Friday, September 26, 2008

The Day Police Came to Get Me

Last week it was. The day started lazily enough with no indication of what lay in store. Wednesdays are my off-days at work but I was supposed to attend this get-together at 1 to meet an online overseas acquaintance who was in town. As four of us were speeding along, 45 minutes late, to the other side of town in a cab, my phone rang. It was my sister at home. She said worriedly, "Three policemen have just come in and want to see you." I went, "Who, me? What for?" She said she didn't know, they wouldn't say. Just that the OC at Bawngkawn Police Station had sent them to pick me up. My heart did flip flops as I racked my beanos on why they could possibly want me. Had someone made a complaint about something I said? Something I'd done years and years ago? Something I ate? Case of mistaken identity? I told my sister to give them my cell phone number and say I was tied up at the moment but would report at the station at 3. Ok, they reportedly said after confirming with their boss, 3 pm.

Unfortunately, the meet was still underway at 3 and no one seemed to realise time was tick tocking away. Amazing how some people can talk, by the way. Finally, my phone rang again. One of the men in khaki, in fact, the big boss man the OC himself. It seemed urgent and then it struck me that it must have something to do with a parcel I'd sent by speed post the previous day. "Is this about my parcel?" "Yes, ma'am, can you tell us the contents of the parcel?" "Um items of clothing, a book..." "That's all?" "I think so, magic jelly..." The officer, who had a very nice courteous tone of speaking, chuckled, "Magic jelly?" "Yes sir, ohhhh wait, I also put in a lighter in the shape of a pistol." "Ahhhh, a lighter shaped like a pistol?" "Yes sir, a gas lighter." "Well ma'am, can you come to the main post office so we can open it in your presence?" Silly me went, "Oh, why don't you just open it now? It's not anything dangerous, really." "Ma'am, we really would like to have you around when we do that. We'll wait for you in the speed post section." "Alright, I'll try to be there around 3.30."

The party finally split, after a spell of silly group photography, and I didn't tell anyone anything, just that I had to go to the post office. Only the speed post master was there when I arrived. He offered me a seat and said the police and parcel weren't there yet but a CID man was. Whoa - CID?! I was starting to feel terribly silly and uncomfortable. He was very nice and polite too but took down my name and particulars, the recipient of the parcel, etc etc. He said the people at the airport had seen the gun shape under x-ray and called in the police. Double whoa. He asked what size was the lighter and was it bigger than his gun, at which, to my horror, he whipped out from his trouser pocket a small pistol. "Oh, much smaller than that," I assured him hurriedly.

Then the police arrived with the condemned parcel. We ripped it open and I drew out the contents. A couple of chocolate bars fell out. I'd forgotten I'd packed those for a sweet-toothed someone. And then the suspicious item. Everyone began laughing and one policeman asked where I'd got it from and was it very expensive. Another said, "On the airport x-ray monitor it had looked much bigger and completely lifelike. If it'd been made of plastic, it wouldn't have been so suspect but with it being metallic, it was just too much!" I had to restitch the parcel packaging and since the post office didn't have needles or threads, the CID guy kindly said he knew a place just down the corner where I could do the needful and took me to a tailoring shop. After my parcel was neatly stitched up again, I went back to the post office and got it redeposited.

When I got home, my sister was in a tizzy. And in my mortification, I'd completely forgotten to call and let her know what was happening so she'd been just about climbing walls. Needless to say, when I related the whole crazy story, both my sisters thoroughly ticked me off for my idiocy and imbecility. One reminded me of how I'd once had my nailcutter confiscated from my handbag at the airport check-in. Ooops yes, when will I ever learn?

The offending object of suspicion

Friday, September 12, 2008

English as she is goodly writen

Perhaps it's because I teach English and have had a lifetime's fill of grammatical and constructional monstrosities. Or perhaps I'm just plain finicky and nitpicky but I detest people who cannot write correct English. Now speaking is a different matter altogether. Not being a native speaker myself, I fumble and trip over the spoken form all the time. Especially in the absence of daily conversational practice targets. But writing, ah, now that's something we've all had plenty of practice of most of our schoolgoing lives so it irks me no end when people keep doling it out in brokenly cringeworthy fashion.

Needless to say, I adore people who effortlessly and seamlessly write well in English. Of course some people are naturally born with the proverbial silver spoon at the tip of their fingers. They just naturally write well. And without fudging the issue, I know I write well. It's something I enjoy and have slowly got better at as I get older. But the people who unfailingly hit me for a sixer and make me fall madly in love with them are those who mix and manage standard English, formal and informal, and most importantly, colloquialisms with equal dexterity. I think the truest measure of a person's complete grasp of a language is his or her ability to use colloquial expressions with ease. When someone cruises along in formal English but completely misses out on a contemporary idiomatic expression, doh, that just doesn't cut it in my book. It's almost as criminal as the classic "Wanna make franship?" come on. Sic.

The funniest thing is native English speakers themselves are notoriously bad at writing in English. Case in point, all the people you see online, especially in chatrooms, who can't spell, punctuate or formulate their thoughts to save their nuts. Americans are an especially atrocious lot. It makes you wonder what standards grammar teachers keep in the US of A. Sure, originality of thought and self-expression and all that is important but surely not at the expense of making you look like a human grammatical error.

I imagine part of the problem is in the verbal having to be put down in writing. Oral expression is free and informal while writing is cluttered with rules and trip-you-ups. Details of grammar like spelling and punctuation obviously don't matter a dimsum in speaking and there's a lot more stress placed on immediacy of communication than in writing. All of which adds up to the verbal form being so vastly different from the written that fluent speakers flub right, left and centre in just about every aspect of writing.

Indians are reputed to be among the world's best writers of English and I'd have to agree. To some extent. What's definitely an oh no factor for me is the over-formal, pedantic, stilted writing style many swear by. Or maybe it's the only style they know. It just gets me a little claustrophobic after a while. Makes me itch to rip off the suit and neckwear and stuffy shoes and push them headfirst into the linguistic pool.

But then again, like I said, maybe I'm just an over-finicky, nitpicking English teacher.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Stepping up a tech notch

Got myself a new laptop Monday evening. A Compaq C795TU. I don't remember why exactly but I've wanted a Sony Vaio for ages. Problem was they were out of my budget range and I kept hearing that Vaios didn't have anything special about them really anyway. Then I caught sight of those pretty Dell Inspirons in all kinds of colours - red, pink, yellow, spring green, and some even with the most delicately beautiful artwork on them but they too were slightly too expensive for me again. Besides when I looked around in what my favourite Mizo poet who I won't name here aptly calls this "one hoss town," there were just black Dells. Oh well, that left me with this..

Funnily enough I don't enjoy working on a laptop at all. Not yet anyway. The keyboard is so hard and congested, and without the helpful little USB mouse, my poor right hand would be all cramped and arthritic-looking. Also I'm terrified that I'll break the glass screen. So to say nothing of lugging it around, much less balance it on my lap, I'm nervy about using it anywhere but up on my usual safe desktop table!

What's kind of neat though is the dinky little webcam. Not that I thought people used webcams anymore. I once used a webcam when chatting to someone who claimed an ardent interest in getting to know me better and whoosh, it was almost like dipping a live coal in cold water. LMWAO. Perhaps I'll stick a Bandaid over the cam :P