Talking army again

At ten pm Friday night, E called and asked for tea as per usual. I drove to pick her up and we had a jolly good time at a different location this time. We went to the beach at East Coast Park and had beer and chicken wings, cooled by the sea breeze and I would like to have said, lulled by the waves, but the resident Mat Rok band at the pub put paid to that notion.

While we talked, a man around my age (can tell because he’s soft around the middle) walked up and called my name. I looked up and recognized him and we spoke a fair bit, exchanged numbers and promised to catch up. He was a company mate of mine in the Army and the last time we saw each other was when we ROD’d in June 1991.

At a little past midnight, the beers and noise were getting to us, so we decided to call it quits and head home, and while driving her home, E’s boyfriend calls to ask what we’re up to, and she tells him, and she suggests meeting him for more supper. He says he’s tired, and she hangs up. She had wanted to have Chee Cheong Fun with him at this place up north in Sembawang. The mention of Chee Cheong Fun makes me peckish, and I suggest we go there anyway, with or without him. As courtesy, she calls him to notify her intentions, and he grudgingly decides to come along. After all, his girlfriend can’t always have fun without him, right?

We get there, order food, he comes, we eat, and we’d have gone home, but he starts talking. Normally, he and I would have nothing to talk about. But here’s the Singaporean commonality, the glue that bonds all Singapore males. Nothing in common? Talk Army. Always works, always has. Tentera Singapura. Yang Pertama dan Utama.

We spoke of getting lost in Thailand, hiking hills in Taiwan, getting sand in our eyes in Australia and so on. We were about to go full circle and talk about getting lost in Thailand again when E very abruptly said “Go home, can?”

I am very thankful she did that. Else I’d be stuck in Army lingo land with her boyfriend, just like I get stuck in Army lingo land with just about every other Singaporean male who has had combat training in the Army.

At least, tonight, the Chee Cheong Fun was good, it was the melt in your mouth variety, and certainly a lot easier for E to swallow than our conversation.

The Odds Are Good But The Goods Are Odd

Sunday afternoon I had coffee with ST, when her mother called and asked to meet her at a shopping centre nearby.

ST asked me to accompany her for a few minutes. I thought nothing of pretending to be her boyfriend for a while so her parents can think that yes she’s not loafing around taking drugs. I was introduced to her mother and her aunts and one of her aunts kept looking at me for the longest time.

That aunt asks me whether I am Hainanese and whether I live in Leedon Park. I say yes, how you know? She asks if I know a LJW. I say yes, she’s my ex from 15 years ago or so. ST’s jaw drops with a clang. LJW is her cousin. That aunt of ST is also LJW’s aunt and she remembers me very well.

Apparently, I have met ST before in that previous life. In that life, I was a scrawny teenager who had a relationship with her cousin that was both tumultuous and hilarious. In that life, ST was a bratty 8 year old girl who ran riot around her grandparents’ house which I stayed over at on occasion.

I have not seen LJW since we broke up and I swore never to contact her again. Looks like another grand plan got thwarted, and the ghosts of Christmases past have been haunting me all this while. I should have known. Anyway, that aunt said to me, “If you think Jee Wei was bad, this one is worse”, to which I said, “Don’t worry, I know, and I’m not dating her anyway”, to which she said, “Don’t worry, I don’t interfere with her affairs”.

That few minutes turned out to be an hour plus, as that aunt started telling all and sundry about how I was like when I was 18 and 19; about how LJW used to torture me; about how she had to drive me home because I stayed too late; about how I snuck over and stayed over thinking she didn’t know, but she did and kept our secret; about how I used to paint t-shirts and how one of those t-shirts she saved and gave one of her grand-nephews to wear last year; about how I unceremoniously ended the relationship when I found out LJW was seeing someone else.

All this while, ST was picking up her jaw from the floor and trying to see if the Cartier watch was nice enough to buy.

All this while, I’m thinking, if this was some elaborate and diabolical plan to tell me this relationship was one meant for the ages, it certainly was elaborate and diabolical.

My head is still spinning.


The cat purrs, pharm

The spatula on a wok clangs,

The fan hums,

The spoon against a cup clinks,

The kite flutters,

The raindrop on a window splats,

The leaf rustles,

The neon light on a signboard buzzes,

The thunder booms,

Phones ring, birds sing, children chatter, puddles splatter,

But her smile on my shore gently laps,
And there’s nothing I can do about it.

I have a business idea

I have a business idea. I think it will work because there are a lot of people who would want to buy this.

Nine out of every ten conversations with A begin like that. Nothing much out of the ordinary coming from people of this ilk, order as there are always men with business ideas who need to tell other men who would listen. Except with A, no rx the business idea is likely to be so far fetched, and so original it either deserves to be listened to for being original or it deserves to be dismissed immediately for being far fetched.

You buy a boat. You buy guns. You hire mercenaries, soldiers of fortune, ex-Special Forces troops. You sell berths on your boat to rich, perverted tourists. You take the boat to remote islands, inhabited by backward tribes. You land on the islands. You get the mercenaries to be kwai lan and antagonize the natives to the point where they will retaliate violently. Then they get back on the boat. Then you take the boat to the other side of the island and wait till nightfall and for the natives to come look for your boat. And when they come, the tourists can use the guns and kill them.

I think there is a market for it. What do you think?

It never matters what I think. The conversation then meanders into the murkier waters of the eternally unresolved issues about my love life before flowing back into clearer, simpler channels of how business is going, and ending with a platitude or twenty about how doing business is always like that one lah.

A Malay wedding

Shareena’s wedding dinner took a little longer than what Boo Seng predicted. He and I had arrived unfashionably early. The earliest among all the guests by the looks of it. So early we had to excuse ourselves to go to the car park to pretend to get something.

It was an experience, buy as I have never attended a Malay wedding in Malaysia. Singapore Malay weddings are usually like what you have in the villages here. Long afternoon lunches that stretch into the night. No set timing for the arrival or departure of guests. A bit like a wake. Shareena’s wedding, in contrast, was a mixture of pomp and homeliness.

The ceremony was solemn and religious, with long prayers that reminded me of charismatic Christian preachers who liked the sound of their own voices. We were starving by the time the Muslim version of Amen was said, with guests in the know making a face washing-like gesture signifying the close of communication lines with Allah.

We had finished two bowls of tapioca chips before prayers even started, marveling at the decorations, which were actually more tasteful than I had expected. The tables, around fifty or so, had gold bows on linen lined chairs, and a huge silver dome smack in the middle. When the bride and groom finally finished the ceremonies on two thrones up stage, and glided over a sea of songkoks and tudungs to the back of the hall to preside over the guests, the lights went out, and the very capable waiting staff assembled around the tables in the dark with basins of rice to serve the hungry guests. We need more waiters who can see in the dark without stumbling and spilling rice all over customers. I was impressed. Malaysia boleh.

The lights came back on, and whoa, another waiter who had crept up next to me in the dark first startled the shit out of me, then lifted the big silver dome off the centre of the table, revealing beef rendang, sambal prawns, curry chicken, dhal and achar. At this point, hunger having got the better of me, I exclaimed a little too loudly, “You mean the food was here all along??!” I was told off by Boo, who said I shouldn’t embarrass my Malaysian friends.

Our table was labeled “UNSW”, next to the one which read “Shareena’s Friends”. It is obvious we are not in her inner sanctum. According to Boo and Penny, there were several judges among the guests, as well as several important people, Tan Sris and whatnot. Rank and status could not have been demonstrated more clearly, as the tan sris, datuks, raisins and sultanas were seated near the stage, while the UNSW table was in Siberia, next to the door where waiting staff stood at the ready to commence their night-vision rice assault.

Food was consumed at a frantic pace, and used crockery was cleared with equal haste. Jen scooped and scooped cubes of sinewy rendang, one chicken drumstick, four pineapple cubes, one sudu or two of dhal and a partridge in a pear tree, while Allen made very small talk with the four strangers at our table and Boo and myself mused about what type of wedding we would have were we to be so fortunate as to have someone to marry.

We then took our place in the queue to leave the hall and spent all of three minutes offering our congratulations to Shareena and Affendy, took the obligatory group photo, then took our leave.

We adjourned to Changkat Bukit Bintang and had a beer (no alcohol at Malay wedding) at Deutsches Haus, making it the third visit in three nights for Boo and myself. Being a Sunday night, we called it pretty early after that.

Earlier, Karen, Boo and myself went shopping for the wedding gift. As we expected, half the afternoon was spent negotiating traffic, first to Mid Valley, where we gave up trying to get into the car park, and then to somewhere near Bangsar, to a mall whose name I can’t remember for the life of me.

We found a shop selling Chinese antiques, called ‘Madam Butterfly’, and bought a porcelain urn with double happiness painted on it, and a wine saucer set. The staff then took a back seat as they watched me rummage through their shop looking for wrapping material. Actually, one of them got a little pissed off because I asked for a box, and they had to go to the garbage area in the mall to get one. We then made them put the gifts into the Kodomo children’s toothbrush box (4 doz.), and made them use their coarse packing tissue to make wrapping paper while we shopped for ribbons and a card.

We came back to the shop and saw that they had wrapped the box in the most horrible way imaginable – like a giant candy wrapper, with scotch tape visible all over the place. Too late to unwrap now, and I asked them for their pink coarse packing tissue and tried to mask the scotch tape by making a sash over the wrapping paper, while tying our gold and silver ribbons over the scrunched up ends of the candy wrapper. Creative intentions, ugly outcome.

If nothing else, one look and Shareena would be immensely curious as to what the package contained. The way our present sat on the gifts table just screamed out “Open Me Please. Like Now!” I hope they like it.