Just Saying

A tile's life and the allure of different shades of white

Sixteen tiles on my kitchen floor made a break for freedom the other night.

They did not get very far. They managed to pop out of the cement, but that was as far as they got.

I don't blame them.

A tile's life is terrible.

There is a hole made in your shape, into which you are wedged, then people step all over you for the rest of your life. The only thing that separates tile life from that of the Singaporean: No exams.

I'm watching the floor closely now, looking out for more escapes.

So far, the rest have behaved, because the shattered pieces of their friends are lying there, proof that security beats freedom every time. It is best to be happy where you are.

Tiles should know it, and so should we, because I read about a trend that shows just how powerless our minds are to resist the allure of choice.

I am of course talking about laser whitening surgery of the male private parts.

I read that men in Thailand are choosing to go to their doctors to change the colour of their gear, in the same way that you might talk to your decorator about the shade of your living room curtains.

The genie is now out of the bottle.

We now have electric cars, computers in our pockets and colour-changing willies.

What a world we live in.

I read all the stories about the winky-whitening clinics in Bangkok, but none had details about the procedure.

Does the doctor hold up a chart of colour samples, the way dentists do for teeth-whitening?

Does one get to pick one's preferred shade - sand, eggshell, khaki, ecru, ivory, taupe?

Ecru, for those interested, is akin to light beige - "the light fawn colour of unbleached linen", says the Oxford Dictionary.

You could, of course, go full albino downstairs, but that would look a bit odd because, as they say in the make-up business, you don't want to look like you are trying too hard. Neither do you want to look like you received a transplant from the Night King. For those who do not watch HBO's Game Of Thrones, the Night King is very pale.

Perhaps there is the option of patterns.

Rather than going one even shade, a client might want to whiten selected areas to portray, say, the name of a loved one or the logo of a favourite sports team.

Why not, if space allows, opt for a rendering of Edvard Munch's The Scream? That would make a nice surprise for a loved one.

The whole of South-east Asia, Singapore included, has a problem with putting whiteness on a pedestal, and in Thailand, the craze is such that there are movies in which every leading role is taken by an Eurasian.

Me, I'm just wondering if the whitening procedure shouldn't be topped off with a blond toupee.

Science opens the way and people unhappy with the shade of their tackle follow.

We haven't found the cure for cancer, Alzheimer's or dandruff, but we can proudly proclaim: "Consider the problem of penile over-pigmentation sorted."

Science, for example, still cannot fix the problem of heat. For a week, though, we had a Singapore that was a nice 22 deg C or so outside.

For one brief glorious moment, we were offered a peek into a parallel universe in which our island was moved to a far more northern latitude.

That window has since cruelly snapped shut, leaving us longing for the time when our hair wasn't always plastered to our foreheads.

That is how progress works.

We are shown a demonstration of what could be, and left longing for more. As novelist William Gibson puts it: "The future is already here, it's just that it's not evenly distributed." It's a shame that for now, we cannot yet cool the entire outdoors, but it's nice to know that if we want to, we can make some of our parts glow in the dark.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'A tile's life and the allure of different shades of white'. Print Edition | Subscribe