THE INTELLIGENT SINGAPOREAN

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London, Chapter 3 – “The Dinner”

Posted by inspir3d on February 12, 2005

There is a Chinese saying – when you walk into a trap, smile; if manage to pull this off, your enemies will be confused and abandon the prospects of trapping you.These thoughts occupied me throughout dinner. More so than ever before; Mr Kam the Jeweler who had absolutely no reason to be there, occupied the seat directly opposite me.

Judging by the way his bald shiny head reflected every revolution of the ceiling fan, he was sweating nervously. So disturb as to even shake the tea pot clumsily spilling it twice when pouring tea for the old man; who like the rest of the elders remained impassive, watching and searching for the slightest signs of weakness.

Throughout dinner, I remained quiet and hardly paid the slightest attention to Mr Kam. Always mindful I was my greatest enemy. If I allowed even a slight furrow or raised an eye brow, it would have been grounds for suspicion, so I remained as I had always been, smiling, nodding and listening attentively.

Mid way into the dinner, when the elders still had not brought up the issue of the earrings, I turned to one of the elders of the four houses sitting next to the old man.

Whispering to him in a hushed tone, I said, it was time for me to consider marriage, since I would be graduating next year and I would like to have his blessings to call on his only daughter Jeannie Lam – who I knew only casually – as a sign of my sincerity, I would like her to have this small gift as a token of my affection.

Even before finishing these words, some of the elders began to look at each other their stern expressions melting into a look of quiet understanding. Others congratulated Mr Lam turning to me,

“Good decision, a man should start a household when he is still young like a farmer who wakes up early to till the good earth. This is a wise decision.”

Looking at each other with a satisfied mix of realization and understanding, one by one they stood up and raised their cups to Mr Lam who even placed his arms around me signifying his approval,

“Next time you want to buy jewelry, you should seek some advice from my wife and not go sneaking around.”

Then turning towards Mr Kam, he continued,

“for one she would have told you not to go to that cut throat.”

This was followed by a roar of laughter and another round of toasting.

You must understand, I was no ordinary man in the eyes of these men , I was first and foremost a man of education in a room full of men who didn’t even know how to write their names in English, such a man. Even one was imperfect as I was with a half university education, was like a one eyed man in the land of the blind – and such a man was a coveted catch.

When the pearl earrings were passed from one elder to another, many didn’t pay the slightest attention to it since they were so caught up in the emotion of the moment.

All except Mr Kam who appeared to hesitate momentarily only to suddenly burst into nervous laughter- latter he would often be heard saying in the teahouses of Chinatown.

Those earrings were one of the most beautiful pieces he had ever sold in his tiny shop.

When the waiters popped their heads into the room and asked whether everything was alright, as there was such a commotion. News spread downstairs where most of the wife’s of the elders dined and soon they too joined in the celebration, offering congratulations, some of these tai’s- tai’s turning to each looking with mocking approval. One of them even mentioning,

“He is the quiet type like a hunter. You better tell your daughter to be careful of him on their first night.” Provoking another round of rapturous laughter and toasting.

Amid the laughter, smiles and chatter, the first opening tunes of Yue Liang Dia Bioao Wo De Xin began to filter through. That evening as the wife’s of the elders mingled and danced celebrating through the night – only the 3rd wife was absent – as a waiter recounted she wasn’t feeling well and retired early after hearing the good news.

Turning to my inner self that night – I wondered?

“I had survived to live another day, but at what price would I have to pay for my ransom this time?

Like a fox who breathes an air of relief after successfully eluding the dogs – it rapidly dissipates with the growing awareness tomorrow may bring more of today – I wondered whether a worst fate awaited me in my new found freedom – you see, it is easy for you to judge me, but you were simply not there – in truth, I never wanted to get married, but that night I was a desperate man and desperate people do desperate things – struggling against huge waves – amid the sea of death, I bopped up and down searching for a means to cling to life – and when a boat presented herself – I raised my arms and snatched my life back from the jaws of death – only I cared less for even where this boat would port – a desperate man doesn’t consider these things – even if the name of the boat is Jeannie Lam.”

Darkness 2002

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