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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 40 “Epilogue/Interview with darkness”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

Brought to you by the Brotherhood Press 2006 (An exclusive Interview in the virtual with darkness onboard the French Liberium Class Star Cruiser – “Les Enfants du Paradis.”

Journalist: Agnes Proirer

Agnes: Can you share with us how it was when the brotherhood press first started posting the confessions online four years ago in Hong Kong?

Well how shall I put it, it’s a bit like waking up in the morning and finding a flying saucer parked in your backyard. Most people just looked at it and said, “OK, this must be dream” and went back to sleep.

Posting stories online is a new concept, so both, we, the producers and the readers had to grapple with this new medium. I say new because writing stories in the net is completely different from a book, play or radio show. For one the tempo needs to be faster to heighten the dramatic effect. Neither can it be too long winded, otherwise readers will just tune off. The confessions as I mentioned many times was definitely a learning experience, I guess as with any new medium which aspires to be part of an acceptable genre they (our readers) too needed time to adjust themselves to this new form of entertainment.

It is worth noting, the original confessions series was 84 chapters as opposed to the condensed redux version which only manages half the typescript. This means it ran just over a 4 month period and by the end of it, most of them (readers) more or less bought into the idea whole sale.

The rest like the Americans say is history.

In the confessions the main protagonist Yu Huan Guan is always referred too as the man who carries the bag. Many have speculated whether perhaps the bag is a sort of metaphor, can you elaborate further?

What I was trying very hard to convey is, contrary to popular myth, none of us just walks over the brow of the hill or makes a naked entrance on the stage of life. It just doesn’t happen that way.We bring with us an enormous amount of baggage, in the form of history. The history of our family, friends, country, community, experience and even the broader history those who have once touched our lives.

In this respect, the metaphor of the man with the bag was very effective in conveying this “historical multitudes” and amplifying the ideal all of us are irrevocably handcuffed to our respective histories. You can even say its play on the ancient Heraclitus idea, “a man’s character is his fate.” And he can never run away from his history. By fusing the hero with the bag, it was perhaps a very amateurish way for me to constantly remind myself, the plot always had to look back and juxtapose his distant past on the story board. So yes, you are absolutely right in mentioning the play on metaphors.

Why was it during the final scene, Huan Guan set aside his briefcase. What were you trying to convey in this scene. Many readers have speculated on what you were trying to say. Could you elaborate further?

I had a lot of problems with the closing chapter and much of it was due to my lack of literal skills in being able to successfully reconcile, coax, juxtapose differences and tease out connections. I don’t know how to say this except perhaps to admit, I am not a very versatile writer. Even today, I still struggle with the basics, spelling, grammar and construction. However, having said all that, I knew what I really didn’t want to do during the final scene was to just lay it all out in one straight line.

I wanted the reader very much to experience the narrator’s world to stand before a forked road, where he or she decides what it really means when Huan Guan agrees to set aside his trade mark briefcase after the third wife says, “You wouldn’t need this where you are going…” This naturally compels the reader to ask, where is this place? What does this really mean? Does this mean he has finally reconciled himself with his past, present and future? Is this some sort of rite of passage? In the last chapter if you noticed very carefully, I was throwing out very suggestive images by using words such as “phantom mirror, kinetic architecture, transcontinental wormtrain, mindscape etc. The whole idea is to convey to the reader, Huan Guan is in another era somewhere in the distant future and this world isn’t really fleshed out, it’s here and there. Open ended even, but the reader is never in any doubt, it is a world of infinite possibilities and endless avenues – one where your guess about the ending is really as valid as mine.

Was this a trick you acquired from reading or somewhere else?

Au contraire, technique would be a better word. Actually, it’s something I gleaned quite by accident in the way of photography. I noticed, the really great photos which have the highest dramatic impact were usually in the black and white medium and this intrigue me no end.

It provoked me to consider whether perhaps color photography doesn’t have the same allure because it captures too much of life thereby leaving very little else to the imagination. Whereas the black and white format doesn’t really try at all, in fact it resolutely renounces the real by being color blind, yet despite its obvious limitation, there lies its power to arrest and convey a very compelling narration.

And what strength or power would that be? How would you best describe it?

The power to recruit the imagination of the viewer or perhaps empower him with this right of narration – the viewer needs to supply the missing jigsaw to complete the picture – that’s to say he needs to form the third dimension. In doing so something magical happens: the reader or in this case viewer ceases completely to be the spectator, instead he’s elevated to the role of the narrator or creator. I remembered mulling over these thoughts during the last chapter.

Many have asked why did you set the story in China town London? Was there are reason behind the setting?

Yes, if you look very closely at every chapter, there is a common theme that runs through all of them, except perhaps in the last chapter. The sense of displacement, a sort of carrying across where Huan Guan always finds himself away from a place called home. Even in China town, the community never really accepted him as one of their own, being a Singaporean in a predominantly Hong Kong Chinese community only really gave him a measure of home against the sense of being an exile and even when he eloped with Jeannie to Wales. Again the same thematic mood is played out. As a result, his character is never stable, integrated and consistent.

I guess this controlled instability gave Huan Guan an accidental hero quality which allowed many of the readers to identify with him, where even the reader isn’t really convinced he can really pull it off. It’s the necessary lie in story telling, if the good in the world outweighs the bad, it has to be by the slimmest of margins to heighten the dramatic effect. And thrown amid all this is the notion of duality, violence and compassion, revenge and forgiveness, love and separation, life and death; the state and the individual; the imperatives of history and the waywardness of his life. It’s almost as though he cannot have one idea without immediately considering it’s opposite.

Coming back to the issue of duality, there is one interesting chapter where the main protagonist seeks out the man who once beat him up and just before he is about to kill him, he loses all his resolve because he has a flashback of having once fought in some secret war. Many of the readers felt from that point onwards they were actually reading two stories in one. How did you reconcile these two realities?

One of the techniques I experimented with in the confessions was a device called leitmotiv – that’s to say images evoked by objects and motifs, one of them as I have already mentioned was Huan Guan’s briefcase, which is very effective in conveying the image of a man with a colorful past, the other is the imagery of war, but note, it’s not any war, but rather, we are told it’s a secret war, which was very effective in conveying the duality between reality and fiction, revenge and redemption, live and death. At that point, I couldn’t really find any other stronger imagery to evoke that sudden change of will, except perhaps the gravity of war and all it’s horrors – that’s the beauty of invoking war as a femme fatale, it’s incomprehensible and even unfathomable – it is worth noting there is a line in that chapter where Huan Guan says, he loved life so much even the life of a stranger who once beat him up – that generally sums up the sentiments of how a man who was so determined to kill another suddenly loses his resolve.

Yes, I guess there were in effect reading two stories, if you imagine two dancers and every so often one of these dancers steps into a circle and does a jig only to step back for another to step in. This was really the technique, I was deploying – it’s a kind of dance, where there are lots of different inputs, and not one source of origin.

To me at least those chapters when the secret war is mentioned to the readers is the defining moment, when we see Huan Guan completely in a different light – again I deliberately left the details vague, so the readers would speculate on his past and juxtapose them on the story board, except to repeat the line, “the unspeakable fire” again and again – by keeping the script very loose – it’s a bit like jazz. There is a lot of scope for improvisation within the melodic structure where only the very basic notations are listed and the musician really makes up the rest as he goes along – the direct opposite of traditional music in which the composer writes and the musician plays to a corseted script – here by playing on the idea of his smoky past and leaving out huge chunks – the act of reading becomes very much, the act of writing – and the reader assumes the role of the creator.

The reader assumes the role of the final arbiter? Is that the reason why there is one chapter where Huan Guan dreams of a city disappearing?

Yes, again it’s a play on the duality of the visible and the invisible – a conflict even – it’s trying to suggest that even among us there are infinite invisible realities. You need to comprehend at that point in the story when Huan Guan experiences the dream, he is very much a man torn by the guilt of having being the only survivor in his platoon – against this backdrop, we have a man who is struggling very hard to remember, yet forget his past – at first he tries very hard to forget, but eventually his past catches up with him, again, it’s a play on the duality between the past and the present – and the reason why the city disappears in his dreams, it’s because it’s unbearable to see it – but the triumph in that chapter is he finally decides to confront the past only to run away.

Following that there is a very moving scene where he dines all by himself in Mutho curry house – to me this is the scene that really frames the unimaginable magnitude of his desolation – I deliberately inserted the caricature of the Mutho simply to perforce the comical notion how sometimes we can be beyond invisible to perhaps being ultra invisible and in this case, the metaphor of a lone figure dinning alone in the company of ghost remembered only in his past was a good way to convey to the reader – his status as an exile.

Exile? This word keeps cropping up again and again. Many have wondered whether perhaps in the course of writing this story and posting them in the net, either you or the brotherhood saw yourself very much like Huan Guan, the hunted and may I say, the exiled?

Subconsciously perhaps, these thoughts must have projected themselves into the story board. This I do not deny. Only because when we first started to post these stories in in Hong Kong, we encountered a fair amount of opposition from other forumers. I remember the webmaster, a man called Tim would call me from time to time and say, “hey they’re going to tie me to a stake and burn me.” Fortunately Tim ran the gauntlet with us and eventually by the second month half way into the series, the hate mails trickled off to zero and many of those who once opposed us eventually became our ardent readers.

I am very grateful to webmasters like Tim, Francois, Neverdie and Inspirid because without them, we can never do the things we do. It’s never easy for them because when they allow us to use their platform, they are in effect allying themselves with us in the eyes of their readers.

9 out of 10 readers have asked. What were you trying to change by writing and posting the confessions?

It’s all too easy to jump from the knowledge that a novel can have agency to the conviction it MUST have agency, but I am not so sure it’s supposed to do that. What gradually emerged as I started fleshing out the character of Huan Guan, was not that a novel can CHANGE anything but that it can PRESERVE something, although I started with the original premise, it could provoke a sort of change. I soon realized, it had more to do with preservation.

The thing being preserved, may be something like “the right for ALL kids to be able to read literature in school” or “the right to ride my bike on the road without ending up in hospital.” But what needs to be emphasized is it’s increasingly difficult to even hold on to these simple “rights” as society grows ever more distracted and mesmerized by the mono culture brought about the globalization and the advent of the digital age. I am not saying for one moment digitalization is predition. Neither am I suggesting we go back to the cottage industry and beat our key boards into ploughshares. It’s not going to happen. But simply because the advent of globalization and the digital age is so powerful, there needs to be an equally strong opposite force to counter it by preserving and reclaiming rather than changing what we still have or have already lost.

I don’t expect you to understand this, but let me share with you something Agnes which I still consider very disturbing. In my country literature is no longer taught in schools. And this naturally begs the question, are we Singaporeans “bovine” in acquiescing to this sort of “Sovietization?”

Sovietization? That’s a very strong word. So what you saying is there needs to be a counter force in the form of an underground literature movement precisely because it no longer features in your society?

I really can’t find another word to describe the process. What many fail to grasp is the matter goes beyond the preservation of the right to read literature. It’s the sense that if we continue to remain bovine to these change, erosion, leaching, chelating or whatever you wish to call it, we will eventually end up finding ourselves living in a reductively binary culture: where you’re either somebody or a statistic, wired or logged off, hip or square, in or out, living or existing, functional or dysfunctional, successful or a failure, arts or science, with or against us. And that sort of flattening or dumbing down of the field of possibilities to consider the middle ground is precisely what’s depressing – it’s the classical litany in Oedipus Rex, the one where he sings the tune, I call the “depressive realism of modern life” which is not so different from Huxley’s bleak brave new world :

“Alas ye generations of men, how mere a shadow do I count your life! Where, where is the mortal who wins more of happiness than just the seeming, and, after the semblance, a falling away?”

So what you are saying is writing the confessions was your way to preserve what you once and still consider to be important to yourself and society at large?

Yes or more accurately: the right for everyone to be able to discover the beauty of literature – because there is more to literature than meets the eye, you don’t have to be a sociologist to draw the connection literature has always had a tenuous purchase on the psyche of mankind.

Things just don’t just evolve out of nothing, not even something as simple as tying shoelaces. Europeans use the parallel style because their forefathers fought wars in muddy trenches and every soldier knows it’s easier to remove a boot with a bayonet when the laces are all lined up in neat rows as opposed to the criss cross laces favored by Americans. Everything has a source Agnes – that’s my point and what cannot be denied is literature has always played an important role in shaping the contours of the political, economic, social and technological landscape. One just really needs to summon up literati’s like Orwell, Zola, Krauss, Nietzsche, Mandelstam and Akhmatova to see how they have shaped the course of humanity with the power of literature – by provoking others to simply do one very simple thing: Think!

So to me when you say, literature, is dispensable, it’s as good as saying history is ephemeral and transient – and an extension of that for mankind to me at least is a future that seems as likely to be dystopian as utopian, simply because I really cannot see how a society can coherently evolve and grow without intellectual debate which only the cultural authority of literature is able to inspire.

You keep harping on preservation what specifically are these authors who you mentioned preserving?

I guess…..they are preserving a tradition of precise, expressive language; a habit of critically discerning beyond the chimera of superficiality. Their works serve as a manifesto for the disillusioned masses like you, me and them. Ordinary folk who simply want to lead a productive and happy life. Instead of being rail roaded by some guy on television…….I guess in the age of globalization, this need has never been strongest and literature goes a long way to make sense of to those who are constantly seeking vindication and comfort for those who struggle to accept the PR- soaked, artificially flavored, spin doctored and politically- deifying hegemony of modern society – I am not even talking about political science for dummies here – I am just talking about a bunch of kids reading about how a bunch of animals conduct politics on a farm, like Orwell’s book, “animal farm” only for some of them to say, “The world isn’t so simple after all.”

I believe every kid has a right to that sort of right of passage in their schools – an awakening.

“You actually believe books can actually awaken up the political consciousness of the masses?”

Yes, that at least is what both me and the CIA agree upon, why do you think, they regularly conduct covert flights into Cuba and air drop copies of Arturo Perez- Reverte’s anti- proletariat sappy love stories – the modern battlefield isn’t about beach landings or land grabs any more mademoiselle, les actuers ne sont pas les gens, nes pas? it’s about the battle of the minds and in this sense, the pen is truly mightier than the sword – beware the power of books.

And you think by writing the confessions your book can actually do all that?

Yes, even my sappy trite of a yarn pockmarked with lousy grammar atrocious spelling and a ridiculous plot can have such a dramatic effect as evidenced by the number of subscribers – ordinary folk who sit in their faceless cubicles during their tea breaks are voting en mass with their mouse clickers – they are saying, “literature is important, we have a right to read and enjoy it.” That is what is being preserved, some may say well, that’s not very much and my response is simply this, it’s not entirely nothing either.

Above all when there is a writer and a reader, a community is preserved, a thinking society who simply knows the world is never as simple as it is often made up to be by governments, firms, institutions, cult churches, Moonies,the hare Krishna’s or some guy on TV.

Above all when literature in whatever form not necessarily in the shape and fashion of the confessions gets read or produced, be it satire, cartoons, commentaries or even just rhetorical observations, the underground community grows, develops and matures in the face of what I call, The Great Lie.

And in this community neither as big as a statistical significant nor as small as the naked self. It’s a group of people who have all learnt to be preservers in their own way – because if you really want to know what is being ultimately preserved by the confessions it is simply this: Your right to think!

Literature may no longer be taught as it once was in schools and I may not have the power to change the remembrance of things past, but at least here, where the sun never sets in cyberspace, there is an accidental hero and he is a Singaporean, his name is Yu Huan Guan, the man who carries the briefcase.

Would you like to add anything else?

Thank you for allowing me to share with you all and merry Christmas to all of you.

End / Chronicler / Brotherhood Press Copyrighted 2006.


Posted in B'hood, Fiction | 42 Comments »

The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 38 & 39 “The Stone Bridge.” – “Mind Scape.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

Yu Huan Guan was ninety five. He often traveled alone now that his wife Jeannie has passed on.He chose easily accessible places that would not overtax him.

There were three runs every hour of the transcontinental undersea worm train. It would be no great matter if he were to miss his return train, time was relative at his age – very relative he though as, he plodded along absentmindedly along the artificial beach in Hyde Park, London.

Besides the trip from London to Singapore took only a little over an hour.

He walked along the only path carrying his briefcase, the fifty yards or so leading to the stone bridge.

Gazing upwards towards the paraffin blue of the sky, the old man noted the large enclosure covering the length and breath of London.

“Kinetic architecture.” He sniggered.

The sky in it’s upper reaches was too blue to be real, he thought, not like the old days.

A blue brought forth by floating, self sustaining organic membranes lighter than air, capable of expanding and contracting relative to weather, heat and occupant needs.

The sky it seemed was all the same these days, from London, Tokyo to Paris – an opaque saccharine blue.

Within the dome the ambient environment was controlled at a balmy ambient of 24◦C. Some 30 years ago, a great cataclysm brought forth by the impact of a meteorite slamming somewhere along the equatorial belt rendered life beyond the plexidome inhospitable, for a man to venture out into the open, he needed a space suit.

He asked himself as he gazed out towards the distance just making out the familiar outline of the stone bridge, whether this was the same bridge, and for a moment he did not recognize it: but as he looked on, he realized, it was there, seventy years ago, he had once first made love to her, Chan Sim – the third wife.

His thoughts passing fleetingly far back into the moment of his youth, the park was quiet.

Children were playing, and there were two or three anglers fishing for robot carp.

Again his mind began to play out the familiar cipher,

“Here I am again in the corridor of mirrors where I find myself staring at the single image reflected again and again. Wondering whether I have stepped into another fathomless inner chamber, is it possible for a man to collide with his destiny twice in a single lifetime? Is it really possible?”

Grasping these thoughts Huan Guan ambled towards the stone bridge. He remembered the bright white painted pavilion beside it.

Beyond a profusion of maples, plums, and tea bushes with hints of an oleander. The summer light fell sharply upon the white spears of dwarf lilies framing the steppingstones, repeating the light from the sky above. A beating of wings from tiny insects seemed almost to pierce the silence. A sparrow flew past, followed by a formation of flamingo’s casting long irregular shadows along the stone bridge.

Then suddenly the familiar image of a woman in a crème cheong sam with red carnations appeared.

He recognized her gait – it was her!

For a moment, he felt the door to his inner world sliding open. Huan Guan looked up at the figure as if pulled by invisible strings.

The man of ninety five years felt tears come to his eyes. He was powerless to look up at her. She faced him across the sea of time.

Her nose was the finely carved nose of those years before, and the eyes were the same beautiful eyes. Her skin glowed with a still light; the beauty of her eyes was clearer, shining through something like a patina. Age had crystallized into a perfect jewel, preserving her as if she had never aged even one day since he last saw her in the train station.

Hiding his tears, Huan Guan looked up.

“It was good of you to come.” He strained.

There was a pause, her voice like a whispering rush,

“Memory my love is like a phantom mirror. It sometimes shows thing too distant to be seen, and sometimes it shows them as if they were here, come with me my love. I want you to see something boy.”

She took him hand and together they leaned across the bridge, there was no trace of surprise in her voice, it was as if, the last 70 years of his life had never ever been lived.

There was instead a familiar sort of girlish curiosity in her eyes, and below them a quiet smile as she turned to look at him again.

Standing there motionless filled with anticipation, she held up the wild flowers and threw them into the dark waters, where a profusion of colors radiated from a single point.

Watching calmly and motionless, the man simply said to the woman,

“It’s beautiful….only.”

“Only what boy?” a smile crossed her lips as she turned her large seductive eyes towards him.

“Only I wished, it could last forever.” He continued shyly looking up at her.

A long silence ensued and the woman without saying a word, led him by the hand, setting aside his briefcase with the words,

“You don’t need this where we are going, leave it here. Come with me boy, I have a surprise for you.”

She led him down a dark path through the thicket of the canopy looking back at him in anticipation from time to time, he felt that straggling sensation of youthfulness returning to him as he followed.

Eventually, the trail opened up to a clearing, where a wooden single storey American house stood with it’s wide sweeping verandah, lining it a neat row of white picket fences and beside it, a cherry tree with a swing. There hanging rustically a wooden sign read,

“Home sweet home.”

The house was framed with wide opened spaces, with the rolling hills behind it, blazing in the summer sun.

Along one side, a grove beyond the lawn maples lined the road. A wattled gate led to the hills. Some of the maples were red even now in the summer, flames among the green. Stepping stones were scattered easily over the lawn, and wild carnations bloomed shyly among them, juxtaposing against the floral cheong sam of the woman who looked on at him.

For a moment tears welled in his eyes as he looked on. He had come right through the tunnel of time, to a place that had no memories, nothing except to be with the woman who he had always loved.

Yu Huan Guan had finally come home.

darkness 2002


2073 Somewhere in Science Park / Singapore

“Under ordinance 16, it is a statutory requirement for me to ask you one last time. Are you sure you want to go through this procedure?”

“Yes, I am certain.” The man in the wheel chair replied.

“You realize when you press the button all your memories as you know it will cease to exist completely apart from that which you have asked us to create. You know that, don’t you.”

“Yes, I know. Hurry up, I haven’t got all day.” The man tapped impatiently.

The Mind Scape® Atomic drive super computer hummed in the back ground, technicians in white coats hurriedly wheeled the old man into the room, called the hall of memories, here his brain would be downloaded into the master computer where every thought, sensation and memory would be instantly be digitalized only to exist in a virtual realm, here reality will cease to exist completely, here only the virtual reality refashioned by gaming engineers, artists, poets and musicians would be played out according to a script to recreate the known world – his world.

As the engineer in charge of the Mind Scape® that evening finalized the settings on the control board, the lone figure in the plexiglass domed room prepared to load the program he had so meticulously fashioned all these years.

The man had after all being the principal scientist who first developed the machine and now like a lone aviator preparing for his maiden flight, he had volunteered to be it’s first mind scape tourist.

As he slid the program drive into it’s hologram receptacle, a soft purring sound confirmed it was downloading and a panel at the arm rest slid opened revealing a single red button marked with the words,


Reaching slowly to press the button, the technicians and engineers peered attentively at their dials and view screens, this every man thought was history in the making – as the father of the game often said,

“When a person is lucky enough to live inside a story, to live inside an imaginary world, the pains of this world disappear. For as long as the story goes on, reality no longer exists.”

That evening when they wheeled the dead scientist out from the hall of memories after the failed experiment – they noted the strange expression on his face – the father of the game was smiling – it was Christmas day.

darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 37 “The Letter.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

My dearest love,I wrote this letter and slipped it in your coat, just last night. That night, I saw a star die, just exactly the way, you once described it.

There it was one moment, then gone in a blink of an eye. That star had burned out millions of years ago, and yet its fire had streamed outwards every since, a searching ribbon of light, seen from one end, so it looked tiny, paid out like a long line through the keyhole of time, until the last length slipped through and all that remained was darkness.

My dearest this is how I see our love, that night, when I saw you again in the Casino and now even as I write turning to you. I realized, if it hadn’t been for you, I’m not sure I could have continued living all these years.

Tonight, you gave me a lifetime, a universe, and made the separate parts of me whole that is all, I can ever expect from life, that is really all I really expect.

Though we shall never speak again to one another, we will forever remain bound together as tightly as it’s possible for two people to be bound on this earth. I cannot find the words to express this adequately. It is as if, I had ceased completely to be a single being and that part of you has somehow transformed me into a third being. Neither of us exist independent of that being.

Even now as I close my eyes, I can feel your presence somewhere, always there in my heart – it is a large heart my love, it can hold everything at once, and when I think of who I am now, I gives me the strength to do the things that needs to be done – to buy your freedom.

My love no matter which way we travel on the road of life – the direction of my heart will remain the same, you know the direction I mean – homeward, to that place where you will always stand as my one and only love.

So listen to me my love and take wing, take Jeannie with you and live your life for me and forget me.

Go well my love.

Chan Sim

PS: I know you heard rumors that I have given birth to a baby boy, the baby is a “she” my love, her name is Mei Ling, she is the fruit of our love.

darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 36 “After The War – 3 1/2 years later in a military academy”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

Long ago, a stranger was seen crossing no man’s land, approaching the city on foot. Word soon spread, and many gathered along the battlements of this walled city surveying the approach of the stranger. Amongst them the clot of generals shifted nervously, words such as, “impossible” – “this cannot be” passed freely amongst them in hushed tones.

How curious the crowds were, for none had ever seen a man who should have died but by some curious stroke of fate cheated death itself. To be sure there was no mistake, the crowd noted, his strange demeanor as he walked towards them, the slight arc of his head, the length of his arms and legs, the size of his courage. And to be sure, no one mistook him for another other than the man who was supposed to die but somehow managed to live through it all, they all peered deeper to study his features, but the light failed them, it was dark so very dark on that moonless night and none could quite discern the true appearance of the approaching stranger. Somewhere after passing the statute of the Merlion just short of the shiny buildings, the distant figure stopped and stood silently waiting on the empty flats.

“He will complicated things.” Said one of the generals. The others nodded their heads in silent agreement exchanging conspiratorial glances. “Yes, he will complicate matters and we don’t need people to complicate our already complicated life’s do we, gentlemen?” – “What shall we do?” one asked. “Let’s see, if we make him a hero, then he will have to admit there was once a war and we can’t do that can we? Then again if we crucify him, we would have to admit there was a war also and we certainly can’t have that either mmh…..” – “perhaps” one of them said, “Go on out with it!” said another– “we should just ignore him and treat him as if he never ever existed.” – “what about all those people who died?” – “what people?” – “the one’s who died in the war?” – “what war would that be general?” Soon the generals began congratulating themselves on the purity of their will.

Still the stranger came no closer and as he remained where he stood, eventually the crowd grew bored and this time dispersed and when all remained quiet in the flats beyond the city gates. The stranger looked on.

Now let me tell you this: the stranger stood in the flats regarding the distant apparition of this splendid city of gleaming steel and glass towers, but presently it faded before his eyes, leaving only the emptiness and the unbroken stillness of the everlasting night.

The following morning after the strange dream, the man awoke earlier than usual, though it was normally his habit to begin the day with a 5 kilometer run. Sitting at the edge of his bed, he said to himself, “it’s not my fault” – he felt much better after that and soon the familiar balm swept over him, the one where he was content in the knowledge, he was connected with nothing, no one, that neither his presence nor his absence counted for much that he or anyone else needed to be dependent upon it. The days he thought to himself would move with the fluidity of a silk scarf drawn through a ring – if only he could hold on to the thought.

Huan Guan stood looking at the stranger in the mirror, slim with a flat stomach, narrow hips, the pectorals firm and well defined, like a matador – ageless and timeless. Since his return from Cambodia he had cultivated a curious relationship with the man who looked at him from time to time in the mirror.

Once or twice a day, if the circumstances warranted, he would approach the stranger in the mirror, as if delivering a message of great importance, statements such as “soldiers die all the time, that’s what they are supposed to do” or “it’s raining again.” Sometimes at twilight he would simply say, “I am going to sleep now, I hope they will leave me be.”

This was going to be his new life, this routine of daily tasks and chores. Whether he was happy did not seem important any longer, here in the military academy where the hours were divided precisely into neat little packets of chores and duties. The scholar did not need to think –

“that’s the beauty of military life, one simply carries out orders.”

So that morning as he stood before the stranger, he had enough time to deal with the tie, so he made himself do the knot calmly adjusting it carefully. He liked to move slowly, because his self control was a source of pride. In his dealings with the world he was constantly striving to avoid hurried gestures, an inappropriate word, an impatient move that might break the serenity of regulations, Even when he broke rules that were not his own – his superiors regarded him as a man with a mouth as tight as an oyster, someone who they described as “dependable as a Swiss army knife.”

Maybe that was why that morning, after regarding himself for a moment in the mirror, he removed the tie and white shirt and slipped on a Harley- Davidson T- shirt. As he turned to the stranger in the mirror again, he said, “I can’t take this anymore.” His fingers brushed the scar just above his right eye, a memento of the war that he never fought.

That morning as the commando guard on duty looked at the youth carrying his trade mark briefcase out of the camp, he snapped to attention and asked.

“Sir, it seems like it will rain today, will the officer require an umbrella for his outing, Sir!”

With these words the man continued walking calmly carrying his trade mark brief case, the first drops of the monsoon pattering against the concrete, the man turned his face skywards to greet the warm heavy drops of rain that had traveled all the way from the Indian ocean – his expression conveying the satisfaction of a farmer who finally says after a long wait,

“Yes, I have been expecting all of you.”

darkness 2002

Posted in B'hood, Fiction | Comments Off on The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 36 “After The War – 3 1/2 years later in a military academy”

The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 34 & 35 “Somewhere in the Jungles in Kampuchea during the Rainy Season – 4 years ago.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

“There is no point in radioing, they’re changed the frequencies, they’re cut us loose and don’t think for one moment, they’re going to send a rescue squad to get us out of this shit hole. It’s all gone wrong very wrong, we not even supposed to be so far up North, someone either ****ed up big time with lousy intel or we’re just expandable, trust me, otherwise we wouldn’t have the whole ****ing Vietnamese army breathing down our necks. I’ve lost half my platoon, I can’t even allow myself to think about it otherwise I’ve go all spastic, I’ve got to keep it all……..together (clamping his head with hands).Listen up this is as good as it gets, to the West we have Uncle Ho and his merry men. To the South, it’s way too far to the Thai border and to the West, we have Mr Year Zero and his killing fields, so that leaves us only one option, the North to Laos. From where we are, we about two hundred or so miles from Muang Khong, (the man stoops and draws a straight line on the ground) all we have to do is follow the Mekong upstream, from here to the Laos, she runs straight up like an arrow. Now we’ve been trained for this sort of thing, so I want you all to do it by the book, junk the No.4’s, dog tags, boots even the heavy metal, there are only nine of us left, find some civilian clothes. Split up, one man traveling by himself has about an even chance of making it through, but a group…no way… way in hell….. Keep the sun to your left, stay close to the river but not too close and remember when we make it back, the last one to Mutho’s Curry house picks up the bill! Good luck and I’ve see you all there!”

4 days later. He stood surrounded by the lush jungles walking the narrow earthen path – a sliver of a trail which had yet to be warmed by the rays of the morning sun. How far had he traveled? How far was there to go? He remembered passing burning villages by the side of river, sun dried bone white thatched roofs; the crinkled hands of an old woman serving him brackish water from a polished coconut shell; a burning fire in his head that would not go away, a metallic taste in the back of his throat that lingers, yet he continued walking – one foot in front of the other as if this was the only thing that really mattered. Once, he passed a village, empty of inhabitants save for a flock of black birds feasting on the remains of the dead, perhaps it might have been vultures, he was not sure, he had gone over this too many in his head to wonder why he should have preoccupied himself with such meaningless trite; but whenever it is a voice in his head whispered,

“You’re losing it, keep it together, keep it together.”

By the seventh day, he remembered vaguely the voices of brown skinned children following him along country trails, beckoning him,

“Siah praih thuen pie, siah praih thuen pie, si ku vein drangh.”

(Beggar go away, beggar go away, or I’ve stone you to death.)

He noted the slight change in the way they rolled out their words unlike Southerners stretching their vowels, he must be very close to the border now he thought, the nights were colder, Yes, he must be very close to the border now.

He took another bite of coconut flesh from his pocket, it was crawling with ants but it hardly mattered to someone who already had a ruin mouth or dribbled more than he could chew and soon he felt the familiar pain somewhere deep within his gut, it had followed him throughout his journey.

By the sixth day, when he arrived at the rivulets that constituted the turning point of the Mekong when it turned South, droplets of molten sunlight swirled in front of his eyes then slowly coalesced to form the face of a young man in a Khaki uniform who brought his face close to the beggar – before passing out completely, the beggar chuckled like a deranged man half crying and laughing, he had noticed the orange star on the crumpled cap of the soldier – it was the uniform of a Lao border guard.

darkness 2002


Present day Singapore – A Straits Times, Life section interview with a famous Curry house proprietor article simply entitle, “The Strange Eating Habits of Singaporeans.” (to be published sometime in the near future.)

Wat dah dey! Today I want to talking about gila*1 people in this Singapura*2. You know (pointing to himself), I in this business many years already (raising up his finger knowingly), you can asking all everybody from Woodlands, Jurong and even East Coast, all knowing number one curry fish head here lah. (tapping the counter proudly).

Deh, dat one another story lah, let me tell you the story about gila people who come to eating here. I Mutho very simple one, you have money, you want to do what you want – your business lah. Yoga also can. Kamasutra of course cannot lah, (smiling and turning the inside of both palms) you want me, Mutho to kena summon is it? (slapping the reporter jokingly while offering him another papadum) that one go Mohd sultan road*3 to seeing dancing on table lah, but here in Mothu Curry house in my father time (turning to garlanded image of a man who smiled supremely) he always saying,

“Customer is first deh!”

Deh! Don’t disturbing lah!

“Ah cha enah saperdeh deh. Yena porangeh, pundek moneh!”*4 (Can’t you see I am talking to a reporter here, I talk about renewing your work permit tomorrow, can’t you see it’s a bad time, get your Southern ass back of the kitchen!)

Sorry what I talking just now? Ok, ok la, gila people (rotating his fingers round his head) who coming to my shop.

Isay, (slapping his forehead) I want to tell you this story about one psycho who coming here to eating every Friday, this fellow all the waiters here call,

“Piatiam champion No.1”*5.

This fellow coming. You know what he doing or not? He sitting down lah (pointing to a table for two), so we give the rice lah, but he saying, “somemore” so we give lah, rice free apa?*6 So he saying “somemore” until becoming mountain lah, then this psycho looking at the mountain of rice, his face like Woodbridge fellow lah*7 – then he make hole with his hand, until like volcano, then pouring sambar lah, then he hantam*8 all the rice. This psycho everyone in Serangoon road know, he champion*9. Aiyoh (slapping his forehead).

Another psycho but this fellow only come one time in one year, like national day lah wat dah (slapping his head) you don’t know is it, one time one year lah! No such thing as two national day, only one time (holding one a single finger) usually this psycho coming during rainy season lah, many people also come to makan*10 that time also, because Chinese believe when rain come, the body not so solid lah, so curry give power*11 lah (nudging and winking at the reporter).

This fellow only taking the bus (pointing to nearby bus stand outside the shop), he always carrying the bag, isay what the word deh? (clicking his fingers and looking to the ceiling) ah! Briefcase. Ayo yo briefcase that word nearly forgetting deh.

Oho. this psycho always calling first one, he stylo milo lah – gaya ada sikit, he telling what he want on telephone first (making a phone with fingers), always table for twenty one people, he also ordering curry fish head first for 21 people and he want to seeing all the makan when he enter, he don’t like to wait one.

When he coming in that time, he sit down at the table and this is the gila part lah, he telling the waiter all to giving rice lah, I say one time to him, rice I can give dah, but cold rice tasty ah? (cupping his hand to his mouth) Cold rice nice is it? But like my father saying in his time, you pay we give lah, rice free apa? No charge for rice in my restaurant! So we give this psycho what he want lah.

One time I asking this psycho, but he don’t look like psycho fellow you know, they one kind one. This fellow got standard a bit lah, gentlemen psycho lah. I asking,

“When your kaki*11 coming deh? (pointing to his gold rolex watch) very late already deh!”

This fellow just smiling any how any way he hantam lah*12 lah, sitting there (pointing to a long table at the corner) all by himself, but when I seeing longer his face, he like telling me another story deh, (leaning closer to the journalist) this psycho telling me,

“Dei Thamby*13, they are already here lah. You got no eyes to see kah?” (burst out in rapturous laughter, offering the journalist a glass of mango lassi.)

But all the table still kosong*14 food some more there lah! This kind of people also have in Singapura. Original psycho. (laughing and shaking his hands while reaching for a box of kleenex), that’s why I Mutho saying, in Singapura, got many funny people lah. You believe this story or not, that one lu punya pasal lah*14.

So you remember what I talking to you today, hello mister (leaning over the counter to overlook the note pad of the journalist.), you know how to spell the name of my restaurant or not? Mutho with a “O.”

darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 33 “Take me away now Huan Guan.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

Chan Sim’s eyes were brown, that’s her name. A dark chocolate brown flecked with traces of light golden threads, perhaps some hints of even orange as well. They were complex eyes, eyes that changed according to the intensity and timbre of the light that fell on them at a given moment, and the first time I saw her that morning after slumbering out from sleep in the rented room, she was there resplendent looking at me with all her fullness of being.

It occurred to me then when I looked at her, I had never met a woman who exuded such a measure of composure, such tranquility of bearing, as if Chan Sim, who was not yet twenty nine at the time, had already moved on to some higher state. A plane where she saw the world clearer than even all of us – it was an inexplicable feeling one that just feels so right, like finding a comfortable park bench or when one just finds the right book and it’s effortless to see it through to the end. You know the feeling right?

So when she leaned forward that morning in McDonalds and looked at me with her reserved cool, the same one with the silent radiance burning within and whispered,

“Take me away now Huan Guan. Let’s just pick up and run like the wind.”

I looked at her searching for signs of madness, only to discover a startling pool of calmness free from even the slightest signs of inner struggle. I found myself searching for the right words, but like I said, it just felt right, too right for me to even say, no.


“Anywhere, let’s just get into a taxi and we will decide from there.”

I nodded and no sooner after stepping into the cab, when the driver quipped,

“Where too guv?”

“Train station please.” The third wife injected, while looking back nervously straightening my collar.

“Which train station would it be ma’am? Paddington, King’s Cross….”

“Choose one. Hurry please!”

I bought tickets for the seaside resort in Brighton, she said, “it was a good idea.” While slipping away she said to stock up on some toiletries. It a nice getaway for the time of year and as I turned the corner after purchasing the tickets it happened.

I saw one of them, a lone figure, broad-shouldered, dark- headed figure, a crisp black silhouette among the listless cheerful colors of holiday makers. I recognized the searching look and the slight tenseness around the jaw line. I looked towards the train which had by now begun to signal the last call and wondered whether she had gone ahead of me. Yes, perhaps I’ve find her in the carriage, moving furtively through the crowd, I turned my collar up (after all that what they do in the movies right!) and began to make for one of the carriages. As soon as I entered, I caught sight of a second figure out of the window that was not moving at all. Tall and dressed in a fine dark tailored suit, standing quietly on the platform, he was too far to make out his features clearly, but I caught sight of a metallic object peeking through his crumpled newspaper.

I raced to back to the carriage, she wasn’t there. The train had begun to lurch forward. I raced towards the window in the last carriage and that was when I saw her standing on the platform looking straight at me – I pulled the door handle, it was bolted shut – I tried to pries it open – kick it loose – but it was useless, I turned to her in the distance, when her eyes met mine, she suddenly lost that look of pensiveness and soon her expression changed completely transforming into one of relief and a soft smile swept over her, as if she had succeeded in an enterprise she hardly cared to share with me. As if she had released a bird and seen it take flight taking with it all her dreams and hopes – that afternoon as I held on to the image of the third wife who slowly receded away, I stretched my hand out of the carriage. I felt the wind tear away at me – the sound of the roaring engines drowning out my voice as I called out for her, before she disappeared, a circle of men in dark suits closed around the solitary figure and that was when she vanished right before my very eyes, as if she never existed.

As I stood watching, a wave of loss passed right through me – then my grief reached me, and unspeakable fire. An unspeakable fire………..


Four Years Ago Somewhere In The Jungles of Kampuchea.

(One afternoon during a monsoon storm in Kampuchea along the Mekong North of Stoeng Treng. 205 miles from the Laos border. In a secret war history has forgotten.)

Throughout the day, the Vietnamese had poured into the sector and were moving fast cutting off the path of the retreating Khmer militia. Earlier in the morning, villagers had streamed through the this sliver of land where the Mekong was narrowness and by evening when the monsoon storm slammed the peninsula, the Mekong had swelled bursting her banks, her breadth increasing nearly four fold, threatening to cut off the only escape route.

Tying two bamboo rafts together a group of men proceeded towards the river bank. They made a good entry despite the rough waters, but somewhere along the middle veered slightly off their line, but the man who held the sweep seemed to have managed to pry them free from a nasty eddy.

Along the three quarter mark just when they were about to reach the safety of the banks, a large tree trunk suddenly charge through the raging waters upstream like a battering ramp and ploughed hard into both rafts, throwing a few men overboard.

For an instant the man who held the sweeps was himself nearly thrown overboard while the rest gripped the sides of the rafts as they were thrown into another eddy, both rafts reduced by this time to wooden toys circling a bathtub drain. Though the man with the sweep tried to pry them out into another line, it was useless – the currents were strongest near the banks threatening to pull both rafts under – water flooded in – the rafts quickly losing their shape as they begun to flex and bend– their cords fraying – the men screamed.

Suddenly the unimaginable happened, the man with the sweep drew out his machete, he appeared to be struggling with a few of his own men who were trying to bring him down, but he was too strong and with one sweep severed the rope tying the two rafts together – that evening as one the rafts bearing the wounded drifted unmoored into the wide channels sweeping uncontrollably downstream at breakneck speed.

The men who I can only describe as the damned shouted and screamed for their comrades, their outstretched hands and faces describing the horror – all except the man who held the machete, standing erect, his expression lost in darkness he slowly lowered his head – that evening as the other men scrambled to the safety of the river banks, the man looked on at the other raft, bobbing in the distance, it raced away downstream, yet even when it disappeared from sight, the man looked on as if he had been transformed into a bronze image, one forged by an unspeakable fire …..only the damned knew…..the unspeakable fire.

Posted in B'hood, Fiction | Comments Off on The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 33 “Take me away now Huan Guan.”

The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 32 “The Reflections of The Third Wife.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

Leaning on the window sill that night, the third wife turned her eyes up to the starry night and fixed her eyes on one particular point of light, and tried not to take her eyes off it. She had heard from the man boy how stars were so very far away, she remembered he dreamt only of rocket ships and distant worlds.

Then, just as she was watching – the star wavered like a man who had suddenly lost his steps, then wavered again and snuffed out.

“Huan Guan,” She whispered.

He didn’t stir.

“I just saw a star go out, exactly the way you said, it would.”

It was a trivial thing to wake him for, but she couldn’t help herself. She put a hand on his naked back and felt a pang of loneliness. The man boy had told her once such a star had burnt out millions of years ago, and yet its fire had streamed towards her ever since – like his love for her – searching her out once again just the way the fortune teller had predicted – this was fate, it was destiny – she felt alive even when all the world slept around her, she had never being so charged with alertness before.

Turning to the man boy in the dark, she wondered what a dismal thing, to live an unremembered life – dead days all adding up to the emptiness of nothingness, but it had all changed in his return. All the more reason to finish this night and find a way to make it into art, she said to herself and with these thoughts she kissed his him.

The following morning, the sky was whitish blue and the clouds iridescent like she had very seen before – as she looked at him wolfing down his breakfast, she was reminded of fresh ice shavings served in a polished metal bowl – full of live and tingling, the sharpness of his eyes, the way they seemed to dart around as if the world was still a place of wonderment and adventure – the white neat row of teeth and the innocence of his smile as they beamed through the morning – the sound of his voice, rising and lowering in hushed tones as he spoke to her about how, he planned to emigrate with her to America and some ridiculous yarn about having sneaked into a town council hall and a crematorium to get hold of some false papers – and something about running a joint called the magic bowl – about getting a decent job and eventually working with rockets and flying machines – it was all nonsense of course, but it hardly mattered – like the place he had brought her too, it was a strange and foreign world, one where, she was simply content to remain forever and assume her place as the woman who had and will always love him.

Somewhere along the conversation, she noticed a dark shiny Mercedes with it’s menacing three pointed star like the sight of a machine gun pulling up to the side curb.

She remain still and continued to smile at the man boy pretending to listen to all his ridiculous plans of setting up home somewhere in America. A place he mentioned, with a open verandah, a white picket fence and even a cherry tree by the side. As she continued staring, her minds eye turned inwards:

“Trapped beneath your crushing gaze, I looked again fleetingly. This time when I held it longer, I began to see you as you truly are, small, delicate and lovely, not like those cruel men; and I began to pity you, and from this pity to love you even more.

You are too fragile for their world my love, they will crush you and this time surely you would be finished. I realize from that moment it was futile to continue loving you, there will be no wide open verandah’s – no white picket fences – or even a cherry tree with a wooden swing my love – only in another life not this one.

Today, I realized, for my love to continue. There is a price, I must pay – a terrible price.”

As she listened to the man boy man telling her about his dreams, she sipped her cold coffee and look again at the car with the black tinted windows parked by the side, she said to herself,

“As long as I am with him, he will be safe. They wouldn’t dare to make a move. I mustn’t let him know. The boy is full of dramatics, he would probably whip out his toy gun and do something he saw in the movies. No! that simply wouldn’t do – I’ve have to bear it all – the unbearable and plan his escape.”

In the background Mozart played softly – it was a clean, a well lighted café, a world so far from her own dark world of intrigue and dead days – a world she yearned to be part of – the man boys brave new world, he had described in his simple rounded tones – where the gaudy polished seats gleamed brightly with hope like bright red cherries – sunny corn yellowed Formica tables with rounded edges – bright orange tiles she once saw in a cartoon movie – complete with even a plastic clown who sat all alone on a bench with a dazed happy smile as if he had just finished his second opium pipe – it was right in the middle of China town, London – it was McDonald’s.

darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 31 “The Mythical Bird.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

That evening as I looked at the third wife, it seemed as if the sun had broken through the clouds, it may have been a mere illusion on my part. Yet the entire composition of the scene, the soft murmur of gambling chips being thrown on green felt, the sound of a single ivory ball bouncing on the roulette wheel all these slowly coalesced into a solitary image – the face of the third wife.

How I long to tell a story that differs from the one I am telling! You have no idea, how hard I have tried to change it, yet the same face reappears only to find myself trapped, stretched bare on a pelt rack crushed by the intensity of the moment.

Here one has no choice but to, perform the same actions, think the same thoughts and go through the same litany. You may think you could have said and done differently to alter the direction of this story, but trust me my friend just as some flowers have no choice but to radiate their beauty and others their ugliness, you don’t have any thing close to a “choice” – even birds know this when they gather along telegraph lines on a cold September morning sensing the encroaching winter creep up on them – they step right out of the “I” take up their place in a formation along side other nameless and faceless birds to fly off to warmer lands – they assume their faceless role without too much fuss, no one expects them to say “sorry”, “how do you do?” or even care to ask, “where you’re from.” – “or where you’re flying too?” – they know something you and I don’t.

So please don’t think my tale circular; in truth, it has no shape or direction. This happens when a man finds the outer world slipping away from his inner world. That night as I looked on at the third wife, the “I” had somehow slid out of my body put on a pair of trainers and taken off full speed towards some dark alley, leaving only a man who shuffled his chips absentmindedly wondering:

“How long had I wandered, how had I come to where I am?”

It wasn’t the reality you, he or they are accustomed too, it’s the variety where the “I” was bolted off, the type that leads you to do and say the things that you wouldn’t normally do.

That night as I followed the figure of the third wife – who writhed sinuously extenuating the roundness of her hips and narrowness of her waist with every step she took. I followed her without saying a word down the sweeping stairways, through the smoke filled lobby into the dimly lit streets of London towards the Arab section just off China town and into a rented room resplendent with shimmering Turkish mosaics of a crystalline texture – I remembered the third wife naked, her milky white skin framed against purple silk sheets and the wan of the yellow street lamps filtering Moorish patterned shadows on her skin – beads of sweat at the forehead edge of her jet black hair, and in her dark triangle, on her eyelashes – while her liquid brown eyes looked on as if she cared only for tonight as if even she had the power to stop time it’self – perhaps she could, I remembered saying to myself.

Like the many birds of this world who simply know, it is time to leave before crushing cold of winter sets in and takes off into the darkness through the sky and beyond, into the endless night, it scarcely mattered where she was leading me too, even why or whether it was right.

That night as the “I” ran out of me into the night, I was no longer Yu Huan Guan the Singaporean gangster in London – or the benefactor who carries the money for the four houses – I was merely a cold and solitary soul, lost in the distant constellation I could no longer see as I sensed her words to me that night.

“Come, my beloved, let us remain here on the fluted damask and enameled tiles of our bedchamber and shut out the world, let us linger on the carved wooden filigrees and arabesques that decorate it’s many door and shutters. Here tonight, we have a place we can call our world in the world. Come, my beloved. And in the eternity of this moment, the only that has ever existed, we shall never know the fate of the storyteller, the outcome of the story, or the difference between the two. This will be our chapter.”

I had been magically transformed into a mythical bird – I was Garuda.

darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 30 “La Grande Casino.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

To enter the Grande Casino was to imagine words like chiaroscuro and destiny. It was a much smaller version of a full sized casino minus the razzmatazz one seldom comes across these days, slightly shabbier and worn around the edges, relying more on the patrons to supply “la atmosphere.”

The type of place one typically comes across in dingy side lanes in Paris, New York and London where from time to time, the rich would simply indulge in a spot of slumming.

Much too small for a full sized orchestra with only a lone singer with a husky voice and a shimmering gown who leans sinuously belting out jazz evergreens over a grand piano while the rest of the floor remains perpetually flooded in twilight: that was the Grande Casino.

A place where men and women would look you up and down discreetly in the lobby area, where women dressed in long flowing gowns holding on to ivory cigarette holders sashayed by while leaving a lingering aroma of exotic perfume. While men walked around with a double scotch and serenaded older women. I’d seen it all in the movies, and I knew how it was supposed to look and feel – worn mahogany, and old velvet, that was the Grande casino a place that only came alive only after eleven.

According to the man who once beat me up, this was the place where I would find the third wife that evening – she had taken to a spot of gambling recently. I imagine it was her way to while away the evenings.

The Casino was on the second floor with a rigged roulette table from where I stood, I could just hear the muffled sounds of an ivory ball bouncing away – so the man who once beat me up said, he had even given me a few complimentary chips with the words,

“It’s nothing much, but that’s the least I can do to square the accounts.”

He said he knew some people there like the Russian émigré who whispered,

“Place your bets gentlemen.”

In an oily foreign accent who oversaw the roulette table.

“Put it on 18 as many times as you like. Like I said, I do what I can to square the accounts.” The man who once beat me up had said.

When I asked whether the third wife could enlighten me, the man who once beat me up simply shrugged his shoulders.

I want to share this with you this, the human mind is a strange thing, on one level, you could say. I am a very practical man, I needed money for both me and Jeannie. Emigrating isn’t cheap, there is a whole lot of stuff that needs money and now that someone had placed a price tag on how I winch and limped, I wasn’t about to let it simply past by without at least cashing in on my chips. Remember, I am a Singaporean gangster in London and gangsters are the most practical people on the face of this planet, that’s why they choose to do the things they do. It’s business. It’s nothing personal.

But I knew, the reason why, I went to the Grande Casino that night was because I was drawn to the notion of meeting her again – the third wife. It’s a tractor beam thing (someday, I may try my hand at writing sci-fi to explain further) but if I am pressed to explain. I would simply say, I was a moth and she was a flickering flame.

A moth doesn’t have anything resembling such a thing as a choice, it’s fate is predetermined, it has no other choice but to fly around in ever decreasing circles around the flickering flame, each circle drawing tighter, each circle bringing it one step closer to it’s source of fascination and fear only to eventually charge into the very source of it’s allure.

By the seventh round I had amassed quite a sum, it was time to cash it all in – and then it happened, from the corner of my eye, I saw her and though she registered a slight look of surprised, I realized she was had been there quite a while, staring at me – it was the third wife of the old man – who looked at me as if she knew I was simply meant to be there that evening –it was the overpowering sense of calm that enveloped her, the radiant silence burning within – one which spoke of her desire for me.

I am Yu Huan Guan, the Singaporean gangster in London.

darkness 2002

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The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 28 & 29 “When the road runs out” & “Somewhere deep in the jungles of Cambodia”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

“We all got conned, it was a bad mistake…….a terrible mistake…….we thought the old man who rules the four houses ordered us to beat you up…..that’s what we all thought…….we thought the order came directly from him…….you know how it is, we are all soldiers……’s not our place to ask questions……I don’t want to die……..I don’t want to die…..someone fixed us…….I don’t want to die……not like this.”

Those words rattled around like a pin ball in my head firing off a million cells – there I was sitting with a gun in my hand making a million calculations per second, connecting the dots when all I should be doing was keeping to the plan.

“If it wasn’t the old man who else could it be?” one part of my mind whispered. “Who else?”- “This can’t be happening!”- “It doesn’t make any sense.” – “he must be lying. Yes, this is ploy, he’s just buying time!”

With these thoughts swirling in my head, I tried to pick up the line again, but it was giving way to a broader and darker line that seemed almost to race past this faded line – it was the beginning of a new realization, one that was even more unnerving and sinister than any other word or sign that had passed between us that afternoon.

That sinister line in my head raced across the landscape in my mind at the speed of light only to suddenly stop abruptly – there where the road ends, the awful realization suddenly dawned on me in the full splendor of Technicolor, the man who was about to die that afternoon was telling the truth – there’s no doubt about it – that’s the way with people who know death is certain – they no longer have any incentive to lie.

It was bad enough that I was a Singaporean gangster in London, but a philosophical hit man who suddenly loses his line on the job – that was really bad – it was tragic.

(Reflections: See what I mean killing a man isn’t that simple as they make it out to be in the movies or the radio – a hundred and one things can go wrong – see, I told you so! Didn’t I? – Did I tell you once some idiot pointed a gun at me demanding I hand over my briefcase. As a yawned with the expression,

“Not another idiot with a rusty old gun, pleeeeeeeeze!”

His hands began to shake so violently, the gun went off blowing off his big toe – the same thing happened once to another famous hit man in China town who once walked into the provision shop to do the proprietor, only to walk out smiling exchanging greetings and carrying two cases of canned abalone, it turned out the guy he was supposed to do, happened to be his long lost third cousin removed from the old country – like I said in the last chapter, killing a man ain’t that easy – fate has a strange way of stepping in – it’s a random thing, like walking into a betting shop picking out a set of numbers straight from the top of your head only to for it to magically line up – if this was a scene from a continental film, the subtitles would probably read.

“Err, hey you’re not reading your lines like you’re supposed too.”

As I sat there with these thoughts swirling in my head – I realized things weren’t going they way, they were supposed too – like being suddenly blind sided – wham! Bang! –now that I realized the old man wasn’t the one who ordered my creaming, this man had to live slightly longer– “slightly longer” spoilt it all, the dying time thing, the part about how a assassin needs to be like a cook preparing, marinating, brushing – I had it all down to a science like taking a piss.

It’s a 1, 2 and 3 thing – (1) unzip (2) slip out Mr. Anaconda (3) Aim (4) Fire – only this time step (5) was the one where I found my foreskin snared on my zipper – like I said, a hundred and one things can go wrong– that mucked up the timing – it spoilt the rhythm – above all one question kept bouncing no end in my head.)

“If the old man who ruled the four houses didn’t order the beatings, who the hell ordered it?”

As I looked at the man opposite me repeating the words,

“I don’t want to die…………..I don’t want to die…….not like this……I don’t want to die.”

I found myself loosening my grip on the gun. His mantra repeated in a shrill hypnotic tone, had a strange effect on me, pulling me back – far back into the distant past, as if the dikes which once held back the waters of time had suddenly given way.

There I was again in the mud churned trenches somewhere in the jungle in Cambodia, the sound of shells tearing across the air before they shook the ground. Above the whop, whop, whop of helicopters swooping low as they sprayed the Vietnamese lines with machine gun fire. In the distance the clank, clank, clank of artillery fire being let loose. Cordite and sweat filled the air, columns of black smoke divided the horizon – I found myself in hell again!

Sitting there in the restaurant watching the man, I found my mind’s eye turning inwards. I saw the whole line of the trench, it was exactly like a scene out of “all quiet in the western front”, straight for twenty meters, then dog-toothed to prevent blast, then straight again. Beyond it, stretching out further to the distance to the South, a range of mountains, forming to create the impression of a royal Siamese gondola. For an instant it looked almost too peaceful to be real, like some mythical vessel floating placidly in a sea of green.

Then another incoming shell screamed in shaking the ground with a thunderous roar, the sandbags that made up the parapet had been blown clean away. A section of the trench caved in and barbed wire was all over the place hanging all over the churned smoking earth.

The sound groaning filled the air. Someone shouted, “Mama!” The medics were trying to clear debris to get to the wounded men. Men who always wore that vacant expression whenever you pulled them out from the mud – men who always wailed after being cut down by shrapnel – men who kept on knocking their heads against the wall repeating the words,

“I don’t want to die……..I don’t want to die………I don’t want to die.”

That day as the man before repeated the same words, I found myself to thinking about all the men who fell in some distant past – I remember one Kampuchean officer who stared at me leaning against the wall, his expression hardly betraying a glimmer of fear instead, he radiate peacefulness and as I approached him. I wanted him to get down, I remembered calling out to him,

“Dein pak ay hen – a hun tei neh – pro tie jung je kai!”

(take cover you idiot – it’s heavy artillery – what you doing there, propped up for like a sitting duck)!

I ticked off his details in my head as I crawled over to his side, he was around my age one of the first batches, the red beret trained in jungle warfare. I remembered vaguely how he wanted to start a small business fixing bicycles after the war ended, he liked to listen to Michael Jackson, a son was on the way, his wife had eyes shaped like a banyan leaf – as I came up close to him, I realized his head was cut away in section, so that the smooth skin and the handsome face remained on one side, but on the other were the ragged edges of skull from which the remains of his brain were dropping on to his scorched uniform.

At that moment, another incoming tore through the skies – this time, it was close, some one shouted, “Get down Captain!”– after the blast, the world became radiant white and silent, it was calm and peaceful – I had just turned 19 and like the other boys there that day, I found myself repeating the same words I heard that afternoon.

“I don’t want to die……..I don’t want to die………I don’t want to die.”

That afternoon as I sat there watching the man before me – his words cast a spell on me – I found myself suddenly standing all alone watching a wave of immense loss from the past sweeping into the present, as it fingered towards past the sands of time and touch me. I felt that unspeakable fire – that afternoon as I sat there with a gun in my hand watching the man, I mourned the lost of those who had fallen – I mourned the loss of my innocence – above all, I didn’t want to be a part of it any longer.

I realized then, I loved life, it didn’t even have to be my life or even the life of a loved one or even the life of someone I even knew – any life would do, even the life of a stranger who once beat into a pulp – the life of the man who sat before me weeping that afternoon.

I don’t expect you to understand these contradictions – they’re not supposed to make sense – like a the faint impression of the moon in daylight – it’s vague – hardly making any sense at all except to those who see the world through the eyes of a man who simply knows, he’s damaged goods.

I reached out for the cup the man held up and placed it on a set of chopsticks.

“I want to tell you this, I just had a divine revelation, but if you don’t stop whining. I going to change my mind and pop you one right here. Do you hear me? So get yourself together!”

The man poured tea three times into the cup, his hands shaking so violently threatening to tip the pot. Then holding up the cup to me again, he said:

“Brewed from the fire of magical arrows – benefactor.”

Raising the cup, I said.

“Let neither, heaven or earth come between what we have agreed upon.”

After the man had settled down and composed him, I leaned forward and asked.

“If it wasn’t the old man, tell me who was it?……….This better be good….I swear to God it better be very good!”

2002 darkness

Posted in B'hood, Fiction | Comments Off on The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 28 & 29 “When the road runs out” & “Somewhere deep in the jungles of Cambodia”

The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 27 “A beautiful day to die for.”

Posted by inspir3d on February 20, 2005

As the train barreled towards London I felt like a bullet snuggly fitted into a chamber and fired off – there was nothing to do except sit back – that’s the philosophy of being a projectile, one doesn’t need to analyze or rationalize – the matter was cut and dried – one simply has to be, what one must be – in between the endless tunnels and openings dividing darkness and light, reality and illusion, right and wrong, heaven and earth , life and death , Jeannie and the third wife and the man I am against the man I yearned to be – my consciousness alternated between these two realities – my adversary was within and somewhere between these two halves there was still enough of the present to gnaw at me – wind whistling through the chinks – the emerging and disappearing countryside – the reflection of a slim young woman, probably foreign, who stopped a moment to check herself on my half opened carriage window. She looked beautiful reminding me of the third wife as she raised her bare arms gracefully to tie back her hair. Suddenly her eyes met mine through the window. For an instant she held the gaze, surprised and curious becoming self-conscious and when the train pulled out she was gone – thoughts are like that, they all come and go flashing past like meteorites some lingering longer than others – killing a man isn’t easy – it only looks easy in the movies – the audience doesn’t realize what goes through a man’s mind when he has decided taking another life is necessary for purifying the soul – or what occupies a man before, during and after a hit.When I stepped into the restaurant – the same one where one of the lorry drivers had mentioned along old Crompton Street in London, China town – I felt almost like a hand slipping into a glove, it was a perfect fit – it was just around the “in between hour” –much too early for the lunch crowd to begin streaming in and too late for breakfast, the period when cooks usually took a nap or read their papers.

The table I occupied was a horse shoe against the wall at the far extreme corner – hardly visible from the main dinning area – when the waiter came, I ordered roast duck and kai lan with oyster sauce – this was when he walked in – it was unmistakable – I recognized him, the instant, the same man who beat me up in the temple.

“Well, well, well, the Gods are kind to me, it seems – though it is often said a man who devotes his life to a desire which he is not sure will ever be fulfilled – you have delivered my enemy before me – thank you most powerful God of gods – Kwan Kong.”

This realization went very well with the duck – even asking the waiter for extra chili sauce and the morning papers – when the boy finally came with the chili sauce, another refill of tea and a crumpled newspaper, the type – with a topless weather girl on the front page – I simply read it – all the time staring at the man, who had his back to me – he was there for business – waiting for someone perhaps, it was the way, he searched the hall with his eyes and though he looked at me a few times – he didn’t realize who I actually was.

In a while two other men came in and sat beside the man – none of them looked particularly suspicious – more like traders, I reckoned and in a while, they left, leaving the man who was by now feeling hungry enough to open the menu scanning it –the restaurant still empty.

When his order finally came –I walked up, drew a chair and sat down -the man knew what was going on, the muzzle peeked out just enough for him to image the rest , he slumped back – I realized finally, he registered a vague impression of who I was. Gradually his expression flooded with awareness, it was like a bough breaking sending an uncontrollable torrent of emotions which seemed almost to shake him as if a cold cinder of fear had suddenly been placed on his belly.

I continued looking at him, while gripping the pistol.

(You could say, if you didn’t know me, I was savoring the moment just before exacting my revenge – but you are wrong – killing a man properly is an enterprise which I seriously do not recommend to the faint hearted or those who suffer from a nervous disposition – too many things that can go wrong, pistol’s jam all the time, bullets don’t go off like they are supposed too and even if they do, one can miss only for it to ricocheted off in 10 different directions only to end up blowing off your pecker.

No, to kill a man in broad day light requires an appreciation of what I call the dying time – prostitutes know only too well what I am referring too – they can instinctively search out those who undress them with their eyes without really looking a them, as if they can smell out their hidden desires, they know just when to move sinuously – so can pickpockets, they always manage to get their fattest wallets with relative ease, even when their victims smile and say sorry after being bumped into, they too know when to make their move – it’s all about timing and these are the things they never ever show you in the movies.

The art of killing is a bit like cooking for one, it’s all about preparation – for one, the assassin needs to prepare the victim for the moment of truth – the slight inflection of the victims voice, his eyes, the way the pupils dilate and contract even right down to the cadence of his breathe, all these things determine the moment – just as nervousness can be conveyed to one’s victim – or any other range of emotions – the hit man needs to convey a supreme sense of calmness to his victim – and this can only be accomplished if he doesn’t fidget too much or become distracted by his surroundings, but instead conveys with his eyes the inevitability of what is about to come, in the way a panther suddenly freezes before he pouches on his prey – if this is done right, his victim begins to take on the face of a man who has just relieved his bladder after a very long queue in the toilet – there is a happy calmness about him, one which conveys not only his resignation to the inevitable, but a complete lack of will to even offer the slightest resistance and that’s the moment. That afternoon at half past three, the man who sat before me looked just about ready to die. The time was right.)

I reached over the table and in one smooth movement stripped his gun from his breast holster – the waiters barely noticing the transaction.

Thrusting a chopstick into his bowl of rice, I leaned back. The man simply looked on, as if even he realized how the language of the dead hardly needs any words. Then as if summoning the last reserves of strength, he held his cup up with both hands and lowered his head.

During this strange meditation between the prey and the preyed – I looked out of the window and into the vast expanse of the sky – a great cloud that had appeared from beyond the horizon like some airship, I had once seen in a picture book in my youth. The sun was already high, and the clouds had to stretch its tentacles far to cover her. The extension had made the cloud wispy and thin and resulted in a large rift in the lower portion, through which a radiant light streamed, as though the shaft of brilliance that streamed out was blood endlessly spurting from the a great wound.

It was a very beautiful day to die.

darkness 2002

Posted in B'hood, Fiction | Comments Off on The Confessions of a Singaporean Gangster in London – Chapter 27 “A beautiful day to die for.”