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Embarking on my 40th Lap of the Sun

My 39th birthday just happened to coincide with Beerfest Asia 2018. I guess I’d just have to accept it and move on with my life.

I was born on August 30, 1979 and according to statistics, the average life expectancy for an Australian born at that time was 74 years, with 70.56 years for males and 77.62 years for women:

Screenshot 2019-11-12 at 4.23.17 PM

Things seem brighter for people born in this day and age with males looking at reaching 80.4 years of age and women living to be 84.6, but no matter how you look at it, even with the advances in modern medicine, it’s safe to say that at 39 years old, I’m now technically middle-aged and I’d simply have to be in denial to not be able to accept this fact. The real issue is whether I’m in the grips of a midlife crisis as I have made quite a few lifestyle changes that really only men grappling with what I like to call “manopause” tend to make when they reach my age. No, I haven’t purchased a sports car, I don’t flirt with women 20 years younger than me, and I haven’t started taking Metamucil (how could I not make that link orange?), but I have:

  • Joined a gym  My neurologist told me a few years ago that I probably should lose some weight. I started using a calorie counter and eating healthier and over a period of about four years I managed to lose roughly 15kg (33lb). He’s happy with my weight loss, I now have a healthy BMI again, however, I set myself a weight goal, but my weight loss stagnated and I couldn’t get past a certain point and reach my target. My neurologist also told me I need to get more exercise, which makes sense as I do like to walk everywhere, but when you work from home like I do there are days where you are almost completely sedentary besides the occasional dog walk. I figured a little extra exercise might reduce my seizures, get me to shed those extra couple of kilograms I’ve been trying to ditch, and may also be able to help remedy my sleeping problems and seemingly constant lower back pain so there was really no reason not to start going to the gym. Besides, it did help a bit when I was going to one when we lived in New York. In the three or four months since I joined, I’ve lost an additional 4kg (8.8lb) doing cardio work and went over two months without having a seizure. My back pain was a lot better too, until I pulled a muscle in my lower back when I did eventually have a seizure again.
  • Started eating healthier — This one I started doing when I first got told by the neurologist that I should lose weight. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain any weight, but now my epilepsy medication causes weight gain and I’m not playing any sport anymore. I mentioned the calorie counter earlier, but I know people who work out and then go to KFC afterward, making the exercise seem kind of redundant so I’ve been taking what I eat, especially for lunch, a little more seriously. Most days I’ll just have either a litre (33.8 fl. oz.) of home made fruit and vegetable juice or I’ll get some sashimi and sushi. But also, quite often I go to a place called Little Farms, a small cafe and grocery store in the mall below the gym, and get a salad or chicken with wild rice, something like that to take away, but some things aren’t always available, life doesn’t always go as you’d expect, and Anna will never let me live this one down so I may as well give you the details:
    A TV show I have always loved is The Young Ones, the storyline described on IMDB as:
  • Four mis-matched university students share a house in North London: Neil, the hippy; Mike, the cool person; Rick, a would-be anarchist studying sociology; and Vyvyan, the punk medical student who is prone to extreme violence. Together with their bastard Russian landlord, the world of these “bachelor boys” is surreal and violent, but ultimately hilarious.

  • tumblr_o2jb9qNqLl1so20l7o1_500Neil (left), is a vegetarian and always gets forced to cook for all of his housemates, meals which generally turn out to be lentils. Now, I had never eaten a lentil before until a few weeks ago and I don’t think I will bother eating them again, either. It was kind of late when I got to the gym that day so when I finished there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from for lunch at Little Farms, yet I couldn’t be bothered going anywhere else so I opted for the lentils with cauliflower and broccolini. I definitely cashed in my man-card that day. Anna came home to see me shovelling spoonful after spoonful into my mouth out of my box of tasteless misery-sand. In what was similar to a moment out of Peep Show, Anna asked me what I was eating, to which I answered that it was lentils. She laughed and said “Wow, you must be really enjoying them!” However, nothing could be further from the truth. “No, I just shut my eyes, put as much in my mouth and swallow, but whenever I look back at the box it seems like there’s still the same amount left,” I said in defeat. Anyone that reads this blog regularly knows that I will try eating anything at least once, but I don’t think I’ll have lentils again to see if I was mistaken and I doubt Anna will ever let me forget that I tried them in the first place.
  • Started using anti-hairfall shampoo — Since I’ve been exercising more, I’ve obviously been sweating a lot more too and in the Singapore climate that isn’t a good thing, especially for your hair. Due to this, I was getting kind of gross things growing on my scalp so I opted for Head & Shoulders. Hey, if it’s good enough for Sofía Vergara, it’s good enough for me, but I instinctively bought the anti-hairfall variety. I’m not losing my hair, I mean, sure, I’ve got car parks, but not at a Phil Collins level yet, however, there is no point closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

These three main points, and probably several others if I put my mind to it, definitely point to me being on the cusp of a midlife crisis, but I haven’t sold out completely. I still love beer and meeting up with friends for a drink and my birthday just so happened to land on the first day of Beerfest Asia:


If I have to…

Sure, the Beerfest website for 2018 looks like it was designed by the same people who made Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (couldn’t resist the colours again), but it’s the event, not the page that counts. So how do the organisers describe Beerfest Asia? Like This:

Beerfest Asia Pte Ltd is co-owned by lifestyle company, Timbre Group and Sphere Exhibits. Beerfest Asia Pte Ltd is set up to initiate and spearhead the beginnings of the only and largest beer festival in Southeast Asia. The idea behind Beerfest is the experimentation process of finding and enjoying beers that consumers may never, otherwise encounter locally. It is also a trade event for industry colleagues to exchange dialogue and promote their products. With plans to grow the festival in the region, Beerfest Asia Pte Ltd is committed to develop the festival to become the premier beer marketplace in Asia. 2018 marks the 10th edition of the festival.

Okay, that makes it seem a little wanky, but to me it is a chance to try a bunch of new beers and this year there were apparently over 600 different beers available. This obviously wasn’t our first time at Beerfest, not by a long shot. In fact, we go almost every year:

It turns out that those are the only five occasions where I’ve taken photos at Beerfest or at least haven’t drunkenly deleted them, but if we’re in Singapore and Beerfest is on, I’m there. I went to the first six Beerfests, but we were overseas in 2015 and 2016, however, I haven’t missed one since then. Also, if you look at the photos from 2013 and 2014, you’ll notice a pattern — I’m wearing a horrendous lederhosen t-shirt and there is a reason for that. I wore it as a joke to Beerfest several times prior to those pictures, but in 2013 some German guy (above, in the real lederhosen) initially found my t-shirt offensive and wanted to fight me, but eventually came around and saw the humour in it so I’ve made it a point to wear my lederhosen t-shirt to the Saturday session of Beerfest ever since. The irony of the situation was that I bought that t-shirt when we went to Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany in 2010! I had wanted to get real lederhosen there, but they’re really expensive. You can get secondhand ones or rent them, but who knows what type of rash you’d get from rented or secondhand leather shorts, plus, they’re still really expensive, so I just bought the t-shirt and a cheap hat, but Anna still bought a real dirndl that year:


Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, 2010

Anyway, most years at Beerfest are quite fun, but the 2017 event had been a bit of a letdown; It was held in a convention centre, there wasn’t much of an outdoor area, just a T-shaped arena of tables with a stage at each end with cover bands playing. I remember walking from one section to another to buy a beer and both bands I had passed had been playing Karma Police by Radiohead at the exact same time!
This year’s Beerfest was at a new location, near Gardens by the Bay, so hopefully that would be an improvement on the previous year, but there was one thing that was certain to suck — The entertainment consisted of cover bands of two of my most hated groups, Coldplay and U2. Only time would tell how this one would pan out…

Thursday, August 30, 2018
Thursday started out like any other day; I got up, made a cup of coffee, and scrolled through Facebook while watching CNN. I also saw that I had a couple of new WhatsApp messages from Anna:


Oh yeah, that’s right, it was my birthday. I honestly couldn’t care less about my birthday if I tried and I generally tend to forget it when it arrives, as I had again this year. In fact, one year when I was still teaching at GEOS I arrived at work and there was a birthday cake on the counter in the staffroom. I nonchalantly asked Kristina, the then head teacher, whose birthday it was. “Haha, very funny,” was her sarcastic reply until she realised I was deadly serious. “It’s yours,” she then said in the most deadpan manor. Oh, cool, free cake. Thank you.
Anyway, for some reason people had been randomly wishing me a happy birthday for the previous two weeks, but the day was now here, however, there wouldn’t be any cake this year, although Anna did consider getting me a sushi cake, but you have to order them ahead of time. Instead, I went to the gym for an hour or so and then Anna messaged me to meet up with her for lunch in Chinatown. When I arrived she pointed out that the t-shirt I was wearing was enormous, one that once fit perfectly that I used to wear all the time, but since I’ve lost weight now swims on me, giving me the appearance of a Juggalo who hasn’t put his face on yet. We eventually stumbled upon The Populus, a cafe with some great coffee and some pretty decent food and that was lunch sorted. Anna went home to continue some work she had to do so I walked around the corner to one of my favourite music stores, Hear Records, to pick myself up some birthday presents.
As I have mentioned before, I also have a weird situation where I share my birthday with my father-in-law. We met up with them on the previous Sunday for an early birthday dinner, but Anna’s mother was messaging us to see if we wanted to go for the launch of a book written by one of Anna’s cousins called Crippled Immortals, an event that was happening at Books Actually, a great little bookstore just behind where we live. We were unable to attend because Anna had to go to dinner with some colleagues and then it was on to Beerfest!

The plan was to meet up with a couple of Anna’s friends, Elaine and Kamei, and another friend of ours, Yarny, would meet us there later. We arrived, got us some beer credits due to them not accepting cash, and then we were in, eventually meeting up with Kamei and Elaine. The layout this year consisted of three main tents and some outdoor seating:


I’m not sure why there is a dead baby near the MRT

Fortunately, it wasn’t too busy so we made our way up to the Hilltop Arena, grabbed some complimentary welcome beers and then had a look around. There was a stall selling Korean liver snacks so we bought a pack and that allowed us to have a go at shooting darts at a target to win credits. The girls insisted I do it and I apparently shot quite well, winning us an extra few bags. We pulled up a seat, ate our snacks and drank our beers, but soon I needed another so I had a look around and stumbled upon Canadian Craft Beer, owned and run by Scott Scheuerman, a former colleague of mine at GEOS back in the day. I had seen him working there previous years, but completely forgot about his company until I ran into him again. It was great having a chat and I would definitely be seeing a bit more of him over the coming days.


“Beer Syrup.” Sounds legit…

There was a cover band on in the Hillside Arena that weren’t too bad, just playing a variety of stuff, but we also wanted to see what else was available so we went down to the East Arena, Yarny messaging me almost upon arrival to ask where we were. I found her and then we grabbed more beers and some food from the stalls within. Most Asian beers are pretty good, although you can find some terrible things like the Chinese one our friends, Tom and Leonie, found in a restaurant over here recently (right), but there was a ton of great regional stuff available including a rauchbeir from Hong Kong called ‘Oh, Bacon!’ that genuinely smelled like ham, another that was legitimately like drinking mango sticky rice, as well as some awesome European beers like the unexpectedly great ones from Lithuania that I found. But of course, the girls’ favourite brewery was one at my expense, Gweilo. Why “Gweilo” I hear you ask? Well, here’s the definition:


(n.) vaguely pejorative Cantonese slang for foreigner. Translations differ depending on who you ask. Apparently it was once meant to mean “foreign devil” (an extreme insult), but usually these days is said to mean “ghost man” due to white foreigner’s pale skin and is used as a general term to mean foreigner. Gweilos get upset about being called this. Chinese think it’s no big deal.

I think it’s no big deal either and besides, this brewery was started by a couple of British guys living in Hong Kong. In fact, when we first moved to Tiong Bahru, Singapore nearly 11 years ago, I was one of the only white guys in the entire neighbourhood. Fast-forward to 2018, the area has been gentrified and now Anna is almost the minority. When they were building a massive apartment block across the road from my local pub, Coq & Balls, Anna and I came to the conclusion that they should also build a giant Jebediah Springfield-style statue of me looking over the area with simply O.G. engraved in the base — “Original Gweilo.”
Anyway, it was soon time to check out the final tent, the West Arena, and as soon as we entered I knew we wouldn’t be leaving there unless it was to go home. Why? Because it was the only one with air conditioning and if you’ve ever spent time with a group of Singaporean women on their home turf, they will sacrifice anything to be in aircon. Although being a Thursday night had meant the festival as a whole hadn’t been too busy, this tent was packed, but we still managed to find seats, thanks mainly to four of our posse lacking a ‘Y’ chromosome. It was really loud and we couldn’t hear ourselves speak, but we still made it work. Then my worst fear came true; Viva Coldplay, a Coldplay tribute band hit the stage and they were worse than expected, but it was funny watching some drunk local guys trying to look gangster while singing along with f___ing Coldplay!
Anyway, we still had some fun, but soon it was time to leave so we all jumped in line for the porta-loos, then caught a cab home. Some scenes from the night:

Friday, August 31, 2018
Friday was just a regular Friday for me. I took it easy during the day, Anna had organised a leadership training seminar and training day for work so after that she had dinner with some of the people involved, followed by going out for drinks with some of them. That just meant I did my usual Friday night thing; went down to Coq & Balls and hung out with my drinking buddies, Anna joining us later on. Several of these guys were planning to join me at Beerfest the following day, Yarny even going to the extent of buying multiple She-Pees in order to make the toilet situation a little less traumatic for herself, Anna, and any other female friends that were to be in attendance.

Saturday, September 1, 2018
Saturday was here, the day that Anna, Myself, and a bunch of other friends were going to head down to Beerfest for some day-drinking and associated mischief, however, there was one small problem — It had been pissing down raining nearly all morning and early afternoon. A lot of people in Southeast Asia have unique reactions to rain. Many people from the Philippines, for example, have a strange conviction where they believe that if they get even slightly wet from the rain, they will get sick, absolutely no exceptions. Singaporeans, on the other hand, must think they are soluble because they lose their minds at the slightest hint of rain, possibly believing they will dissolve like a bath bomb if a single drop comes into contact with them! It can actually be quite amusing, especially during the torrential downpours in monsoon season when you see people who have forgotten their umbrellas try to cover their head with a tissue, only to have it diffuse into their hair, or the one person I saw who tried holding his bus ticket over his head! I have even seen letters written into the newspaper complaining that there are too may puddles when it rains! Maybe that was why when I walked down to Tiong Bahru Plaza to buy some lunch, it was the duty of an elderly cleaner to stand outside with a small brush and dustpan and try to sweep up the puddles… While it was still pouring!


Translation (German): “Same Table: Here sit those who always sit here.”

Anyhow, Beerfest was beginning at 3:00pm, but Anna was entertaining hospital guests at The Esplanade and would meet me there later. I streamed a couple of episodes of Maury until I heard from the others. For those of you that know the Coq & Balls “Stammtisch” crew over here, Yarny had decided to pull the pin because she was too hungover from the previous night, Leonie wouldn’t be able to make it either, but Tom, Simon, and Felix were coming, and TJ and a friend from Vancouver, Canada would be there are little later, so the She-Pees were kind of a waste of cash on Yarny’s behalf. To make things a little more interesting, Felix’s family are Bavarian so he was going to be resplendent in his traditional lederhosen, while I would be sticking with my own personal tradition and attending Saturday night at Beerfest in my lederhosen t-shirt. When I found out the others were on their way, I donned my outfit, jumped in a cab and headed to Beerfest for what I was expecting to be a fun afternoon, evening, and night.
Tom, Simon, and Felix arrived, we grabbed our welcome drinks, had a look around the tents and ultimately opted for the outdoor seating at the Hilltop Arena. Although it was still daylight, there was definitely a completely different atmosphere to when Anna and myself were there on Thursday night. To begin with, it was exceptionally wet and muddy from all of the rain and everywhere we went we just got splashed by mud, I was so glad I didn’t wear thongs like I initially planned. Also, the general ambience of the event was completely different; Sure, Saturday was always going to be busier, we knew all along that we’d have to accept that fact, but people were also out to get hammered! In the first few minutes of being there I had walked past two different girls who were already crying and, as time passed, we watched as some of the locals’ complexions went more and more red with the more they drank. Another factor that doesn’t constitute a day-drinking environment is loud techno music playing in the background; Saturday afternoon beers are generally intended to begin as a low-key affair with a bit of bluesy-rock, potentially building up to something louder later on, but not blasting at 5:00pm. Still, we soldiered on.
The four of us sat around our table drinking beers, eating some great char siew, and just chewing the fat when TJ and his friend made a brief appearance, disappearing to take a look around not long after, not to reemerge at Beerfest again. By now it was dark, it was still over 30°C (86°F) and extremely humid because of the storm earlier. Felix was sweating profusely through his shirt, soon discovering that authentic lederhosen are more conducive to an Alpine environment, as opposed to our equatorial one, and he was also having a little trouble with one of the already faulty buckles, which ultimately broke. Never fear, Felix turned out to be something of a German pants MacGyver and had the situation covered. We were now sharing our table with a group of extremely shy younger girls who had refused to even look in our direction after coyly asking if the seats were taken, but Felix saw that they had something he needed; the girls had finished eating satay skewers and if he could get his hands on one of those old sticks, his buckle dilemma would be sorted. “Excuse me, ladies, could I have one of your sticks?”, he inquired. One of the girls nervously replied that they were dirty, but Felix wasn’t swayed. “They’re for fixing lederhosen, they’re supposed to be dirty.” The girls passed their plate of used skewers over, a shared disgusted expression on all of their faces, and Felix got to work repairing his buckle and maintaining his dignity.

The mud, crowd, sweat, and a horrible backing soundtrack that was not dissimilar to that of a construction site were getting to all of us, but then things got worse — Viva Coldplay, the Coldplay tribute act, started playing loudly in the Hilltop tent right next to where we were sitting. I am biased because I can’t stand Coldplay, but these guys are seriously shit! The vocalist of Viva Coldplay can’t sing and the entire act sounds like something you might hear come runner up in a high school talent show in a small country town or maybe playing a junior rock eisteddfod, not Asia’s premier beer festival. Admittedly, they covered up the sound of the techno, but they were unbearable and we could now barely even speak to each other. It was official, Viva Coldplay were the straw that broke the camel’s back. Everyone decided to use up their remaining credits, drink what they got in return as quickly as possible, and head to Coq & Balls, however, for me there was just one problem; Anna was in the general vicinity of Beerfest for her work function and said she wouldn’t be too much longer, plus she had a ticket so I opted to stay.
I mentioned earlier that my lederhosen t-shirt really pissed off a German guy back at Beerfest 2013, but I never anticipated that same shirt transforming into sexual dynamite in a mere five years. I had men and women coming at me from all angles, asking about the shirt, where I got it, giggling and saying how cute it was. The crowd was really deep now, so I had to line up for a while at beer and food stalls. I got in line to buy some skewers and struck up a conversation with the people behind me, an American guy and his Australian girlfriend. They were talking to me about the shirt, laughing, and when my food came they insisted they pay for it! I thanked them, offered them some of what I was eating, but they refused. Next, I lined up for a beer at a nearby stall and when I tried to pay, the American guy working there said, “Dude, you’re not paying for anything with that shirt! And you’re not lining up anymore, either.” Looks like hassle-free beers are on the house for the night. Between the guys leaving for Coq & Balls and Anna’s arrival, there was about an hour of just random people, mainly attractive women far out of my league, approaching me about the shirt, like it was attached to some kind of oestrogen conduit. Anna eventually arrived and I explained to her the powers of the shirt, stating that if I were single, I wouldn’t be anymore, however, she had her doubts. Her skepticism was immediately quelled when I walked over to get beers for the both of us and was instantly approached by a guy and a group of girls on the way to the stall and then by an extremely attractive German girl on the way back, all wanting to know more about the shirt. Anna and I couldn’t find a seat so we stood around, drinking and laughing about the power of my lederhosen t-shirt, and I told her that everyone else had left. Anna said that she wasn’t really feeling up to sticking around, plus she had to work again in the morning. I was fine with leaving too, but the only problem was how I would cash in my remaining credits if nobody would let me pay for anything! We decided to spend the credits at Scott’s Canadian Craft Beers stall, asking him not to open the drinks, and just stuffed them all into Anna’s handbag. We caught a cab home, she just wanted to watch a bit of TV and then go to bed, but she insisted I join my friends at the pub so in order to keep the peace, I did what she said, it’s just easier that way.
A quick look at Saturday night at Beerfest:

Sunday, September 2, 2018
Sunday was not a standout Sunday for Anna or myself, but that rule didn’t apply to everyone. We just had lunch with a few people that were in town for Anna’s seminar from Australia, Korea, and Taiwan. So, why am I writing about Sunday? Because it was a big day for Yarny.
This story begins a couple of weeks ago when I accidentally let the cat out of the bag. The machine I use at the gym has a TV on it and I was watching Wheel of Fortune while I was exercising and they showed an advertisement for MasterChef: Singapore. Normally I wouldn’t take any notice, but there was a familiar face that popped up a few times so I messaged the Stammtisch group and asked if Yarny was going to be a contestant on MasterChef. She replied that she had made it to the Top 18, but hadn’t really told anyone yet. She later posted her MasterChef profile from the Channel 5 Facebook page which read:


I had no idea that was her real name

Meet Weiyan!

The 30-year-old specialises in sensory neuroscience and neuroeconomics, and has worked in the science industry for 7 years. Both her parents were hawkers – hence her love for all things Asian and local cuisine!

Now that I had blown her cover and it was common knowledge, Yarny had decided to invite everyone down to Coq & Balls to watch the first episode. I think most of our friends went down, but Anna and myself were simply too tired and just watched Yarny doing her thing in the kitchen, a passion of hers we didn’t really know anything about, from home while sending sarcastic messages to the group.


The subtitles read: “I am so tired”

Unfortunately, Yarny didn’t make it to the Top 10, but considering that she was rather hungover on the day of filming and had to do her own hair and makeup in the back of a taxi en route to the filming at Chijmes, I think she did a pretty damn good job!

Anyway, I had an awesome 39th birthday, had a blast at Beerfest on the Thursday, an okay, albeit amusing time there on Saturday, and will more than likely be there again next year if we’re in town. Thanks everyone for all of the birthday messages and phone calls, I really appreciated them. Also, a big congratulations to Yarny on her MasterChef: Singapore appearance.
Now I’ve got to walk Anna’s luggage down to the Singapore National Eye Centre as she has to fly straight from work to Hanoi, Vietnam to give a presentation. I’ll be flying to Hangzhou, China tomorrow where she’ll meet me later that day for her conference, then we’ll fly back to Singapore on Saturday night. We’ll only be back a few days, then we’re off again on the Wednesday to Austria for four days and then six days in Turkey so it may be a while until you hear from me again. Prost!

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