Archive 2

28/12/97 Cover Girl from first to last

18/10/97 The Consistent Story Of Mr Lee Kuan Yew

18/10/97 Everyone has a prize, its size depends on how hard he tries

26/10/97 Oh, to be a fly on the Mall

31/8/97 Are you ready for the world?

17/8/97 In New York, instead of shopping with Zoe...

8/7/97 Current Account and the Future Draft:
People's bank stays relevant 25 years on

8/7/97 Millennium plan for bank of first choice

25/5/97 World has turned, but have we?

11/5/97 In the end, it is all just a matter of time

13/4/97 Time not spent with others, life not shared

30/3/97 In Xiamen the day after Deng died

Saturday, October 26,1997
The Sunday Times, Page 2

Oh, to be a fly on the Mall

I LIKE large wooden tables.

At the Brisbane Hilton, I had a large room, with a large bed, and most happily, a large wooden table.

The room was on the 15th floor so I had a good view too of the skyscrapersñ and a clear, blue sky, something which I had been missing dearly.

I looked in the Yellow Pages and found a company called An Apple A Day, which rented out Macintosh PowerPCs.

I called the number and a jolly man who also happened to be the boss said, No problem. He could set me up with a desktop Mac and a printer at eight the next day.

I had a couple of articles to write so I would need to hire the equipment for three days. I had five days in Brisbane. The last two days I thought I would go for a haircut, watch a movie, drink chilled white wine and maybe even check out the nightclub with "exotic dancers"ñ all on the busy Queen Street mall downstairs.

As part of the Jetabout Holiday package, I had a voucher for a rental car for two days but I had no plan to use it. The Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast could wait. I wanted to stay put. I wanted a hassle-free break.

David Dobbins, who was the boss of An Apple A Day, came up to my room promptly at eight the next day, and got the desktop and printer set up on the large table in less than five minutes.

He was a cheerful chap. "There you are, you've got yourself an office," he said.

He had brought along a ream of A-4 sized paper and a spare ink cartridge. He did not need any down-payment. "You're staying at the Hilton," he said simply.

He would come and collect the equipment three days later and I would pay him then. Wonderful, I said. He gave me his cellular phone number. "Call me if you've got any problem."

I called him soon enough, after I had returned to my room from a breakfast of danish and coffee at a cafe on the mall.

"I can't seem to be able to set the margins," I told him, frantic.

THE mall is a stretch of street closed to traffic, and bound on both sides by shopping complexes, boutiques, restaurants and pubs. During lunchtime, it was crowded with office workers who sat on the benches to eat their burgers or sandwiches.

Attractive women posed in short skirts as they smoked and talked into their cellular phones. The mall as catwalk.

There were buskers who staked out different parts of the strip: an eight-piece band from Peru; a woman who sat cross-legged as she played the harpsichord; a pregnant folk singer with long hair and a flowery dress who accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar; and an elderly black singer.

Out-of-town visitors thronged the place, carrying large paper bags that advertised the designer stuff they had bought.

The sun was pleasant, and it was a delight just to sit at a table in one of the open-air cafes, to sip a cup of coffee and soak it all in.

I was on leave and should not have been working but, away from the office and in a comfortable hotel room, the work was not quite work. Each time I needed a break, I would go down to the mall.

On the second night, I stayed up till dawn to finish the work.

In the afternoon, I celebrated with three glasses of chilled Chardonnay after lunch, went up to my room and collapsed into sleep.

Later in the evening, I got up to get a cheeseburger with bacon at Hungry Jack, and brought it back to my room to eat it, washing it down with the half bottle of wine from the mini-bar. And it was back to sleep again. Bliss.

YES, I got my haircut at one of the fancy shops on the mall. The manager, who was gloriously bald, suggested how I should have my hair cut. A young woman assistant did the cutting, as I studied myself in the mirror.

I remembered JeanPaul Sartre's line: "It was the brutality of fate that I was born ugly, but I wasn't obsessed with it."

Ugly or not, the French philosopher had his fair share of women, just as the handsome Camus did. Albert Camus, who parted ways with Sartre after a long-friendship, had a wife and three mistresses all at the same time.

He has his character say in The Fall: "It hurts me to confess it, but I'd have given 10 conversations with Einstein for a first meeting with a pretty chorus-girl ...

"And how often, standing on a pavement involved in a passionate discussion with friends, I lost the thread of the argument being developed because a devastating woman was crossing the street at that very moment."

On the Left Bank in Paris in those days, the women in the cafes loved men who could talk about existential despair and the need for intense experiences, which often just meant sex.

In my 20s, when I trotted out lines like "anguish of being", all I did was frighten away the girls. These days, it is the womenfolk who use the word "angst" liberally, whenever they suffer from some minor anxiety. Angst is not anxiety, but anguish, and anguish of the first order: Who am I and what am I doing here?

I addressed a minor anxiety in the office the other day. Some young colleagues at the Money Desk were picking their favourites from among the pictures of eligible expats in the latest issue of Her World as I walked past their tables. So I asked them: Do men's looks matter to women?

I shouldn't have asked.

After my haircut, I watched a movie at one of the two cineplexes on the mall. It was My Best Friend's Wedding, starring Julia Roberts, a thoroughly enjoyable film, not least because it celebrates so exuberantly those classic numbers by Burt Bacharach. When I came out of the cinema, I had to fight back an impulse to dash to HMV to buy a Best of Bacharach CD set.

I went to a bookshop instead, and found a book by the British journalist Bryan Appleyard called Understanding The Present (1992).

In it, he makes a passionate case for the human soul which has been all but banished in the 400 years of science. Science works, but it does not explain everything, he contends.

In presenting his case, Appleyard takes the reader through the history and philosophy of science, from Galileo, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Darwin and, yes, Einstein, to philosophers such as Kant and Kierkegaard.

The book engaged me, although I am sold on the neo-Darwinians like Richard Dawkins who take a less romantic view of the soul.

And so a week went by all too quickly. I had a good holiday.

And oh yes, I did case the joint which boasted "exotic dancers". It had chrome poles around which the dancers twirled, and leather sofasñbut there wasn't any table.

I didn't know where to put down my glass of rum, and I didn't suppose I could call Dobbins for help.