The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 11 “The Pool Hall (1 of 3)”
Posted by inspir3d on February 19, 2005
The man who collected money for the four houses was going about his business in the round world of Chinatown and to say everyone liked and respected him or everything was smooth – was not entirely true – there were lumps and even bumps and certainly plenty of indentations in this apparently round world. One of these imperfection were the common foot soldiers of the triads, known as “kachat chai” – “cockroaches” – young men who would never seem to rise because in the words of one the elders,
“There are too many of them -besides most of them are hot headed – useless – even fighting amongst themselves trying to impress a prostitute – but like big fish in the small pond – even we must live in peace with them – and from time to time throw them a few crumbs to keep them happy.”
Though the cockroaches were part of the triad family who belonged loosely to one the four houses who ruled Chinatown – their sheer numbers meant if a man was to succeed in going about his job – not only did he have to have the blessing of the elders – but also the respect of the cockroaches.
These men whose only preoccupation in life was to tattoo their bodies with dragons and phoenixes, loitered around snooker halls and wait for a benefactor to take them under their wing – that is to say, someone who would give them an opportunity to prove their worth.
To say all cockroaches were doomed to lead a wayward and aimless life forever was not entirely true.
The old man in his youth rose from the very ranks of the cockroaches and served his benefactor loyally till eventually even he aspired to the rank of benefactor, which carried the title of “most esteemed dragon” – only to rise even further to the rank of elder and finally to a rank he could not longer aspire beyond – “esteemed elder of elders”, by murdering the very same man who once trusted him. So life through the eyes of a cockroach was not entirely a life without avenues, though they were plenty of dead ends.
The vast majority of cockroaches did not know what to make of me – though, I occupied the lowest rank of a benefactor, my youth worked against me, since a benefactor had to be firstly married with at least 3 children which meant even the youngest benefactor would be somewhere in his mid or early thirties, the old man appeared to have made a special case for me. According to him – I was after all very good with numbers and as he often said,
“White cat or black cat, what does it matter providing it can catch mice.”
Another sore point with the foot soldiers was I didn’t have any roots in either the mainland or Hong Kong. In their atlas Singapore didn’t exist – for all they knew, I was simply a man who walked over the brow of a hill one sunny day with my expensive Italian suit and slicked back hair carrying my trade mark briefcase.
This had always provoked jealously with some of the older cockroaches, who often saw me first as an “outsider” and secondly an upstart – a stranger who snaked his way into the hearts of the elders – as they would often be heard saying in the pool halls,
“This man doesn’t give us face – he doesn’t even give us the respect, we deserve, even the body guards who protect him when he carries that sissy looking briefcase are all Vietnamese – he doesn’t even trust his own “hen tai”* enough to protect him or the money – he thinks we are unworthy – and look at him, his fair complexion like a maiden– his long lashes and shy eyes like a virgin – even his hands are like porcelain, hardly made to hold a gun or a knife – those hands are only good for turning pages and counting money – now that the elder Lam and his daughter has fallen under his spell, it only goes to show, his hands are even more useless than we all thought –since there are only good for searching what lies between the legs of a whore – this man needs to know respect – one day, we need to teach him the meaning of respect.”
From time to time – my relationship with particularly the older cockroaches would prove difficult and even impossible to handle. For instance, if I turned down an offer to sit for a cup of tea to either give “respect” or “face” – this would often be construed as an insult and cause for challenge, usually, I apologized– I reasoned even as a benefactor who was as young as myself, one must from time to time “kow tau” or “close one eye” to a cockroach twice my age – but as I mentioned earlier, there are limits, just as one can never expect to continue pouring tea into a cup beyond the point when it over flows and spills over creating a mess.
A benefactor, even one who was as young as me cannot continue to “give face” or “show respect” all the time to a cockroach. Once, twice, three or even four times, yes – but not all the time – people will begin to talk and soon the structure and symmetry of law and order governing the relationship between superior and subordinate, master and servant and even cockroach and benefactor would break down completely, and as the old man would say, “the entire heavenly order will simply come apart.” – in the words of some of the older benefactors,
“If I did not learn to break eggs, I would grow hungry because, I would never be able to even make an omelet”
So from time to time – the man who collected and carried the money for the four houses – appeared in the pool halls to confront the cockroaches of his life and restore the heavenly balance between man and insect.
One evening with these thoughts, I walked into the liar of the cockroaches – the Kam fah snooker hall – it was time to break a few eggs.
To be seen in the nest of the cockroach says a few things, but the way one behaves says even more. I cannot describe to you the philosophy a man needs to have when he walks into the very heart of a place where everyone despises him.
I imagine it is no different from the way a prostitute goes about her business. Firstly, one needs to separate the self from what others see – a prostitute need not necessary find her client appealing, but she needs to pretend to do so.
In the same way, when one walks into one of those dark lit snooker halls, every detail of one’s character is a show – the way a man sets the table, the briskness in his shots, the way he glides from one shot to another and the slight tightening of his jaw line when he first meets his challenger must be done so well, it leaves little or no doubt in the mind of those who sees this man – he is a serious man, not someone to be toyed with.
That evening – I took the main table in the first game, from this point, anyone who wanted to take the table would have to beat me – at first the best of cockroaches challenged, one by one, the stakes dropped till, hardly anyone bothered with the usual gambling and betting, not even the bookies who gathered in one corner shaking their heads saying to themselves,
“Tonight, the fish are not biting”
Each round, my movements sharpened – the shots finding their pockets unfailingly like one of those tailors who seems to find a happy rhythm in being able to sew one straight line one after another– all my challengers came and went – the pile of crumpled notes piled up on the side table – till finally even the best shooters found themselves standing against the wall united in their defeat.
This was when a king pin cockroach by the name of Ah Thiam whispered to me, the same one who always expected me to “give face” or “to show respect”. It hardly surprised me to hear the same nonsense again.
“Give me face – let me win this round – you understand my men need to see I am big fish from time to time – you are a smart boy you know what I mean.”
I smiled graciously, tipped my cognac and hardly said a word. No sooner had the round began, I defeated him with the precision of one of those well oiled Swedish machines. In the final shot, on the black, I hardly even appeared to bother, leaving the black ball there like some punctuation mark as I lit another cigarette.
All the while, looking at this older cockroach whose face remained red and flustered like a fire cracker just about to explode. When the final shot came, Ah Thiam – lost his cool.
“You think you are very clever!– coming down here and acting like some big shot! – I have eaten more salt then you – do you hear me!!!! – let’s play a real game”
Ah Thiam whipped out a stubbed nose revolver and slammed it on the table – his face turning redder by the minute as he continued glaring at me.
I remained silent and calm as I pulled on my cigarette, my expression the relaxed face of man who had just finished giving a whore a good long and hard working over – one that she would remember for a very long time – but as they saw the evening was still young.
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