NOBODY cares if you’re fat when you’re a little kid. Who can resist pinching chubby cheeks and going, “Oh, so cute!”? I was such a kid. But that was the past, and sadly, it’s also the present.
I did shed some baby fat when I was five, but the year after, I became underweight. Food didn’t fascinate me. No one would believe I was once a scrawny kid, scrawny enough that the adults had to start a Feed Jiji Campaign.
“Eat more!” you’d hear my grandmother say. That hell-bent insistence would turn from urging to nagging. That’s when the problem started. She never told me what I should eat—what’s more, how much was never a question. And so, I’d stuff my face with Thai green curry chicken, sweet-sour pork, fried eggs, even Thai laksa, pad thai, mee sua, and hor fun—these last four being carb bombs as lethal as white rice.
In this way, I became full and round by the time I was 10, so heavy-set that my cousin Theeruth, who’s three years older, would fashion a Fat Jiji ditty for our morning car rides to school in Trang, our hometown in Thailand.
“You’re so lousy, oh, so lousy!” he’d sing in his cool, folksy voice, all in Thai. “You suck at swimming, you suck at tennis, you even suck at basketball!” You’d think my two older sisters would come to my rescue, but no! Their alliance with Theeruth made the sting of his cruel crooning so much harder to bear.
Once, I protested: “Why are you so mean to me?”
“Because I hate fat people.”
And many people do hate fat people. I know it, I can feel it. Some slim chick in school by the name of Belinda called me a marshmallow recently—that’s a good five years since the days of Theeruth’s Fat Jiji ditty. There’s no more grandmother to blame now for my weight problems since I’ve been in Singapore for a good five years, far far away—fortunately or unfortunately—from her wonderful cooking in Trang.
“Why am I fat?” I often ask myself. “Where do I start?”
I’m fat because I love food more than people. I’m fat because I can’t seem to control my diet. I’m fat because the things I secretly care for are chocolates and sweet beverages (iced Milo!) and potato chips. I’m fat because I love watching Korean drama way past midnight. I’m fat because of my attitude.
Do I really give a damn what people think of me? Even as I say this, I tremble to think that perhaps I really do.
Those two numbers haunt me often: 82 kg (that’s what I weigh today) and 15 kg (that’s what I need to lose). The thought of having diabetes also scares me. My parents have it, my grandfather has it, almost everyone in the family has it, except my Thai laksa grandmother. Sometimes, the insecurity is so unbearable that I only hang out with fat friends, just because we think alike, we eat alike, and we look alike.
I recognize that all talk means nothing without concrete action. It’s not as if I’m doing nothing. I know those two words: exercise and diet.
As far as exercise goes, I’ve joined the National Cadet Corp for a year and a half now—one-and-a-half hours of marching every week. Have I marched away the jiggly bits around my waist and my thighs? I’m not sure. What about basketball? It used to be 30 minutes per day for the last half year, but with the New Year I’ve ramped up my practice to two hours. That’s not so iffy, thank goodness.
Diet-wise, I’m still a slave to rice, so all I can do is to eat more greens.
All of this sounds so easy, but it’s not when you have to factor in those long sit-on-the-bum study hours, unless I can study while practicing muay thai, my latest craze. However much weight I lose this year, I hope I don’t put it all back at year-end—typically spent in Myanmar idling away at my mother’s international cuisine restaurant for a good two weeks.
December hasn’t arrived yet, but already, I’m dreaming about the specialties of the house: Thai dried noodles, black-pepper steak, bulgogi, and …
Jiji Setavoraphan, Secondary Two
For more essays by Jiji, visit Jiji Writes.
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