How to Malaysian at the UofI #1: Prepping for the ice-pocalypse

This one is specially dedicated to my friends bound for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign this coming Fall, or anyone in particular looking to learn how to survive subzero temperatures four months a year. It’s gonna be sort of a mini-series, so I’ll be starting off with learning how to avoid death by freeze-nap.

So, I don’t know about you guys, but before coming to the UofI, I had this picturesque image of the Main Quad in my head that kinda looked like this:

Image result for uiuc main quad

But the university websites forgot to mention a couple of itsy bitsy things like:

Image result for uiuc rain
This
Image result for uiuc snow day
THIS

 

Image result for illinois strong winds
AND THIS.

And hence this little PSA. So here are a few things that helped me (your friendly neighborhood Equatorial-country native) survive my first Winter (and late Fall).

Woolen inner wear

These include long johns, socks, and leggings. They essentially function like a second skin, and can be very comfortable if you buy the right one. Woolen ones are harder to come by in Malaysia, but synthetic ones work just the same. Synthetic material also tends to be more water resistant, which is something you’d want for your socks (especially during Fall of the Perpetual Rain). However, you’d have to wash synthetic inner wear more often than woolen ones, because they tend to develop an iffy smell if you don’t clean them for more than a week.

Invest in good-quality inner wear, though. If possible, don’t be stingy about it. A  good set of long johns can mean the difference between comfort and ants in you pants.

A down coat

A down coat is (duh) a coat stuffed with down, a material typically made of goose or duck feathers, or synthetic fibers. They come in all styles, colors, sizes, and fashions, but I would personally recommend getting one of those Michelin-man ones that extend below your knees. Reason being that those coats are designed to increase surface area to trap more warm air. Also, a long coat is better at preventing the winds from riding up your gluteus  maximus. Some of them even come with an inner layer that you can zip on and off, depending on how cold the weather is. Also, get one with a large hood (preferably with synthetic feathers) to prevent the wind from getting at your face.

Mine kinda looks like this:

Image result for guess winter coat black women

It’s not fashionable, but it works amazingly well.

A sturdy scarf.

No, one of those flimsy cotton ones isn’t going to work. Neither is a soft fluffy one. Get serious, heavy-duty scarves that can stay upright on your face, even when the wind is blowing at 70km/h. Knitted woolen scarves are really good (my friend made one for me and it helped me survive November and December). But in January, when things start to get bad, you’ll want a stiffer, thicker scarf. I bought mine at Target, and it’s the green one in the picture below:

And since I’ve shown you this picture, I’ll talk about leather gloves.

I bought them at Target, too. They double as half-mittens, and have an inner synthetic lining. I wore them throughout the entire winter. They helped me stand -20C weather, piercing winds, and torrential rain. I am not exaggerating one bit. And as I am cursed with perpetually cold hands, these gloves are a $39 blessing. I’ve tried mittens, woolen gloves, touchscreen gloves – but nothing worked as well as the leather ones I now swear by.

BOOTS. Mustn’t forget boots.

 There are two kinds of boots that you will need if you’re studying at the UofI: rain boots and snow boots. The former because it rains non-stop during the later Fall months, and cold, wet feet is the last thing you want to have on a day with five consecutive classes. The latter is absolutely necessary. I have these pair:

Image result for columbia black winter boots

They are huge, chunky, and rather ugly in an endearing way, but they are also warm, waterproof, and non-slip. Do not skimp on these. I repeat: DO. NOT. SKIMP. ON. WINTER. BOOTS. You will live, miserably, to regret it when you cannot walk to class without slipping on ice at least seven times and arriving home at 5pm with damp, wrinkly feet.

Jean Valjeans

Jeans. Mankind’s savior in all weather conditions. I would advise getting a few pairs of reasonably baggy jeans for winter wear. Baggy because you’d be wearing layers of inner wear underneath it, and I would not recommend walking around like an overstuffed bratwurst. You can also survive Fall if you have a couple of good-quality pairs without any inner wear.

Flappy hats and beanies

I got a one of those flappy-eared hats for warmth, and BOY does it work well. It looks terrible, though, so I don’t wear it unless the wind is blowing and my hood will be rendered null and void. I also got a floppy beanie, and that works fine, too. The basic principle is to get something that covers your ears, because that’s where you lose a lot of heat.

Image result for floppy ear hat
Flappy ear hat, otherwise known as a woodchuck hat.

Layer!

Layer your clothes. I made the mistake of buying the thickest of everything that I could get when I got here, and wasted some money. The trick isn’t to buy the thickest jacket or scarf on the market, but to wear your clothes in layers. Each layer of clothing traps a separate layer of warm air, and that’s what actually keeps you warm. So basically, more layers = more warm air = more comfy. Here’s an example of what would typically pass of as ‘warm’ for me in the winter.

  1. Camisole
  2. Long-sleeved blouse
  3. Thin inner jacket
  4. Down coat
  5. Woolen leggings
  6. Jeans
  7. Long socks
  8. Snow boots
  9. Beanie
  10. Big scarf

I get cold easily, so it might be overkill for some of you.

You can also find some things that really helped me here and here. 

There you go. That’s all I can think of for now. Whoever you are, I hope this helps you, and please feel free to ask me questions in the comments below!

 

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, Poems (or so I think), Random Stuff

That Didn’t Feel Like 9 Months

It was a blink of an eye, an endless eternity

It was an journey that stretched infinitely into the horizon

It was more life lived in nine months than in nineteen years

And bipolar weather bringing ghastly winds

It was cornfields and soybeans

Peppered with concrete, mortar, reused paper and wooden swords

It was the musty smell of running women

And grunting men pulling their weight in iron

It was 5km in 35 minutes for the first time in a lifetime

It was finding out that three hours of sleep sufficed

And that 3D modeling meant more than a bath

It was AMIRA and Gaussian and Otsu and thresholds

And that there is so, so much more left to learn

It was the sheer excitement at imagining a machine poop cement

Coupled with the “Oh my God, maybe I’d get to make it”

It was starting off on stumbling feet

–  Ah, dammit, I am still stumbling –

Most of all it was, is, and always will be

The freedom, the liberation, and the bittersweet sensation

Of knowing that you are where you’re supposed to be

9,250 miles away from where you left your heart.

 

Posted in Education, Scholarships

Academicians’ Boats

In case you don’t get the title, think synonyms.

Anyways, SPM results are out, and I have a burning sense of obligation to spread the good news of financial aid for higher education.

Just kidding. Mid terms are over, I just had a bag of chips, and I want to write something. Hurrah Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand! I will now proceed to divulge the secrets to the application process of

THE YAYASAN TENAGA NASIONAL SCHOLARSHIP

Image result for yayasan tenaga nasional scholarship

Why this one? Well, they’re my sponsors and the only one I can be sure not to give you faulty second-hand information of, so here goes nothing.

Yayasan Tenaga Nasional (YTN) offers two types of financial aid: study loan and full scholarship. I’ll only be talking about the full scholarship, because I ‘Jon Snow’ on the former.

The application process of this scholarship is pretty straightforward. There’s an online application that you have to fill out, but they go old-school with the supporting documents. You have to mail them your certificates, exam results, identification documents and the like. I also strongly suggest including a resume and a reference letter. They may or may not read it, but it’s just better if you have something extra they can refer to. I had to wait for about two weeks for the application results to come out. You need to remember to keep checking their website to see when the results will be out. Also keep tabs on their application page, because that is where they post the results, and where you’ll have to confirm your attendance to the interview.

As for the types of scholarships they offer, YTN sponsors students interested in the Civil, Electrical Power and Mechanical Engineering. They also offer scholarships for Accountancy. From what I know, they offer both local and overseas scholarships. The local scholarship is for engineering and accountancy programs at UNITEN. The overseas option will have students complete their first year of university at a Malaysian prep college (probably INTEC), and complete the remaining three years of undergraduate study at a university in the US. Students can also opt to apply to study in the UK, Australia, or New Zealand. I’m not too sure how those work, however, and can only give solid information for the US program. As for the type of sponsors they are; from my experience, YTN has been accommodating and efficient. They’re caring sponsors, answer emails promptly, and it doesn’t hurt that they support their students pretty well, financially speaking.

On the side, here is a list of things that you will need in preparation for scholarship applications:

  1. At least 10 copies of certificates of your significant achievements or koko activities
  2. At least 10 copies of your identification documents including (but not limited to) your IC, passport, and birth cert
  3. At least 5 copies of your parents’ tax release forms
  4. At least 5 copies of your parents’ paychecks
  5. At least 10 copies of your exam results from From 1 to Form 2
  6. More than 10 copies of your exam results from Form 3 to Form 5
  7. At least two reference letters from  teachers/mentors/employers
  8. At least 10 copies of your CV/resume (learn the difference here)
  9. A sturdy file to keep all the paper in
  10. At least one packet of A4 envelopes to mail your documents
  11. BLACK BALLPOINT PEN 
  12. A muka tembok to keep going back to school to ask the headmaster/mistress to sahkan all the documents
  13. A guilty conscience for all the trees you murdered

More information regarding other scholarships can be found here. If you have any questions, please post it in the comments, or PM me via Facebook. I’ll be happy to help out.

Also, I have to mention that this post was inspired by my friend’s blog post about JPA scholarships. Give it a read! I cannot promise possums or cherry blossoms, but it will be awesome.

Lastly, to all SPM 2016 candidates: BRACE YOURSELVES – WINTER IS COMING (or the sheer scariness of adulthood, at least).

Posted in Learning Curve, Random Stuff

Prove the following equation: Lillian = Malaysian

The story begins with an agonizingly slow day at the bookstore. The only thing there was to do at the cashier was nothing, so my friend and I decided that talking might be better than staring dolefully at the entrance, praying that some Good Samaritan might waltz in and buy something – anything – so that we’d have something to do.

“Are you celebrating Chinese New Year?” I asked her. The season was upon us at the time, and I was gleefully anticipating the excuse to overeat at a fancy dinner.

“Not really.” I was a little surprised, because she’s from China, but apparently the celebration isn’t a big thing in her family. “Are you?”

And that began my 15-minute-long soliloquy on all celebrations Chinese, including a brief description of my favorite mooncake flavor, durian.

It was her turn to be surprised. “You celebrate all that?” she asked. “But you’re Malaysian.”

Whoa, okay.

And that wasn’t the last time, either. I sat down about a week ago, when my RA approached me to discuss social identities as part of her duty to get to know all the people on our floor. She asked for my ethnicity. I told her I was Chinese.

“But aren’t you Malaysian?”

Akak, banyak cantiklah lu. Ini Cina punya orang mata sepet boleh nampak hidung penyek pun ada, pelat semua lengkap ada, rojak punya bahasa pun ada, lu mahu apa lagi.

Namun demikian, beginilah persepsi masyarakat Amerika terhadap diriku yang OCBC (orang Cina bukan Cina).

So back to the topic at hand. It seems that people were under the impression that ‘Malaysian’ was an ethnicity. And I won’t deny that I felt a slight twinge of pride when they first identified me as Malaysian. But that brings me to my next topic.

She asked me, “What do you identify most as?”

I gave it a couple of seconds’ thought. “Malaysian-Chinese, I guess.”

“Why?”

That was when my neurons started firing. I had never given it much thought before, but I had somehow always identified myself as Malaysian-Chinese. What else was there? The first time I’d gone to the US, I told people I was Malaysian, because the Chinese part seemed obvious. Besides, ‘Chinese’ is a pretty broad term, like calling a German ‘Caucasian’. I always wanted to reinforce that I was Malaysian, though.

BUT WHY LAH.

“Probably because I feel like I have to constantly prove that I’m Malaysian,” I replied.

I learnt that my ancestors immigrated to Tanah Melayu all those years ago for some reason now lost to the annals of history. Don’t remember when, don’t remember how. Later on I discovered that I had different rights from some of my friends, because I was ‘Non-Bumiputra’. That term didn’t make much sense to me back then. All I knew was that ‘putra’ meant prince, and non-bumiputra probably meant that I wasn’t royalty or something. And sometimes I’d read articles in which A would tell B to ‘balik (insert country here)’, ensuing chaos and another unproductive debate on the state of racial and social justice in our country. But it all didn’t mean much to me until something like this conversation happened:

Friend: I hope things don’t get too bad in our country.

Me: Yeah, afterwards we all go down the drain weih.

Friend: Ah, you don’t have to worry. You can go back to China anytime.

She probably meant well, and didn’t know the impact of her words, but at the time my brain was struggling to juggle the sudden deluge of indignation, frustration, and sadness. All I could manage in the end was a nervous, “Hahah, even if I go back they also don’t want me lah.”

Was I not Malaysian enough? Was I still so “Chinese” Chinese that I cold hop on a plane, lickety-split, land in China, locate my hypothetical long-lost relatives of the Liu clan, buy a small apartment in the middle of a polluted Beijing, learn to speak Mandarin overnight, and settle down like my great-great-great-great-and-then-some-grandparents never migrated? How much roti canai and nasi lemak and sirap bandung did I have to consume to qualify as Malaysian? How many ulas of durian – scratch that – how many biji durian do I have to inhale every season to prove that my ‘home’ home is in Subang, and not some little village in China? How many karangan do I have to write? How many peribahasa do I have to learn? How much must I score in BM? How well must I do in PLKN? How Malaysian is Malaysian enough?

But there is a strange beauty in all of this. There is a constant struggle to balance the urge to assimilate, as well as to maintain the uniqueness of one’s culture and heritage. And that, I believe, has given rise to diversity (and probably my inability to speak Mandarin). I don’t think I would’ve appreciated being Malaysian as much if I didn’t have to think about all this. I have moments where I wonder what life would have been like if my ancestors had chosen to stay in China. But the apple fell 3,512km from the tree, grew roots and proceeded to allow more apples to grow and fall where the progenitor landed. So I will never know, and that’s okay. If I can be mistaken as Malaysian in a foreign land, that’s good enough for me.

On a side note, I finished three exams in one day, and have the bad feeling that the engineering life has only just begun.

Posted in Overseas, Random Stuff

One in Four

At 7am this morning my phone started going bonkers and I was woken up with a very bright, loud,

“HI LILLIAAANNNNNNNN!”

In my half-conscious state, I yanked my cellphone away from my ear and tried to hit the red button. After fumbling for about roughly three seconds, I hit it and remembered, in my stupor, that I was supposed to call my family at 6am that morning.

Thank you, Physics and Linear Algebra.

I apologized to my cousin via WhatsApp and told her that I had to go brush my teeth. Being astute, she told me that she would not be able to smell my breath across a screen.

Ah, Pei. You have not been exposed to the oral fumes of yours truly.

I brushed my teeth and sat down with my iPhone and a pair of earphones. Then in the next 30 minutes, I was enthusiastically shown around my home and reintroduced to everyone I had not seen in four months.  Amah seemed okay, albeit thinner than usual. Everyone was about the same. Jessie was notably rounder. QiQi looked slightly taller. Lucky was shivering under the chair because the fireworks scared her. Pei Li was as lanky as always, and Yean enjoyed saying hi multiple times over the phone. I wished Ji Ko gong xi fa cai through Mei Choo Jie’s handphone (it was, as she put it, a phone-ception).

The rest of the day was a flurry of photos of family, yee sang, steamboat, reunion dinners, and Rooster Year pictures courtesy of multiple friends and relatives. I looked at the food and salivated.

This is the first of four Chinese New Years that I will be missing. It only just occurred to me today how much I had taken for granted while I was back home. I also wonder if students aspiring to study overseas are aware of how much they will have to give up to fulfill their ambitions. While family and friends will be spending the New Year celebrating, I have a meeting and dance practice due tomorrow, as well as a concrete mix to make (which my grad student advisor will hopefully not reject). Sometimes, the stark contrast still catches me unawares.

So, in celebration of the 2016 Year of the Rooster, here is a picture of my favorite chicken:

lemon-chicken_13756

恭喜发财,红包拿来! Please?

Posted in Learning Curve, Random Stuff

Yay 2017(?)

I spent the 365th day of 2016 at my seniors’ house, playing card games and discovered the following things:

  1. I am terrible at Egyptian and Heart Attack. Or maybe that could have been the combined effects of sleep deprivation and half a bottle of margarita. (Mummy, if you’re reading this, it was only 5% alcohol and a small bottle at that and no I didn’t get drunk – though I felt unusually sprightly after downing half the bottle).
  2. I am decent at games like Cho Tai Ti, but my strategic planning skills are a work in progress.
  3. I have a very effective poker face suited for sabotage games.
  4. The start of 2017 felt a lot like the start of 2016.

Given, I celebrated the beginning of 2016 at home with my family. Celebrations began when the clock struck 12am and ended roughly fifteen minutes later with sleepy greetings of ‘Happy New Year, Ma’ and ‘Happy New Year, Pa’. It strikes me as strange as to how much has changed in my life since then. I finished ADFP, experienced a whole lot of firsts – first time taking a long-haul flight alone, first time travelling with friends, first time celebrating Christmas away from my family, first time actually celebrating New Year’s Day.

I’m also slightly surprised at myself. I’ve become a little more gung-ho about things, though I’m not sure if that is something to celebrate. I’ve taken to doing things if I want to, and to trying things simply because. Well, bar drugs and alcohol and *ahem*. If I’m gonna be impulsive about something, I’m gonna be productive while being impulsive, thank you very much. The gym has also become a regular haunt for me, though my abs do not seem to be getting any tighter. Probably because I enjoy Sun Chips too much. And I feel a little more sure about myself, which is a feeling I need to savor now because it’s probably going to fade off in a bit and I’ll be back to contemplating the meaning of life in this plane of existence.

While things are going pretty okay in the personal development area, the world –

Cue the crackling of flames and the crashing of skyscrapers in the distance. Large figures that look a lot like a broken teacup, the goddess Isis crying because something besmirched her name, and small, spray-tanned hands loom from above. Someone is sobbing quietly in the corner, muttering a mantra that sounds strangely like ‘Bowie, Ali, Fisher, Rickman, Glenn, Wilder…’.

Yeah…it hasn’t been a great year for the world, to put it simply. And don’t get me started on Malaysia.

However, it is heartening to know that human psychology conditions us to think that things are always getting worse. It’s a survival mechanism that primes us to prepare for any possibility. But then, an article in The Times Magazine also notes that the world today looks suspiciously a lot like what it did right before World War I broke out.

These days, you just don’t know what to think anymore.

Well, here’s to people realizing that something has to be done right now. Happy New Year!

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas, Random Stuff

ただいま

Yes, hiragana. Because my kanji is worse than a two-year-old’s. But I have been making some progress in the negative-past-tense verb sections, which is a plus.

So I just got back from my little adventure to New York (yes, it qualifies as an adventure after all the scares we had), and I found myself plagued by all manner of strange thoughts on the journey back home, like: does overall cost of living affect the type of community, or does the type of community affect the overall cost of living? and life is like a journey; some parts you travels with friends, others you travel alone.

Blerrrghhhhh.

It’s probably the stale airplane air and the endless hours sitting and waiting for the Peoria Express bus to arrive. Truly, an idle mind is a danger to oneself.

Hohoho. Sounded mature for a bit there.

To sum everything up, I spent a week in New York and Niagara Falls with a couple of friends and was sufficiently blown away. First by the sheer number of people that manage to cram themselves in Times Square, and then by the myriad of languages being spoken in New York, and then by the eagerness of people to get a glimpse of the dancing lights at Saks Fifth Avenue, and then by New York’s sheer personality (which I will get into in a bit), and then by Niagara Falls (which I will enthuse about in my next post, because describing the thing in one paragraph simply does not cut it).

New York is a city with a personality. It gives off a very  distinct ‘Dont-f***-with-me’ vibe. New York is every misfit kid with personality issues – the kind that broods on about how no one truly understands them, and how people just won’t stop making bad songs out of their names. New York is not a place for the fainthearted and the homebodies. It’s not a place you’d like if you’re not willing to work for its approval.

But.

But if you go and pass the test (mine was that awful night spent at the AirBnb), you’ll find that New York is actually a pretty darn good place to be. The architecture of the buildings are beautiful, and the whole city is a museum in itself. There is history in its subways, roads, ghettos, and, heck, even its potholes. Its a place where people who yearn to prove themselves to the world gravitate to. Its a place you go to if you want to see humanity in all its beauty and ugliness. It never ceases to amaze you. To quote Aladdin (a very mature source, I know); ‘Every turn a surprise’.

If you didn’t sing that phrase in your head, go watch more Disney.

So now I’m back in quiet Urbana-Champaign, tapping away at my keyboard and hoping that someone will read this and tell me how to improve my writing. That’s a not-so-subtle hint to you, reader.

Here’s to more adventures to come.

 

Posted in Learning Curve, Overseas

The NY Adventure

So our flight was delayed for four hours. And then the crew didn’t turn up until 30 minutes after they were supposed to arrive. We boarded the flight at close to 12am and arrived at an eerily deserted LaGuardia at 2.30am. As if things couldn’t get any worse, we soon found out that the apartment we booked on AirBnb wasn’t what it’s proprietor claimed it was.

We arrived at a dubious neighborhood at 3am. And my heart sank.

The whole place looked like a potential murder site. I kid you not. The rusted emergency stairs, the flying plastic bags – it looked like a scene straight out of Law and Order. Anees and I were suitably spooked.

The apartment didn’t do much to assuage our fears. The ancient elevator wasn’t working, the building was poorly lit, and had fewer occupants than light sources. To make things worse, our host seemed reluctant to answer our questions about who else rented the apartments here.

So me and Anees decided, in her words, that we sorely needed to ‘belah’ in the morning.

We burned the money used to book the place, and are currently applying for a refund from AirBnb; it doesn’t really matter to us if we get it or not, we’re just relieved to be out of that place.

So we booked a hotel in the middle of Manhattan at 4am, and cabut first thing in the morning. Arriving at the city hotel felt like we had been rescued off a shipwreck.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, with obligatory trips to Times Square and Carlos’ Bakery, but this is one experience I will remember and live to tell my cucu cicit about.

‘Your Amah was an adventurer,’ I’d tell them. ‘She survived a dangerous jungle known as 10th Avenue Manhattan’. Then they would clap in amazement and wonder and tell all their friends and AI companions what a cool Amah they had.

I’d be a great grandmother.

Honestly though, we should’ve planned better. And maybe not have been so kedekut.

Priority list for other travels:

1. Safety

Posted in Overseas, Random Stuff

The Aftermath (but not quite)

Technically, it’s ‘before-math’ because I’m supposed to be doing Homework 31 for my Calculus 3 (haha made a pun), but I’m gonna skimp on that tonight and write this instead. But before I begin, a disclaimer – this is merely the opinion of a simple, nineteen-year-old girl who is too young to vote in her home country, but too old to ignore the current situation.

So Trump won the American presidency, and my university campus is in a state of upheaval. My Calculus professor thanked us for actually showing up to class in light of the night’s events, and a speaker at the SWE event spoke about the importance of female leadership instead of showing us her usual recruitment PowerPoint slides. I have heard people crying in fear of friends and family at risk of deportation, I have seen small demonstrations on the Quad, heard people question the genuineness of friendship offered by their White counterparts.

Dear Americans,

Trump won fair and square – that is an indisputable fact. There are reasons to his victory, and they go beyond racism and sexism. They encompass the frustration, misunderstanding, and fear of his supporters – everything everyone who voted against him are probably feeling right now. I do not know enough to come up with the factors that led to his victory, but what is done is done. Whether he turns out to be the very man he portrayed on the campaign trail remains to be seen. Fingers crossed, he won’t be.

As a non-citizen and cool observer, I want to remind you of these few things. The fact that you are able to rise up to the streets to protest the election of a candidate you do not approve of means you have freedom of speech. The fact that you are able to hold public discussions dissecting the flaws of the party or candidate you dislike and still return to a home and not a prison cell, means you have a fighting chance. The fact minority groups can still speak out against an unjust system means you have hope. You have the right to the freedom of demonstration, the freedom of speech, the freedom of press. Your constitution does not (directly) place one demographic above another. Your presidents have term limits. These are your tools. Use them, and use them well.

To those who have achieved what they sought to accomplish, congratulations. To those fighting for an alternative, don’t give up. Not now, not ever. Work harder. Rise up, don’t give in. Fight, because you can and because you must. Now more than ever, America, the world is watching.

To my Malaysian friends, I have only this to say: remember, too, the minorities in Malaysia who live in the same apprehension American minorities feel with the election of Trump. Please. More than that, I am too afraid to say.

But then again, I am only nineteen. Take all this is a pinch of salt. Scratch that – preserve this whole essay in brine if you must.

Now, back to Calculus.

Posted in Random Stuff, Shorts

Dead Man On My Chest (Part I)

There was a dead man sitting on his chest.

Roughly two hours and eight cans of Bud Light ago, Jann passed out on his couch. Then, halfway through an unusually comforting dream of three well-endowed strippers giving him free lapdances in turn, he was rudely awakened by a sudden application of uneven pressure right below his sternum accompanied by a stench of rotting meat.

Initially, he thought that he was finally dying of a heart attack. He patiently waited for the white light to appear (or burning flames, whichever), but as the brunette with the lacy stockings continued gyrating in his face, he figured that it was probably the meatloaf in his underwear drawer reaching its final throes of freshness.

Slightly disappointed that his body had not yet given up, Jann reluctantly opened his eyes and –

‘WHAT THE – ‘

‘Shhhh….man, you’ll wake the baby next door.’

The thing sitting on his chest was probably once a man with roasted-coffee complexion, dreadlocks, and a hippie rainbow shirt that said ‘WAR IS A WHORE’. However, the creature that Jann saw had a hole in head where its right eyeball should have been, black fingernails, and gums that had shrunk back so far Jann could nearly see the roots of its teeth. Jann choked back a scream.

It gave him a lopsided smile. ‘Hey, man. I’m – ‘

At this point, Jann’s resolve broke and he opened his mouth to scream. Before the ‘agh’ could turn into an all-out ‘AAAAYEEEEEEEEEEEE’, the creature tightened its strangely sinewy legs around his chest and all Jann managed was a small ‘eeek’.

‘Can’t alert anyone, man,’ the creature said, shaking its head.

As its head turned from side to side, Jann felt small objects falling onto his week-old polo shirt. He gulped. Whatever it was that was falling onto his chest, Jann did not want to see it. He decided that the best course of action would be to close his eyes and pray that this thing would disappear soon. Unfortunately, he could not spare his olfactory nerves.

‘Yo, man. Sorry ’bout this whole sitting-on-chest thing, but I figured I’d better else you’d run.’

Nope, Jann thought, this is all a bad dream.

‘I’m Declan, by the way, but you can call me Dede. That’s what everyone calls me.’

Strippers. Three strippers. At a strip club.

‘Well, damn, man. I thought you’d be friendlier. You could at least look at someone when they’re talking.’

Jann felt something push up against his eyelids. He fought it, pressing his eyes shut. The force intensified.

Nope, nope, nope nope, absolutely – 

All of a sudden, the force tripled in magnitude and Jann felt his eyelids fly open.

He found  one cataract-afflicted eye staring at him. He whimpered.

‘What…what are you?’

The thing’s grin widened.

‘Who, man. Who. I’m your – ‘

He felt something cold and wet flop down onto his chest.

‘Unghh ugghhyy.’

The creature reached down and picked up a limp, grey thing. It examined it for a while, as if wondering how to fit it back in where it belonged. Then it nonchalantly put it into its mouth and pressed lightly downwards.

It smacked its lips and cleared its throat.

‘Sorry ’bout that. Been dead too long, man. Things start falling apart. What was I saying?’

Jann stared in horror.

‘You sure don’t talk much. Well,  I’m your guardian angel.’