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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 10 “The Flamingo Hair pin”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

The next day, the third wife called on the Lam’s in their family mansion in Hampstead Heath – she had earlier expressed to the elder Lam ’s wife during the garden party, her desire to acquaint herself further with Jeannie, she had remarked,

“I see her as a little sister and I do hope she will come to see me as her older sister – we women must really stick together in a man’s world”

Mrs Lam felt somewhat flattered by the attention bestowed upon her only daughter by the third wife. So that afternoon for tea, the servants prepared the south facing verandah with sweet meats, cakes and candy made from frosted yam, lotus seed desert and other delicacies to honor her visit – she arrived promptly at half pass two with the rest of the old man’s wife’s, who appeared more interested in the food than the company.

When the third wife saw Jeannie, she gave her the gold flamingo gold pin and remarked –

“this will go well with your cheong sam – I noticed you like flamingo’s”

Jeannie was of course too excited to wait and insisted on trying it out there and then – so when the third wife volunteered to fix her hair into a bun – both of them retired to the parlor.

In a while, Jeannie Yu rejoined the rest of the women in the verandah sporting the flamingo hair pin – though the other ladies managed a smile, many of them later gossiped amongst themselves,

“though the third wife could always be relied upon for her elegance and good taste – this simply proves, even the best of us can sometimes get it quite wrong.”

Everyone seemed to be aware of this faux pas – except Jeannie and even Mrs Lam seemed quite embarrassed that afternoon and when these two ladies were seen smiling to each other like sisters seated at one discreet far corner of the verandah chatting – the other wife’s began to gossip. They remarked amongst themselves.

” After all she (third wife) has a good heart, so we should not fault her for giving the Lam daughter a hair pin only village folk often find fashionable – perhaps these two with their preference for bad taste will really get along like a house on fire after all” One of the wife’s joked.

With these words, the rest of the ladies burst out into rapturous laughter and when madam Lam turned to them and asked what they were laughing about. The Ist wife of the old man, remarked,

“how suitable the match is between these two sisters – they do have so many things in common after all – it must be destiny” and again they laughed, leaving madam Lam quite perplex to even laugh along with them.

When the third wife heard this she simply smiled and lowered her head demurely in silent agreement. Just about this time, I walked into the verandah with the elder Lam. Earlier on in the day, Jeannie had been quite insistent that I should make an effort to be present for tea – if not for the whole tea for a small part of it – to pay my respects.

So there I was – looking at Jeannie and her ridiculous hair pin – to say I did not know what was going on would be to say, I was a man who did not understand the ebb and flow of the tides . I knew exactly what was happening, it was all too evident in the slight smirk of the third wife, when her eyes first met mine when I entered the scene.

“Now your little servant whore is complete, right down to the hair pin” her eyes expressed.

But I allowed the matter to past – had I acknowledge the insult, it would not only have put be me in danger, but also the third wife and I must say, that afternoon, I cared more for her than I did for myself – enough to even look to one side when she said later on,

“look how beautiful she looks. Don’t you agree Huan Guan?” her eyes almost teasing me to anger.

Later on during tea, the third wife recounted to the amusement of the other ladies – the incident how she has missed her footing on the cobbled stones steps on the bridge in Hyde Park. She even went to great lengths to exaggerate the story further by saying how, I had been gracious enough to jump over a freshly painted picket fence to save her just when she was about to fall, thereby ruining my summer jacket. So when she offered me the gift, even the rest of the ladies felt nothing was amiss, not even Jeannie who seemed quite insistent on me trying on the jacket in front of all the ladies.

That evening after leaving the gift at the Lam’s – later I received a phone call from a very distraught Jeannie, she explained how one of the maids had mistaken the jacket for common linen and proceeded to wash it ruining it completely. Though Jeannie was quite sadden by the entire episode, she resigned herself to look for another similar jacket, only to be told by the sales clerk in Austin Reed, it had been a limited edition and they had all but run out of that model this season.

Fortunately summer took the turn for the worst and soon the skies turned the usual grayish overcast color of dried mud – with this change in weather so did my wardrobe and, neither the third wife or anyone asked why I was never ever seen in the summer jacket – One day after lectures on a particularly cold evening, I thrust my hands as I usually did into my coat pockets. Hardly had I done this, I remembered the pearl earrings – I had left them in the pockets throughout the summer, and. When I searched frantically for them, I realized, they were gone. Judging from the size of the hole in one of the coat pockets, the earrings must have wriggled themselves out only to fall out – this saddened me.

Darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 9 “Paper Swans”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

At age 23, I saw the world without the slightest trace of illusion. You could say such a man is cursed – in this world, we can all do with a bit of lies now and then to make an unbearable life more bearable.

A man who doesn’t choose to lie to himself and sees the world as it is and not how world expects to be seen – is like one of those sad characters in a Hong Kong movie who always seems to see and talk to ghost. While the rest is always left wondering, why is this man always talking to himself? Does he see something we all don’t see or hear?

Yes – in the known world, I occupied in the moment of my youth, there were all sorts of ghost in China town – loan sharks, con artist, two bit gangsters, prostitutes, pimps were all ghostly figures who seemed to float around quite openly in the streets even in broad daylight.

One simply needs to make peace with these ghostly figures by adopting the Cantonese philosophy of “kam ya koh ngan” (closing one eye) and – hopefully we can all live in harmony, I would often say to myself.

In this contorted way, I went about my business everyday as the man who collected money for the four houses, hardly even registering a vapor of disgust when I saw a mother coming out of a hotel with a young girl – who I knew she was pimping, though I could hardly turn away from her in disgust, because like I said, one needs to keep the harmony – even with ghosts.

Even prostitutes and pimps hardly made me flinch, I would often nod approvingly at these people in the way, one would pass a loving couple and say,

“the best thing in this world is to be loved and to love”.

Not even the sight of an elderly man going out with a girl who would one day leave him hanging penniless, cut and dried only to run off with her secret lover was capable of evoking anger or for matter the slightest emotion in my heart.

I would simply turn to this old fool and express,

“Even at you age life is just beginning, you deserve all the happiness love brings to you.”

On one occasion, the purity of my apathy was so refined, I even managed to sit through a murder, where the man seated next to me had his brains splattered with a cleaver – there I was munching on my wanton mee with extra chili sauce – my table cloth stained with bits and pieces of flesh, bone and brains, yet as absurd as it sounded, I even managed to stretch across this dead man’s table and borrow his salt shaker – only to continue as if nothing has happen – we change – we make compromises – we all have to find a way to survive.

So that evening on my way back from lectures, it surprised even me when I started feeling sad for the third wife. Sadness till then, had only been a distant island, like one of those picture postcards of some faraway beach in the Caribbean – though I have heard of it and probably seen or read about it countless times, it never really had the effect of permeating my heart which till then resembled a piece of industrial grade metal – my heart after all was not even my own – I for one did not own enough of myself to even consider my own heart my own property –I had stepped into a world where men such as myself could never afford to even be themselves.

Why did I even dream of a life with her? – in this dream, I conveniently forgot about the details such as the body guards and the old man. In this fantasy world, I even imagined “going straight” and getting a normal job as an engineer, where I would even be content to drive a second hand clap up car – we would save like normal couples for fridges, television sets, sofa’s, dinning tables and those sort of things – from time to time, when there was enough to spare, I would buy her a drop of gold and this would bring a smile to her.

Later on when my bosses saw, I was a man who could be entrusted to do bigger things (because I reasoned surely this world and that world cannot be so different – there will always be a place for serious men like me, who could always be depended to see things through) – and when we had saved up enough to buy our own house, complete with a yard, verandah and a white picket fence – I would probably have more time and even pick up a respectable hobby like photography – perhaps even pursue a master’s and eventually a doctoral degree – and while I studied through the night – she would content herself with reading or watching her favorite soap opera – occasionally, she would make me a cup of cocoa and we would simply sit down, talk and laugh the way ordinary decent folk turned the great wheel of life, page by page, chapter by chapter till this book would close quite happily.

Like the lies I told myself from time to time –mine dissolved whenever, I saw men in dark expensive suits like myself appearing over the horizon with guns in this dreamscape – menacing – dangerous – who all knew, the world is round and no matter how one runs, one can never really run – they could always be counted to square the accounts.

That night I dreamt of watching two paper swans sailing out to sea – though I was still dreaming, I remembered lowering my head and saying to myself – it was impossible, they will never make it, the waves are too big – I must be dreaming.

Darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 8 “The Garden Party”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

On the 30th day of the lunar calendar – the old man threw a garden party in his mansion to bring the auspicious new year to a close.

This was the least he could do to appease the rest of his other wife’s. Who seemed throughout the week quite restless by his open display of affection for his youngest wife during the Chinese new year celebrations in china town earlier in the month.

Since Jeannie Lam was officially my fiancée, the old man naturally expressed an interest to see her that evening, he had remarked earlier in the week,

“Beautiful things are best seen in the fullness of the moonlight.”

Only to smile revealing a row of rotting teeth.

That evening Jeannie wore a vermillion silk cheong sam*, close to her hipline a pair of flamingo’s curled across her chest heightening her figure. Braided discreetly to her bun hair, was a burst of magnolias. She looked quite fetching as the slender flamingo’s seem to nod at each other, every time she either bowed or shuffled. (*formal Chinese dress)

Most of the older ladies looked at her approvingly and though they were preoccupied with the fit of cheong sam – some of these older ladies would later turn to me and wink mischievously, asking me whether a date for our marriage had been set, all except the third wife who seemed as usual quite distant sitting demurely all to herself sipping her tea some distance away on the main table.

So it came as a pleasant surprise to me mid way through the party, when the third wife suddenly appeared to pay her respects to Jeannie and her parents and though a long silence ensued between these two ladies, she turned towards me with her finely shaped nose and huge bright eyes and said.

“Now that I have seen her you are indeed a fortunate man.”

Her words coming out in a rushed whisper, only to move on to another table. Leaving the Lam’s and their relatives smiling suggesting they were perhaps surprised how she had been unusually generous with her praises for their daughter that evening.

With her back to me walking away, each step she took was an inadequate disguise for the roundness of her hips, surprising on such a slim figure, I found myself unable to tear away from her departing figure and as I looked and continued looking till she disappeared into the crowd.

I suddenly realized, Jeannie was watching me, her eyes schoolgirl cheery as always, reflecting the many colored bulbs criss crossing the garden – but in their depths, for one moment just fleetingly I swore I saw a desperate thirst in those eyes, filling me momentarily with a slight shudder – but it must have been the play of lights – Jeannie Lam could never fathom the affairs of man who was as complicated as me. Or could she?

Darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 7 “The Secret Reflections of The Third Wife”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

Dear Diary,

“No one knows what I really think in this gilded cage, not my husband, his wife’s or even the servants – I have become very clever these days at saying one thing and doing quite another – well enough of that….

In those three short days of his absence, the feeling that developed was entirely new.

I felt the weight of the boy’s absence in my heart and reveled in it.

His absence was a plump fresh weight. That was joy! Everywhere in the house I reveled in his absence – in the yard, in the dinning room and even during those stupid mah jong games that seem to stretch on forever – my mother was right I must learn to look upon the world stretched out in one long endless line. How else can a woman in my circumstances remain sane otherwise? – and continue to use my beauty as a weapon to secure a future for myself – even if it means marrying a man nearly three times my age!

I have no life, except the life I choose to hide from the world – in this world where I am nothing more than a slave, the boy is my only moment of truth – yet it must have hurt him to think I rejected his gift – the boy should be more careful next time, it wouldn’t do to have the other wife’s gossip over those cheap earrings – never mind, I shall make up to him when I next see him.

I really don’t think much about that impossible girl, what’s her name – Jeannie Lam – who he’s planning to marry.

Worst of all she doesn’t even know her place – and it wouldn’t be long before the whole thing crumbles and he would simply lose interest in her – it is this way with the whites, they never ever take anything seriously enough not even the whites who seem almost to look perfectly Chinese – and what of her plainness – if ever I saw a girl as plain and tasteless as boiled water – it would be this girl, with her flat chest and stupid servant smile that deserves nothing but a good tight slap.

But enough of this aimless talk dear diary – just the other day in the park, I felt so very sad even though I was wearing my favorite summer dress, you know the one’s with the red carnations – when I feel like that I really don’t want to be with the other wife’s – it was then I saw him looking at me – he is always looking at me, even the first time he looked at me – I said to myself, what an insolent man surely he can’t be expected to look at me in such a disrespectful way – after all I am the third wife!– yet later on, I found myself longing to be seen by his eyes (but I am really changing subject aren’t I, let me get back to that hot afternoon in the park)

Well there I was feeling all sad and melancholy about my life – in truth, I have never considered my life worth living – till the boy came to my life, but after hearing about his plans to marry this girl – I said to myself, it is all over – in a while, he too will go away leaving me all alone again with an old man who never seems to die – I bet he will outlive all of us!

So that day, with these morbid thoughts in my head – somewhere along the bridge I just wondered how beautiful it would be to end it all here right now – Yes, to end it all in one moment, right now! – no one would ever know or even care, I would simply throw myself over the edge – the way a man throws a gun over a bridge – and with a slight ripple those waters would swallow me up -those waters seemed so mysterious like velvet that afternoon and as these thoughts swirled and mixed with my sadness – I prepared myself – just as I was about to jump, I heard the sound of running on cobbled stones.

Let it be him, I said to myself. Let it be him, if it is him. I will live! – heaven give me a sign I said – when I saw the expression on his face, I felt almost pierced like an arrow by something that burnt with a vibrant brilliance deep inside him– at that moment I knew I had to live, if not for myself, for him at least.

They say when a man saves another, he is responsible for her for the rest of his life. So at that moment all my resolve disappeared.

When I slipped, he reached for my waist – his hands seemed to search for me, touching me just the way I imagined it – in the way the morning dew falls ever so gently as a perfect droplet on the leaf – I felt his warmth, his cheeks spreading out like a bush fire and I knew I will always love him – it is a pity my favorite dress is ruined, this awful green paint will never come off – the boy will be heartbroken and knowing him, he would probably buy me some old matron looking gown that I’ve never ever want to wear except to please him, like those ridiculous earrings! – no, it simply wouldn’t do, I have to buy another dress to replace the one he ruined, so he would never ever feel bad – but I will not throw this away – you see, when I run my fingers across this dark streak of green – I feel the freshness of the moment coming back again and it makes him happy – tomorrow will be the garden party – he will be there with his servant whore – I want him to see. He simply must.”

That same evening while shopping in Oxford Circus – the third wife bought a creamed colored summers dress with red carnations and when she passed Austin Reed – she stopped for a while admiring a dummy sporting a jacket – when the salesgirl told her this was the latest fashion – she nodded her head – later on when the cashier winked at her and said rather mischievously,

“Your man would like this very much Madam, it’s the latest fashion, they just came in from France today?”

The third wife smiled shyly and replied,

“Yes, it’s for someone very specially.”

Darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 6 “The Stone Bridge”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

Summer brought a hot oppressing heat wave from the continent. Even the oldest amongst the elders in Chinatown, who had seen the coming and passing of more seasons than they cared to remember, remarked;

“Aiyah, it’s so hot these days, it reminds me of the old country in summer”.

That afternoon the 1st wife after sweating like a pig all week, suggested a picnic beside the only lake in Hyde Park gardens along with the other wife’s and a few of her relatives. Her sinseh* had remarked, the sight of cool waters would hopefully:
(*Chinese physician)

“Restore her health and balance her ying*” (*life force)

By mid afternoon when the sun hung high, all the old man’s wife’s either gathered beneath the shade of a sprawling oak or simply dozed off like piglets on one of the many rattan chairs lining the shaded side of the lake.

All except, the third wife who always seemed content to wander off by herself picking wild flowers along the water’s edge.

From the distance, I could just make out her figure, in her white cotton dress with bright red carnation prints. From time to time, when she bent down to either pick a daisy or one of those dainty wildflowers, a warm breeze would part her helm to reveal a slight peek of her inner tights. At other times, when she bent over, the fullness of her breast would seem to almost froth and spill over her plunging neckline – you may say, I shouldn’t really derive so much pleasure from all this, but what can I say except I was terribly bored that afternoon. Besides, I was a man and she was a woman.

Like a prisoner who peers out of his window and imagines what lies beyond the distance of faraway hills – I had grown accustomed to such little pleasures life offered, one of them was watching the third wife from the relative safety of the distance.

By this time she was somewhere along the stone Victorian bridge. It would be no exaggeration to say something must have caught her attention in the dark swirling waters of the lake in the curious way she came to a sudden halt and leaned over the balustrade.

Standing so very still with only the wind billowing the loose strands of her hair, her calmness which was all so evident a while ago appeared almost to dissolve with every passing moment.

She seemed transfixed even drawn by some compelling inexplicable force in the waters .Then suddenly without warning she seemed almost to tense her body raising herself higher as if preparing to throw herself over the railings.

This sight so unnerved me –I stood up and ran towards the direction of the bridge. For some reason which I do not even know today, I cannot explain why I simply didn’t shout and instead ran towards her in the clumsy way that I did, tripping and falling even once when I jumped over a freshly painted green wooden picket fence, though I hardly even felt the fall or realized my summer suit had been stained bright green.

Startled by the sound of my frantic foot steps on the irregular stones of the bridge – she held herself erect and looked at me with her large eyes – When I saw her betraying hardly a tremor of nervousness and radiating the full force of her womanly beauty. I realized the completeness of my mistake. All at once I felt unsettled and foolish as she began to look at me, as if she knew why I had acted in the way I did.

“why do you run as if you think – I were about to jump, silly boy” her voice trailing off in mocking jest as she gestured for my arm to steady her on the irregular stone steps.

She had adopted a suitably pleasant voice confirming my mistake further but there was hardly a trace of condescension in her tone. Yet when she slipped slightly and I steadied her on the side where I had managed to stain my coat – only to soil her dress with a long green unsightly stain.

“It’s ruined”

“Silly, it will wash off”

At that moment, a single wisp of hair slipped over her clear white cheek, and out of a finely drawn corner of her eye a smile flashed a spark of black fire as she drew me to the railings.

“I want you to see something boy”

Leaning over the stone bridge, she threw the bunch of wildflowers into the dark waters. As they began spreading out from one point like a dazzling burst of fireworks only to disappear into the oblivion of the dark waters – I couldn’t help feeling, I was looking at my own hopes burning up like some flickering candle bursting alight with a sudden flash only to be extinguished forever – I felt sad.

“Isn’t it beautiful boy?”

“yes, it’s only….”

“Only?”

“I just wish it could last forever”

As I turned to her, I saw in those dark eyes a seductive glint that seemed to secretly agree with me, it would be three long days before I saw her again in the garden party.

Darkness 2002

(Authors Comment based on readers questions: Many of you have asked me, why I can’t just get a normal job like a waiter, mechanic , security guard or technician to fund my studies in the UK –

I simply want you all to know this, no one in his right mind aspires to be a gangster – that only happens in the movies, in real life, fate has a way of conspiring against man.

We lead our life’s only to be ruled by accidents – like the Cantonese say, “Mah seh, lok teh hangh” – horse dies, man must walk – someday, I will share with you how a simple Singaporean boy like myself suddenly found himself walking down this windy path, it is not as if it was planned, one thing leads to another and the next thing you know, your lose a bit of yourself with every step you take, till even your life simply doesn’t belong to even you and you wonder whether you really had anything resembling a choice – it could just have easily happened to you – I will share this confession with you one day – one day.)

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 5 “The Mansion.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 15, 2005

The following morning I arrived earlier than usual at the old man’s mansion, some documents needed signing urgently. Hardly had removed my coat, when the 1st wife caught me firmly by the arm and ushered me to join them and some of her relatives for breakfast.

One of the older wife’s remarked she had heard about the incident on the steps with Jeannie Lam. They seemed to be talking among themselves and soon they moved on to another juicier gossip, at times oblivious of even my presence. All so engrossed in adding to each others gossip, waving their hands with expressions no different from those characters in the Chinese opera.

All except the third wife, who appeared quite distant and silent that morning.

At times when she looked at me either to offer a bun or another dumpling, I caught flashes of her briskness, but I it was not anger as much as regret.

I cannot explain to you how two people can ever have a conversation without ever having to say even a single word – I would not fault you if you think my account was not entirely truthful, but I can truly say this was what transpired that morning.

I imagine only people who are deaf and old would know what I mean, so I would never fault you if you choose not to believe me.

After all, in their silent world where every expression and gesture speaks the length of a sentence and more – words are as useful as a comb to a bald man and it was in this silent language – we spoke in that morning.

When her eyes met mine, as my cup accidentally “clicked” her plate – she expressed “you are cruel” – when she offered me another bun, the heaviness of her eyelids expressed “heartless man” – and on another occasion when she poured tea for one of the ladies and gave me a sidelong glance, she expressed, “you sadden me”

In a while I found myself under a spell, till the sound of a tea cup set down with a “tick” startled me out of it.

When I looked up the 3rd wife has watching – for how long I was not quite sure – I had lost all track of time.

By this time the older wife’s and their relatives had moved on to another gossip and they were very much in their own world as we were in ours – there she sat with her eyes fixed on me, as lost in thoughts as I was with mine – we were like two wet spots in the midst of burning charcoal.

At that very moment, she expressed. “I loved you”.

After breakfast – the 3rd wife saw me out, handing me my coat, she looked up and said,

“Huan Guan, it’s going to rain today.”

That morning on my way to lectures, her predictions came true, it rained cats and dogs, thrusting my hands into the coat – something nicked me drawing blood – it was the pearl earrings, I had given her.

Darkness 2002

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