on Thursday night. I named him Offa, after the 8th-century King of Mercia, because, as Becca puts it, I ‘can’t just be a normal person and name him Blackie or Whiskers’.

So far Offa has been fairly easy to deal with. I wanted this breed particularly because they’re supposed to be more independent and able to do without too much attention and human contact, which works well for me because I’m out working all day. I also find it an added bonus that they’re not a very vocal breed, because I’ve always dreaded having a cat that just yowls and yowls for no apparent reason.

Offa is still trying to adjust to his new surroundings, so initially I had to carry him into the living room so that he wasn’t cowering in a corner of the maid’s room, where I’ve housed him, all the day long. However, he’s now much less timid and running and leaping all over the house by himself. The poor thing got into a fight some time ago and injured his tail, so now it looks like it’s been tied at the end where the fur is just beginning to grow back. Hopefully it won’t be long before he’s completely comfortable in his new home.

First look!

Mouthful of mannerless

Mouthful of mannerless

“Bad table manners, my dear Gigi, have broken up more housholds than infidelity.” – Aunt Alicia, Gigi

It was buka puasa (breaking fast) time. The room was relatively quiet, with people concentrating on their food after having fasted from the crack of dawn, while I concentrated on mine because I am generally a hungry/greedy person.

And then I heard it. I stopped eating and turned my head slightly to discern where it was coming from: the table right behind me. I turned back to my food and tried to ignore the loud, incessant slurping and gulping that I assumed was the consumption of some soba or udon, apparently with great relish. I clicked in irritation, and Afham, who has long since been able to sense when I’m about to be openly sneering or derisive of what I call ‘street urchin etiquette’, quietly warned, “Stop it, baby. Just eat.”

But naturally, I couldn’t ‘stop it’, and as the slurping got louder, I turned around, reached out, and knocked the chopsticks out of what I finally saw was quite a portly woman.

OK, fine, so I didn’t knock the chopsticks out of her hand, but it was definitely something I would dearly have loved to do. Or flip the bowl into her multiple-chinned face.

From the time my brother and I were young, our mother and grandmother made it their life missions to ensure that we ate like normal human beings. My brother, being a boy, was naturally more difficult to teach, but they tried their best, and to his credit, so did he. But with me, they were unrelenting: elbows in, shoulders up, face out of the bowl, fork in the left, spoon in the right, and absolutely no slurping, chomping or chewing audibly. “Men don’t want ladies who eat like street urchins,” my grandmother occasionally said, and she took great pleasure in switching up the names from ‘street urchins’ to ‘uneducated people’ to ‘pigs’.

That was my mother’s favorite: “Don’t eat like a pig!”

Despite the drilling, and the pain of etiquette school my mother sent me to when I was twelve, I did what they said, because I knew I didn’t want strangers looking at me and wondering, be it from my way of dressing or walking or my table manners, which slum I crawled out from. So I kept my elbows in and my teeth firmly clamped together, which resulted in me becoming a slow eater, but better slow than slovenly, I figured.

So it amazes me today that there are women who do not realize the importance of dining etiquette, or just manners in general, and are perfectly happy to slurp and spit their way through life. Even more disturbing is that many of these women are middle-class, educated women, whose own parents should have known and taught them better. The most baffling of all is that they genuinely don’t think they are doing anything wrong, even after it is pointed out to them more than once, and because it usually comes from someone close and comfortable enough to call them out on their behavior, the common response would be “But I’m just here with you!”

I was once asked by a friend if I would go into business with her, to open a ‘child enrichment/development center’. She wanted to teach music, art, English, speech and drama, and etiquette to children, and she wanted me to help her with the latter three. I was more than happy to teach children these things, which I consider are essential to their development — until I realized that, perhaps, I would have to teach her first. I would have to teach her not to lean her elbows on the table, not to talk with her mouth full or while stuffing potato chips into her mouth, not to smack her lips, and not to talk mid-yawn.

Yes, she would try to speak while she yawned, which I think is unspeakably rude and a waste of time because when one tries to speak while yawning, one is completely incoherent anyway. But when I tried to call her out on it, she predictably said, “Haiya it’s just you what!”

I really, genuinely always did think that it was ingrained in a parent to teach their child how to behave. I thought table manners came hand in hand with learning to walk and talk like a normal human being. How they managed to forget — or ignore — the importance of making sure their offspring did not grow up eating as though they were fresh out of a jungle is utterly beyond me. It only reinforces my belief that people who are thinking of having children should be mandated to take physical, mental, emotional and behavioral tests to ensure that they are in any way fit to be parents at all.

Apparently, I already know one who will fail.