When a food critic turns the poison pen on herself

Saying goodbye to my junkyard August 5, 2010

Filed under: Inane stuff — crummb @ 12:00 am

My last day at the newspaper is two weeks away, so I’ve been slowly clearing out my desk. And boy, do I have a lot of junk.

I have Time and Newsweek magazines dating back to 2002. There are candy, teabags, and wine bottles that are so old they are probably radioactive. Stacks and stacks of press releases, interview notes and business cards stand neglected at various corners.

But there are other junk that aren’t so easy to throw away. Like this empty bottle of San Pellegrino that Lionel brought back for me from a movie junket in London. Its content was imbibed by one Brad Pitt, and Lionel, knowing how I had lusted after the actor for years, sneaked it into his bag at the end of the interview when no one was looking. My shrieks of joy upon receiving it almost rocked the building. But now, I may just junk the thing. I still haven’t forgiven Brad for what he did to Jen.

My pinboard has many other things I will definitely keep. They are cards and notes from colleagues and newsmakers over the years, two of which remind me that I had grazed the culinary big-time — thank-you letters from French celebrity chefs Alain Ducasse and Alain Passard. But my pride and joy is a note scrawled in rather childish handwriting: “Believe In Dreams & Work Hard!” It was written to me by Taufik Batisah, who is, in my opinion, the only Singapore Idol and whom I voted for 30 times at the final. When he visited the office soon after his win, he caused a mini stampede among the women on our floor — me included. His signature has two dots over the ‘u’ and a heart at the end. Awww.

Then, there are the two booklets I brought back from a lunch tasting that Lisa and I attended at the Ritz-Carlton. It was one of those chi-chi affairs where the flower arrangements reached the ceiling, a different wine was served with each course, and you wore your best shoes and minded your posture. But Lisa and I were there for some fun. We were all given wine booklets to jot down things about the vintages. But while everyone was dutifully recording their scholastic observations (so they could take home and archive in their million-dollar walk-in wine cellars), we wrote down numbers — on the scale of 1 to 10 — for how drunk we were with each successive wine. By dessert, we were pouncing on each other’s booklets and scribbling lopsided, barely decipherable declarations. My favourite line from Lisa was that I was Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein’s love-child, because “You are da BOMB!!!!!”

Needless to say, we went back to work very late that day because we had to sit in our cars for a very long time to wear out the booze.

But the oldest thing on my desk is my Collins’ thesaurus, which I bought in the early 1990s while still in university. On my first day of work in 1995, I stood it next to my desk phone as the first of many tools in a journalist’s arsenal that I was to amass (the others, as I was soon to find out, were things like namecard holder, coffee, Panadol, and a thick skin).

The thesaurus took me through the more than 1,800 stories I was to write over 15 years. It was always on hand to offer a clever word or a witty turn of phrase. Fifteen years and 1,800 stories is a long time and a lot of words. So which stories were the most memorable? Interviews with celebrities come to mind. Chow Yun-Fat was the ultimate charmer; Shu Qi had the prettiest nose; Gong Li was ice-cold and impenetrable, until you ask about her dogs; and Pierce Brosnan — whom I wanted to marry at 13 and met face-to-face at 29 — was most disappointingly an incorrigible vainpot.

What about the piece I’m proudest of writing? I’m tempted to say the profile I did of the very bizarre Jacintha Abisheganadan, or a travel series on emerging China that had me traipse across five cities in two weeks. But actually, it is this little weekly column I wrote for several years which I utterly hated. It is called Cheap & Good, and it recommends hawker stalls for their good food at dirt-cheap prices.

I hated it because I always had to ask my relatives, contacts, old school friends — pretty much anyone who crossed my path — for leads to a good, undiscovered hawker. They weren’t easy to come by. And when I did get one and managed to hunt it down in some farflung corner in Woodlands or Bedok, either his food was not very good, he was closed for the day, or he refused to be interviewed because his business was already so good he couldn’t handle any more customers. And so off I went to scramble for another lead.

But for all this trouble, there were rewards. It is no exaggeration when I say the articles changed some hawkers’ lives. The sudden burst of business gave them the recognition they so longed for and deserved. Many of them went on to be featured in TV shows, websites and blogs. I like to think that the hawkers’ lives, and those of their children, improved at least by a little bit.

Now, I look at my thesaurus, the one that has accompanied me through all these stories and characters, and ask:  Shall I or shan’t I throw you away? I rarely use it now, not when is just a click away. With its tea-coloured pages and withered spine, it stands on my desk as a ‘brown’ elephant.

But if I take it home, it will — along with all the other knick knacks salvaged from my desk — be kept in a shoe-box and shoved high up in my closet. The next time I take it down for a look will probably be when I move house, whenever that will be.

My thesaurus, I realise, belongs next to my phone right here on my desk. Even all the other junk that I will soon throw away — they hold meaning here, randomly placed and woefully neglected, as fragments of the past that are all at one place and within arm’s reach.

I will be one sad woman on my last day when my desk is empty and shorn of every last memory. So with two weeks more to go, I am leaving everything the way it is. Let me enjoy this for just a while longer.


31 Responses to “Saying goodbye to my junkyard”

  1. Z Says:

    i’ll miss calling you on your office number…
    but now i got you all to myself, Jambu Mama 🙂

    make me some eggs…haha

  2. MS Says:

    eh how come i remember bringing a bottle for you, from the new york Troy junket? now i’m confused!

    • crummb Says:

      did you? i don’t remember! oh no don’t kill me! maybe around the time of Troy, i could sense that he was gonna cheat on Jen so i threw the bottle away? wahahhaa..

      • MS Says:

        hahaha…. well my memory is famously horrible, so maybe i gave it to someone else. maybe to jen. 😀

  3. wey Says:

    am squarely in the angelina jolie camp, cannot stand jen’s americaan-ness. i think you shld leave the tea-stained thesaurus for the next inhabitor of your desk, with a nice note.

    crummb IS cute. crummb by tpl just sounds so right. but more impt, since it’s wedding cake, you must have sophisticated colours and stickers with scalloped edges.

    i’ll drop off something for you this weekend and pick up my black stamens, can?

    • crummb Says:

      can! any time after noon is fine. just sms me when you’re coming 🙂
      yes, leaving it for the next person is a great idea. sheesh i’m tempted to leave EVERYTHING for the next person.

  4. Fan Says:

    What a libration: you can leave your job in pursuit of your dream! If J Tan is the one first planted the seed in your cake-making calling, then you are my light to show that it is possible to give up something secure and follow something you are passionate about.

  5. Gerard Says:

    Hi Pau Lin

    I will miss the occasional longish chats we have about our kids and pregnancies (my wife and yours) whenever I spied you at your desk during my walks around the newsroom.

    What are your plans? Full-time stay-at-home yummy mummy?

    All the best, and we will keep in touch via this blog and FB


    • crummb Says:

      full-time stay-at-home shake-leg watch-tv foxxy mamma who will occasionally bake cakes for money! yes we will always be in touch. thanks gerard 🙂

  6. Anne Says:

    Yo! Pau Lin,

    Here’s to an exciting season ahead! You will blossom and thrive where you are planted.


  7. cookie Says:

    whatever u do to the junkyatd, i am sure that will have a place in your heart, always.

    ps: what dream are u after this?

  8. from a reader Says:

    I’ll miss reading your cookbook reviews 🙂

    Yours is one of the few names from the paper I can recognize. Look forward to more of your writing on this space.

  9. clarakan Says:

    i’m so gonna miss you foxy mama!!! *wail*

  10. theragdoll Says:

    Watch out, Martha!
    ps: I actually considered summoning all my energy to plan the singapore wedding party that never happened – so I can have a crummb by tpl wedding cake!

  11. vivien Says:

    hey you know what? 2 months back when i was researching on my wedding venue i stumbled upon your blog because you posted about your cake vs One Degree 15’s gargantuan fake thing. it was then i realized that the venue i’m most likely having my wedding at, has an ugly decor cake.

    I did think about finding out more about your wedding cakes but somehow it slipped my mind (also possibly coz i was under the impression that you only baked for friends). fast forward 2 months later, my fiance left the link to your blog before going offline. i think he’s asleep now…

    BUT HEY! I’M BACK HERE!!! *amazed* and he doesn’t know that i’ve already been to this blog before he did (if he knew he wouldn’t have sent me this link)

    mmm… can you quote us? I THINK IT’S WONDERFUL YOU’RE BAKING FULL TIME AND DOING SOMETHING UNCONVENTIONAL!! i was actually poking around a little looking for your email but then i gave up and here’s a super long comment. heh heh paiseh.

  12. yz Says:

    Hello.. This post really struck a chord because I was in a similar situation a month ago. I spent hours poring over papers and random knick-knacks, reliving moments and tearing up spiral notebook after spiral notebook. It’s great fun being a journalist, and perhaps, I’m starting to think, the newsroom will always be a part of me.

    Argh I’m sorry I rambled! More importantly, I wanted to say: all the best for your new venture! I’m sure your creations will make many people happy. 🙂

  13. joipy Says:

    dell latitude e6400…..

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