COMMENTARY, Oct 28 — We are what we eat. And sometimes we are what we don’t get to eat.

Let me explain.

So I have a favourite chicken rice stall. Everyone has one; if it’s not chicken rice, it’s nasi lemak or roti canai.

It’s like those lines from the 1980s TV sitcom Cheers: “Sometimes you want to go/Where everybody knows your name/And they’re always glad you came.”


Except here, your name will be shortened to “Lengzai” or “Macha” which is possibly even more endearing.

But with every beautiful cloud comes a dark lining. Having a favourite chicken rice stall can be an obsession, and as with every obsession, comes the inevitable disappointment when you don’t get what you crave.

Allow me to introduce my gym buddy, Chai. He loves the roast chicken breast meat at my favourite chicken rice stall. We both agree that really good roast chicken is worth waiting for.


There are a few rules to follow, naturally, such as come early before the chicken runs out and add some greens for fibre.

But mainly it’s about the chicken and how much my friend loves it. This might be an unrequited love affair, however.

CHAI: Bro. I feel so lost.

CHAI: Just got to the stall, no chicken rice today.


ME: You could try the other chicken rice shop next to them. There’s also a third shop further down the row of shophouses.

CHAI: I don’t like the other shops. Chicken too dry.

ME: Sometimes they only have the mixed rice cos staff on leave or something.

CHAI: I swear every time I come here for chicken rice, they don’t have it.

CHAI: I’m so frustrated I’m going to quit my day job and roast chickens there.

Come early before the chicken runs out (left). Some greens add fibre to your post-workout protein fix (right).
Come early before the chicken runs out (left). Some greens add fibre to your post-workout protein fix (right).

Which is an extreme way to ensure a regular supply of one’s favourite post-workout protein source, but every man has his passions.

Weeks passed and Chai continued to rant every time he’d turn up and the stall had run out of chicken rice or didn’t sell any that day.

Poor Chai. I have to give him credit that he never once questioned how I managed to always get chicken rice whenever I dropped by the stall, though he did suggest obliquely once that the answer might just be to shadow me: to only go when I go. Creepy, but we empathise, we do.

Ah, the perils of having a favourite chicken rice stall.

CHAI: Bro, I’m super disappointed again today.

ME: What happened?

CHAI: When I finished gym yesterday I asked the chicken rice guy if he’d have chicken rice today.

CHAI: He said yes.

CHAI: So I got super excited. Planned an epic back workout then go to his shop after gym.


CHAI: His brother took the daughter for holidays. So they only had mixed rice.

CHAI: So sad.

The thing with wrath and frustration, if these negative emotions don’t serve you, you have to learn to let them go or spend the rest of your life as The Angry Chicken Rice Deprived Guy.

Allow me to introduce Josh Waitzkin next. The former child chess prodigy, Taichi Push Hands world champion and author had cultivated lateral thinking — “the ability to take a lesson from one thing and transfer it over to another” — with his son Jack from a very young age.

During his interview on the Tim Ferriss Show, Waitzkin observed: “The first time it happened is that he was really tiny and he was trying to get in ... one door and he couldn’t but he could get in the other door. And I said, ‘Jack, go around.’ And he looked at me and then he went around. And then ‘go around’ became a language for us ... in terms of solving puzzles.”

Basically, any time we run into an obstacle, we have an option of “going around.”

CHAI: Bro, do you think it’s a better idea if I let the chicken rice guy know I want to buy three whole roast chickens ahead of time instead of going there only to find out he’s out of birds for the weekend?

ME: Yes.

My friend figured out that since he wanted the chicken rice mainly for the actual chicken meat, he might as well buy larger quantities in advance and divide them into daily portions. The Life Changing Magic of Meal Prep, if you will. Go around.

And to solve the potentially erratic supply, why not just tell the chicken rice guy what you want ahead of time? Go around.

I was only too happy to help him order his roast chickens in advance, making sure the precious birds were specially reserved for Chai, Their No. 1 Chicken Rice Fan.

Life is like a box of roast chicken... make that several boxes!
Life is like a box of roast chicken... make that several boxes!

There is a particular pleasure in playing the middleman, the matchmaker, the one who connects the limited supply with the desperate demand.

Life is like a box of roast chicken... make that several boxes! Chopped or whole? You decide. Sauce and sliced cucumber separate? No problem.

And so on.

The biggest lesson here, for me, is seeing my friend take the path of “going around” instead of ruminating about his troubles (imagined or otherwise).

What if we employ in this every time a social media influencer castigates a restaurant owner for not delivering the level of service he expects and feels entitled to?

Or each occasion a parent is astonished a café owner is less than thrilled that her sweet child has torn up all the magazines in the shop?

What if we extend this basic technique of “going around” beyond chicken rice stalls? How many of the world’s problems would be solved or lessened, at least, I wonder?

There is still time.

Or maybe I’m overthinking things. Maybe the lesson is as simple as helping a buddy get his chicken rice fix, and winning back, for the stall owner, his most ardent follower?

CHAI: Sorry for troubling you, bro. You can just pass me his number. Haha.

ME: Haha. No problem at all.

ME: I did ask him whether I could pass his number to you.

ME: He said “No need.”

ME: Maybe he’s not that into you...

CHAI: Hahahaha...

We may have our favourite chicken rice stalls. It’s only fair that chicken rice stall owners would have their favourite customers too.