Short story collection

The good luck hobby collection

The crazy notion of a “collection” all started when Chan Bong Soo dragged the unwilling Jason Teo to the “Hobbies Exhibition” at the World Trade Centre. The incongruous pair; the thin, tall wiry looking Bong Soo and the short fat balding Jason with a small paunch arrived just as the security guard started letting in visitors. The spacious exhibition hall with a long array of brightly lit fluorescent tubes was a welcome relief from the narrow corridors of the reception area at the securities firm, where Jason had spent the last week, investing recklessly in the stock market. Luck eluded him, but not to the others who had huddled with him when staring at the lifeless displays of stock prices on the television monitor. Jason did not have any dependents or a lavish lifestyle and could have been comfortable with the retirement savings from the Central Provident Fund, which he had placed in a fixed deposit account at the bank. However, after withdrawing a large portion of it prematurely, and dabbling in the stock market with ill-advised hunches from his friends , he was the poorer by the loss of about five thousand dollars over the past two months.

Jason only accompanied Bong Soo to kill time and keep his mind off his pecuniary losses.  Bong Soo had said that they would pick up some ideas on “profitable hobbies”. That was so much like Bong Soo,  who  would put his nose wherever there was money to be made. Jason was indifferent to hobbies; all he could remember was collecting various types of sea shells as a schoolboy at St Patricks School behind the compound at the Siglap beach when the area had not been reclaimed yet. After a while, it became harder to find new types of shells and he gave up trying. He could not recollect what had happened to his modest collection.

There was  a motley crowd of students and elderly people at the exhibition hall  in the early morning. With the air-conditioning system working on full throttle. Jason regretted that he had not worn a full-sleeved shirt to keep off the chill. Bong Soo headed straight for the “Stamp and First-day covers” exhibition booths. Jason walked around aimlessly until he came to a booth with no visitors. This suited him because he did not particularly like crowds. One of the things, he most relished at his old job as the store clerk at Hiap Shing Vegetable Wholesale Company at Pasir Panjang was that it did not involve dealing with many people. Besides, the booth was set up in a far corner of the hall, which was spared the full assault of the air-conditioning system.  The hobbyist at the booth who displayed many documents was busy cleaning his booth with a feather duster. On a closer examination of the exhibits, Jason espied that the hobbyist had a collection of stamps, newspaper reports, currency notes and photographs, none of which seemed to be striking.

Out of politeness, Jason struck up a conversation with the neatly dressed man, probably in his early seventies. The hobbyist stopped the dusting and said in impeccable English.

“ I collect memorabilia of  important dates – 15th February 1942 on the Fall of Singapore, 1st January 1950 when Singapore became a city, 16th September 1963 when Malaysia was formed and 9th August 1965 when Singapore separated. These are stamps, medals, photographs and currencies of those dates.”

“Where did you get the banana notes?” Jason was curious. A memory stirred in him about the times his father used to exchange such notes in bundles to buy rice rations.

“This was the currency during the Japanese Occupation. My uncle kept them. Here is a copy of the Straits Times of 15th February 1942, which he also kept?” the hobbyist said proudly. “I intend to sell all these at a future date. They’ll bring in a tidy sum,” he continued.

That statement surprised Jason, who until then thought all the items on the display to be worthless. So Bong Soo was right, after all.

“Why do you wait so long?” asked Jason

“These become more valuable as time goes by. People become nostalgic and sentimental when they grow older,” the hobbyist said.

“ When will you sell them?”

“Are you interested?” the hobbyist asked.

“Oh, no. Just asking how long you should wait’”

“ About 15 years for things to acquire some value,” said the hobbyist.

“Why haven’t you sold the Japanese Occupation memorabilia yet?”

“ I’ll wait for 1992, which is the 50th anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.”

Jason left the booth after wishing the hobbyist success in his venture, to rejoin Bong Soo who was still engrossed in examining first-day covers. The pair took a cursory walk among the other booths, displaying various paraphernalia such as coins, matchbox labels, comics, key chains, playing cards, beer bottle caps and table coasters. After having a hasty lunch at the hawkers square, Bong Soo suggested that they pay a visit to Sentosa island by a cable car ride from the World Trade Centre. The very thought of being enclosed in the small cable car cabin sent shivers round Jason’s spine. Instead they had to settle for a ferry ride from Jardine Steps to Sentosa. They  only returned at night, after viewing the thrilling musical fountain show.

The topic of hobbies and collections surfaced again on the following day when Jason visited at the coffee shop near his house at Joo Chiat, in the mid-morning. The usual coterie of retirees in their tee-shirts was already seated around a round table with speckled marble top and enjoying their morning coffee. The proprietor of the shop, still donning his striped pajama pants and sleeveless singlet darted in and out of the kitchen carrying cups of coffee in white saucers and plates of buttered kaya toast. Jason enjoyed this daily ritual of coffee and the playful banter with these friends. The discussion for the day had started with the cost of health care and whether their savings from pension funds would last if any of them lived to a ripe old age. Gopal, a retired civil servant opined that retirees should not just live on their savings, but do something to enhance it. Most agreed that putting the money in the bank to earn the paltry interest was not enough. A few had been fortunate in investing in collectibles such Afghan carpets, Chinese paintings and Indonesian artifacts. The value of these had appreciated over the years. Bong Soo, who was pouring his coffee on the saucer to cool it before drinking, said he had a stamp and coin collection, with some dating back to the period of the British Military Administration of 1945- 47, which he hoped to sell in the future for a handsome sum.

When the conversation turned to the vagaries of the stock market, Jason excused himself and left the group to return home. As usual, he had to meander around the obstacles on the five-footway of the shophouses. He pondered on his financial health. He was 58 years old now, what would happen if he lived to a ripe old age of 95? Yes, that was the age at which his father died. Would what was left of his savings last until then?  His only income was the modest rent from the occupants of the first storey of his two storey shop house, the Chinese Medical Hall. He lived on the second storey. As a last resort, he could resort to selling the shop house, which his father had bequeathed to him and his elder sister, who had become a Buddhist nun and left for Taiwan. But where could he go to live after that? He could never live in the housing board flats. He would never get into the lifts, he was extremely claustrophobic. And at his age, he would tire himself if he had to use the stairs to climb more than two storeys. He shunned the idea of taking a job, his humdrum experience in his job had lasted 35 years and that was enough. Also with the usual bias against older workers, he did not expect to get a job at all. His immediate need was to recoup some of his losses at the stock market and at that moment, he could not think of any worthwhile pursuit.

After the usual afternoon nap and a quick shower, he headed for the Taoist temple at Mohamed Sultan Road . Born into a Teochew family, his mother had imbued him with knowledge of the myths in Taoism at a young age.  He remembered being awed by the mention of the omnipotent Jade Emperor who knew all aspects of “dao”- the way. He used to marvel at the adventure of the immortals who took on many incredible adventures encountering dragons and demons and righting many wrongs. He accompanied his mother when she used to offer prayers, food and paper money to the dead during the Festival of Hungry Ghosts . He especially enjoyed burning joss papers at roadsides and watching the embers fade away, when he was a young boy.  He had acquiesced to his mother’s final wishes and placed her photograph at the family ancestral altar at his home, next to his father’s photograph. The temple visits however, terminated after his mother’s passing more than 2 decades ago. Now when he was ending the final phase of his life, he felt that he should go back to his religious roots again. He had enrolled for a two month Mandarin course at the temple on how he should look after his spiritual needs. The temple course was already in its second month and the only advice he picked up from the venerable old monk was “There are two ways to be rich, one is to have more, and the other is to want less. Always choose to want less.” A good maxim, but difficult for man – Jason noted. The senior monk also advised that one should spend some time each day praying, contemplating nature, doing charity and meditating; all of which did not have a great appeal to Jason. How did he pick up a Christian name?  His  name on his birth certificate was Teo Chee Sung, which was conveniently changed to Jason Teo by his colleagues at the office. Jason did not mind that a little bit.

At the temple, Jason met his uncle Teo Ewe Jian and cousin Michael .  There were  there to enroll in a tai-chi-chuan class that a group of devotees was organising. They managed to persuade him to enroll so as to improve his physical well-being. Jason  mentioned his encounter with the hobbyist and his intention to pursue a collection . It might bring him some much-needed income at the appropriate time, he quipped. Ewe Jian remarked that auspicious dates do not come too often. The dates 1.1.1991 where the number 1991 was a palindrome and 1.1.2000, the start of the new millennium were suggested as candidates. Jason would have to wait for 3 years to enter 1991 before he started pursuing his hobby. He did not relish the idea of waiting so long.

It was a week later that a particular number burst into the headlines, which gave him an opportunity to start his  hobby “collection”.  The number was 8888, an auspicious number to some Chinese Singaporeans who considered 8 as a very lucky number. There was talk of an auspicious date of the 8th day of the 8th month August 1988 which would soon appear as 8888. There was a flurry of excitement among a section of the population, which did not escape Jason’s notice.  Other than the perfect symmetry, Jason did not see much merit in that number. His skepticism was reinforced when he read an article by a famous Chinese scholar in a Malaysian newspaper. This erudite gentleman stated that the Chinese culture had no tradition of numerology or study of numbers. He felt that the practice was a recent one started by money-minded businessmen to cash in on the ignorance of the public.

Punters were just waiting to buy their 4 digit numbers of 8888 at the gambling outlets. The betting organization fearing a sudden rush for numbers, announced that these numbers would only be on sale two days in advance of the 8th of August. They wanted to give everybody an equal chance of being able to buy the number. But they forewarned the public that when hot numbers were concerned they might put a limit to the sales.

The momentum for this magic number increased when many planned to have their wedding dinners or marriage registrations on that day. There was to be a mass wedding at Neptune Theatre where Taiwanese songstresses were scheduled to entertain the five hundred guests. The event was a sellout and many disappointed couples had to be turned away.  Mount Elizabeth Hospital received more than 20 requests by pregnant mothers to induce labour on 8th August. This prompted an ethical debate on whether doctors should play God and interfere with the natural birth process. Five new buildings were to be officially opened on that day.  Restaurants announced $8.88 meals for the day ; a shoe shop offered special $8,88 sneakers and sandals ;and furniture shops announced $88.88 and $888 bargains. Suddenly it appeared that a large segment of the population was enamoured by this number and excitement grew by the day. The newspapers joined in the frenzy.

Jason was convinced that this was a number that would be remembered. His first job was to get all the possible collectibles for 8.8.88. He spent many hours racking his brain and making a list of collectibles. He combed through all the newspapers since the beginning of August and cut out articles on advertisements and news items on 8.8.88 and pasted them neatly in a scrapbook. A newspaper advertisement for a new simple camera that stamped the dates on the photographs caught his attention; he had to have one to photograph and record the events of 8.8.88. He decided to postpone the purchase to the auspicious date because he would get that date recorded in his receipt.

There were five new buildings that would be officially opened on that auspicious date. He had to get an invitation card somehow. When he called a finance company , he was told politely that the invitations were only for those who had connection with them. He requested for blank invitation cards after the events were over. The receptionists could not comprehend the request but he was asked to phone a few days later to check on the availability of blank cards.

Two days before that date, he found himself in the queue at the betting outlet because they had started selling the 4 digit number 8888. The length of the queue was indescribable. It snaked its way past the shop into the road causing a minor traffic jam. After waiting in the queue for more than an hour, a counter clerk came out and announced that all the possible betting tickets for the number 8888 had been sold out. There were murmurs of anger and many in the crowd dispersed. Unlike others, Jason was not queuing up to buy a betting slip to win a prize. If the number was picked, he would be happy, but to him it was just another number that had only a chance as any other number to win a prize. For him, gambling at the stock market had a better chance of success than buying numbers for the weekly draws at the betting outlets. Now he had missed the opportunity to buy a betting slip with the number 8888 for the draw for that week. If the number did not win, he could still get an old ticket from someone. He decided to buy any non-prize winning ticket.

He approached an old gentleman who was one of the last to buy the ticket.

“Excuse me, would you sell me the ticket after the draw is over?”

The man asked, “What did you say?”

Jason went on to explain what he was looking for. The man laughed, he was sure that his ticket would win a prize in which case, the betting outlet would repossess the ticket. However, if it did not win a prize, he would be happy to post it to Jason’s address, which he took down.

The 8th of August was totally devoted to getting the collectibles. It was predicted to be a warm day; he dressed appropriately. After eating a breakfast of oats, toast, half-boiled eggs and coffee , he climbed into his 15 year old Toyota car. He hesitated for a moment, got out and decided to catch a bus to obtain a bus ticket with the auspicious date. After a short journey and disembarking from the bus at the neighbourhood centre, he bought copies of all the local newspapers in all languages from the news centre and deposited them into the carrier bag that he had brought with him. He exchanged the usual pleasantries in Teochew dialect with the proprietor, who expressed surprise at why Jason was buying  Tamil newspapers, when he did not know the language.

The next stop was the shoe shop where he bought a pair of sandals which had been advertised for $8.88 and asked for the receipt. While he was discarding his old pair of slippers at the rubbish bin placed for that purpose, the salesgirl brought out a blotched up receipt, which he refused to accept. When the cashier refused to print out another copy, he asked to see the manager, who could not understand all the fuss about an ordinary receipt.

He proceeded to the camera shop, which was just opening its doors for the day. There he bought a camera and a roll of 36 films, with which he intended to shoot important events of the day and have the date of 8.8.88 stamped on them. He asked for separate receipts. The cashier was preoccupied with other things and she punched the figures on the same receipt. The only consolation was that 8.8.88 appeared on the receipt. The proprietor showed him how to use the camera and the first photo he took was of the camera shop.

It was too early for lunch but he could not pass up the chance of having an $8.88 western set lunch at Bali House Restaurant, which was two doors away from the camera shop. He sat down and ordered a meal of fish and chips. He toyed with the food because he was not hungry and left a large portion uneaten, so much so that the waitress asked whether there was anything wrong with the dish, before clearing the table. When it arrived, the bill showed an amount of $8.88 with a ten percent service charge and a one percent cess charge . This upset him no end, but he was in no mood to get into an argument again. He asked the waitress to take a photograph of him posing against the poster offering the lucky meal of the decade at $8.88.

The day was getting warmer and he was sweating profusely. He decided to return home and use his car for the next part of his hunt for collectibles.

After a refreshing shower and change of clothes, he drove to the Registry of Marriages at Fort Canning. He could not find an empty car parking lot along the access road to the building and decided to risk parking illegally on the main road.  He walked along the upward inclined access road and entered the wide veranda of the building. Before doing so, he took a photograph of the Registry building to prove that he was there on the 8th.There was a large crowd assembled in the waiting hall adjacent to the marriage registration room. Jostling his way forward, he found himself next to a window of the room. The area was redolent with the smell of roses, which had been placed in large numbers in flower baskets.

Peeking in through the clear glass of the closed window, he noticed that the Registrar only allowed the couples and the witnesses in the registration room. Everybody else in the marriage party had to wait outside. That was the reason for the large crowd in the waiting hall outside the room. He had to take a photograph of the marriage ceremony surreptitiously without drawing attention to himself, but he could not take it through the glass window because of the reflection of the sunlight. He tried unsuccessfully to open the window. The best he could hope now was for a photograph of a couple walking away from the registration room.

He traced his steps back and took a vantage position at the veranda. As each couple came out flanked by the marriage party, he could not get near enough to get a good picture. One couple had a large entourage and he was squeezed against one of the columns of the veranda when they emerged. After that came a middle-aged couple accompanied by a small party.  He positioned himself by leaning against the column and took a shot, hoping that he would not be noticed.

One among the group shouted at him.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“Nothing, just taking a photo, ”replied Jason.

”Meng How, this must be your ex-wife’s doing,” shouted the bride.

“She just won’t leave us alone,” the groom lamented.

“Look here, whoever you are. Go away,” a tough came over to him and tried to grab the  camera. Jason tried to pull away, he lost his balance and rolled down the grassy slope next to the veranda.  Fortunately , the rolling down was checked by some overgrown bushes. He felt angry and frustrated.

“Serves him right, “shouted the bride as the party left. A crowd gathered round Jason, now lying next to a cluster of bushes. A kind lady helped him up and offered a bottle of mineral water. When the crowd dispersed Jason got up and picked up the camera which was lying beside him. The first thing he did was to ensure that the camera was not damaged and the film was intact. Then he checked his left arm, which he had used to break his fall. There were some scratches and bruises with slight bleeding, which he wiped with his handkerchief. Because of a dull pain in his left calf muscle, he had to hobble to his parked car .

There was a parking summons notice under his windshield wiper. It would cost him $20. Ill luck was following him around.He picked the summons up and was about to crumble and throw it away, when he noticed the dates 8.8.88 on the ticket staring at him. That was a lucky strike for him and he quickly inserted the ticket in his pocket..

At his next stop at the Mount Alvernia Hospital, he managed to find an empty parking lot at the underground car park. He headed for the restroom where he cleaned his wound on his left arm with warm water. He did not want it turn septic. The maternity ward was on the fourth storey. He was not going to get into one of those lifts, but this meant that he had to climb up four storeys. It was a daunting task but if he decided to leave now, he would miss his chance for ever. He was still experiencing some pain in his left calf muscle. After a slow hobbling climb up the stairs, he was panting and took a seat at the waiting room to catch his breath.

A kindly looking nurse asked, “Are you all right, sir? I noticed that you were limping.  Have you some problems with your leg?”

”I am all right, thank you,” Jason replied and proceeded along the corridor to the maternity ward. He did not have to enter the ward because the babies’ room, aptly named “ Bundles of Joy” was along the corridor. All the baby cots were arranged in neat rows.

Whenever requested, the nurses brought out the baby cots with the baby to the large glass window of the room for the eager parents and relatives to gloat over. He overheard one of the bystanders saying that male babies were wrapped in blue cloth and female babies in pink cloth.

Jason needed a photograph, but did not want to risk the situation he had experienced at the Registry. First of all, he took a general photo of the view of the babies’ room . Then he closed in on the banner that hung at the back of the room with the message “Welcome to the world”.  Just then the nurse brought out a cot with a baby wrapped in a pink cloth. Pretending to pan the camera to the side, he captured a hasty photograph of the baby.

Someone tapped on his shoulders, “What are you doing?”

“Just taking a photo of ward. Do you mind?” Jason asked.

“Why are you taking a photo of my baby? “the father demanded gruffly, “Why don’t you take photos of your own?”

“I don’t have a baby,” Jason said sheepishly.

“Are you a criminal?” the father asked.

“Nothing of that sort,” said Jason and explained what he was doing. The father was not convinced. In time, a crowd had gathered at the scene of the fracas, which invited a couple of security guards. They led Jason out despite his pleadings of innocence and asked him to keep away to prevent any incidents.

Jason pondered over the problems that he was having in collecting the memorabilia. It had been a frustrating day. The dull pain in his left calf had now given way to a throbbing pain. He could either call at Dr Vincent’s private clinic or go on to his next assignment. If he waited until evening, he could only see the doctor the next day, which meant sleeping overnight with the pain. If he went to the clinic, then this assignment may never be fulfilled. He decided that he could bear with the pain slightly longer. If it worsened,  he would swallow a couple of Panadol tablets at night.

Jason’s next stop was at the 7 storey finance company building at Boon Keng Road that was to be declared officially opened. Many of the traffic lanes around the road had been cordoned off and he took the best part of half an hour to find a parking lot. It was threatening to drizzle and he took out his umbrella, which also served as a walking stick. He had not received an invitation and he did not intend to get in, but just to take photographs of what was going on outside. He joined the few stragglers who had been attracted by the sound of the Chinese melodies blaring out from a hi-fi set in the building. The first object that caught his eye was a large banner announcing the date of the opening of the building hung at the fourth storey level. In front of the main entrance were many flower bouquets and floral decorations on wooden stands sent by well-wishers. On closer inspection, the date 8.8.88 appeared on all of them to Jason’s delight. He snapped as many photos as possible, taking care not to get too close to the building and always checking the film counter to ensure that he had sufficient roll of film left in the camera. With such a bounty in sight, he regretted that he had not bought an extra roll of film.

Many important dignitaries were being dropped by chauffeurs at the front porch of the building . The men were all dressed in full suit and ladies in formal wear. As each entered the building, young ladies would greet them, pin large rosettes to their clothes and lead them to the lift lobby. Jason decided to take a couple of photos of the dignitaries. Nobody stopped him and he found himself in the media corner. Next to him were the television cameras and press photographers with their paraphernalia. All the pressmen had large lapels with the name “PRESS” pinned on their clothes.

When the beating of the gongs and drums started around five o’clock, everyone turned their head in that direction. The Lion dance troupe was gearing itself to welcome the guest of honour, whose Mercedes had just pulled in at the porch. Two prancing lions sprang from the two sides of the porch , energetically moving and shaking their heads, opening their large jaws and staring with their bulging eyes, to the accompaniment of the gongs and drums.  The two dancers tucked inside the costumes forming the front legs and the back legs were barely visible. The two lions accompanied the guest of honour and led the way into the building, a perfect shot for Jason.

August is the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar and legend had it that the gates of hell are opened allowing unborn souls to wander the world for food and other necessities. Jason decided to leave the gathering and head for an open ground near his home where there was to be a Festival of Hungry Ghosts celebration. The neighbourhood Chinese clan had approached him for a donation and invited him to the dinner a few days before.  There was to be  a dinner in an open tent with entertainment by some  singers followed by an auction of a wide range of items. He hoped to pick up an item which was in some way connected to the auspicious day and of course take some photographs. His last stop was to be at Restaurant 88 in the west coast, where he hoped to take a photograph. If he could get a seat he would also dine there before returning home.

A lady in a blue suit suddenly came around to the media area and announced in an officious tone, “Will the media people please follow me? I will take you up to the top storey for the opening ceremony”

At first, Jason let the others proceed, but he found himself being pushed along with the rest. He wanted to turn back, then he thought that it was worth the risk to get in to the building to take a few more photographs. The camera counter showed 27 and he could take 9 more photos. No one checked his credentials when he entered the building through  the porch . On entry, another lady handed him a small black plastic toiletry bag puffed at both ends and narrowed at the center to look like a figure of eight, which pleased him tremendously. All visitors were led into the lift lobby.

“ We have reserved this lift for the media,” the lady said.

Jason wanted to turn back, but there was a rush by the media men to enter the lift and despite his protestations, he was pushed in.

“I want to get out. I am not from the press,” he shouted and thumped on the side of the lift.

It appeared that nobody would hear him amidst the din of the gongs and drums of the Lion dancers. The lift was packed with people. When the door closed, his heart started thumping hard and he broke into cold sweat. The lift moved for a few seconds, jerked and came to a sudden halt. The sweltering heat was unbearable,  Jason felt the world turning around him..

When he opened his eyes, Jason was lying on a heavily padded reclining armchair in a spacious air-conditioned room with wood paneled walls and no windows. There were three other armchairs in the room. There was someone else sitting on one of the chairs, who had his face covered with a newspaper he was reading.  Jason had developed a mild headache in addition to aches on his leg and arm. A glass showcase with a large number of trophies and plaques stood opposite where he was lying. The heavy wooden door with a black handle, next to the showcase was closed. On the wall to his right were some large Chinese paintings of horses in trot, in gallop and in grazing . On the wall to his left, he saw a framed picture of about a hundred uncut Bank of England notes with the Queen’s portrait. Next to it was a round wall clock with a white background with black numerals in the Chinese script. Although he could not decipher the numbers, the position of the hands of the clock showed the time to be a quarter to six.

He saw the reflection of a large painting behind him reflected on the glass pane of the showcase, but when he tried to turn his head, he felt a pain on his neck bone. His calf muscle was still throbbing. Someone had left his umbrella on the floor. The toiletry bag and camera lay next to it.  He tried to remember what had happened and then surmised that he should be in a room of the finance company. Panic seized him because he had entered the premises without an invitation- he was a trespasser.

When he coughed politely, the man reading the newspaper put it down. It was Michael Teo, his cousin, who immediately went to his side.

“ Jason, I rushed here when I received a phone call that you were hurt in the lift.   A doctor has examined you about five minutes ago. He thinks that you passed out  because of the heat.  We are to take you to the hospital if you have blurred vision or if you feel nauseous . If you want to go to the hospital, we can leave now.”

“It’s not necessary. My vision is fine. How long was I like this?” asked Jason

“About ten minutes since I arrived”

“How did they get your phone number?”

“ I don’t know,” said Jason.

“ I  have a mild headache,” said Jason

Michael walked to the glass top table standing next to Jason’s armchair. There were a cup of Chinese tea, some Panadol tablets and a small bottle of Tiger oil.  Michael  removed a  tablet and and gave it to Jason who sat up in the armchair to gulp it down with the warm Chinese tea.

” You should feel better in a few minutes. What actually happened? ” asked Michael going back to sit in his armchair.

“It’s a long story. I told you the other day that I was going around collecting mementos for 8.8.88. This building is being declared open today” Jason said.

“Were you invited?”

“I got into this place illegally with the press people, ”said Jason

“ That could be a problem. But why did you get into the lift? You are terrified of them.”

“ I was herded into it with the reporters I think the lift broke down and I fainted, ” Jason said, “I am a trespasser, what do we do?”

“ Leave quickly if you are sure you are not hurt, “said Michael standing up.

Just then, the door opened and the familiar lady in the blue suit entered.

“Mr  Teo Chee Sung , how are you sir? My name is Priscilla Gan. I am in public relations. ”

She handed him her business card. Jason gasped for air and looked at it.

“We are sorry for what happened? We should have been more careful to prevent the rush into the lift. The lift stalled because it was overloaded. We are sorry about your nasty fall. Do you want me to call an ambulance?” she asked.

“No, it is all right,” Jjason said and wondered when she was going to bring up the subject of his trespassing.

“We found your umbrella and camera, but your media badge was probably lost in the rush. Your media colleagues have  all gone for covering the opening ceremony and I did not know which of them to contact. So I had to open your wallet, where we found your identity card and Mr Michael Teo’s phone number. We telephoned him. The wallet’s back in your pocket, there are also some keys; we did not touch anything else ,” she said.

“I am Michael,  Chee Sung’s  cousin.”

Michael shook hands with Priscilla and they exchanged name cards.

“Oh, you are a lawyer,” remarked Priscilla. Michael smiled .

“ Look, Priscilla, I am not a reporter,” Jason said. He might as well admit and apologise for trespassing.

“You are the press photographer. Never mind, we have our own photographers covering the ceremony and we will make all the photos available to the press,” Priscilla said.

“I’m also not a …………….” Jason started.

Michael cut him short and asked Priscilla, “It’s a new building. Why was there no alarm if the lift was overloaded.  Don’t you check the lifts before certifying them fit for use?”

” Of course, we do.  It’s unfortunate this happened during the opening ceremony, especially on such an auspicious date.” said Priscilla.

“ It’s bad publicity, “ said Michael.

“ Yes, I hope that Mr Teo will not report this in the newspapers,” said Priscilla.

Michael cut in before Jason could reply, “ He is a forgiving man.”

“Thank you. The management is willing to settle this quietly………… perhaps, Mr Michael Teo could call me tomorrow.”

Michael nodded his head.

“ You have to excuse me. I have to go back to the reception to entertain the guests. You are most welcome to join us there. Otherwise, just close the door when you leave.  If Mr Teo Chee Sung has to consult a doctor or take taxi home, please send us the receipt for reimbursement, ” she said.

Michael waited for her to leave the room.

Jason had to be helped out of his chair and he had to walk using the umbrella as a walking stick. Michael picked up the toiletry bag and the camera.

“You have a problem with your leg?” asked Michael.

“Not from here. I will tell you on our way home.”

Suddenly Michael laughed.

“What’s so funny about my leg injury?” Jason asked.

“Look behind you and then turn around.”

Jason looked back with difficulty and saw a beige coloured tapestry with cross-stitch pattern of eight persons standing on a cloud. It was neatly framed with a non-reflective glass to make it look like a painting. These were the portraits of the eight immortals of Taoist mythology in their full glory, crossing an ocean on their way to a new adventure.

Michael used the camera to snap a photograph of Jason standing next to the tapestry.

“One more for your collection- Jason and the eight immortals on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighty-eighth year, “ said Michael.

“That’s enough adventure for today. We will leave now,” said Jason, “by the staircase.”

[All characters in the story are fictional and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. Names of streets, places and institutions have been mentioned only for authenticity and it should not be taken to mean that any of these events took place at these locations]


The Rainbow bar

Mr. Pinto wants to see everyone at his office half-an-hour before the club opens tomorrow morning,” Constance Lim, the petite office secretary wandered into the club pavilion dressed in a white blouse and black mini-skirt and announced officiously. A strong whiff of perfume had announced her presence to Samy, who had just reported for work at the bar counter at the club.

Samy just grunted a reply. He was busy searching for a spot to place his black leather shoes and white pair of socks to dry. They had to be dry before the Manager made his usual Sunday visit in the evening.   Mr. Pinto was a stickler for the proper dress code for his employees- white long sleeved shirt with black long pants and black shoes.  If Samy had known that he would have to wade ankle-deep through the water at the gate of the club , he would have worn slippers and carried the shoes with him. How was he to know that the early morning downpour would cause the ponding of water ? They should do something about the squatters of the nearby colony whose rubbish cluttered the  drains along the main road. Being a Sunday, he lay in bed longer than usual. He should have woken up earlier and arrived at the club before the rain fell. He even missed performing his daily morning yoga exercises.

Fortunately most members  would arrive  by car  and would not get their feet wet , like him. The sun was out and hopefully, the water would recede soon, even though there was a slight drizzle. Nevertheless, the water-stagnant drains would breed mosquitoes. Just to be safe, he should remember to light the  coils at the  pavilion in the evening to repel the nasty insects.

“ We just had the monthly meeting,” Harry Goh, who entered from the clubhouse to the pavilion  retorted.  The restaurant captain, sporting his white long sleeved shirt dotted with a black bow tie and starched black long pants with matching black shoes was holding a stack of menu cards.

Constance preened herself by parting her long hair with the fingers, “ I’m just passing the message. Don’t ask me, ask him.” She trotted off on her high-heeled black shoes to the main clubhouse.

“Not in a good mood, is she?” Samy said.

“I don’t know why I take so much trouble to put these menu cards on empty tables at the restaurant in the clubhouse,” Harry sighed.

“Head waiter’s habits, I suppose.”

“ She’s so snooty. I hope that she’s the first to go with the job cuts,” Harry said.

“I thought you fancied her.”

“Not after I came to know her. She’s waiting for some white guy to take her away to England,” Harry said.

“ Well, she hasn’t caught any yet.”

“She hasn’t much time left, has she?” said Harry. They both laughed.

“You think Pinto’s meeting is to tell us about the job cuts?” Samy asked.

“I don’t know. I’m already searching for another job. You better start looking around too”

Samy did not say anything. There were rumours about the club’s intentions to shed staff.

“ Can you recall what Saturday nights used to be at the restaurant. Yesterday, only five tables were opened, ten were empty” said Harry,seating himself on the sofa on the far corner of the pavilion.

Samy remembered that it was not long ago that he had to run around frantically trying to hire temporary help at the bar counter to serve the myriads of Saturday night patrons. Those good days were fast disappearing.

Harry stretched his legs, “I tell you what. This club is finished. Singapore’s  doomed – finished when the British servicemen return home . ”

“Pinto has been advertising for local members……”

“ You think locals will splurge like the servicemen? They order one plate of fried rice and a “Green Spot” drink. Not a plate of beef steak and mashed potatoes washed down with a few glasses of beer. Come to think of it, I should type new menu cards –Fried Rice, Char Kway Teow, Roti Perata, Green Spot, Red Lion, Ice Water,” said Harry.

Samy brushed aside the sardonic remarks,     “ We don’t want foreign forces here”

“You think we asked them to leave? Britain’s too poor to keep them here. We begged them to stay.”

“Still it’s a good thing for them to leave. We should shed our colonial mentality” Samy insisted.

“Really? Might as well shed jobs also.  Like me for instance. But I won’t wait that long,” Harry sprang up and disappeared from the pavilion into the main clubhouse. Why was Harry so unhappy with them leaving since he had benefited so much, Samy thought?  It was sheer hypocrisy. When it was Sgt Cronin’s turn to leave, Harry had managed to buy his  second-hand Volkswagen beetle at a cut-throat price, the same car that had won Cronin three bottles of whisky for cramming the largest number of passengers in the club contest.

Since the British Government’s announcements to pull out their armed forces from east of Suez in 1968, there has been a gradual whittling down of the number of servicemen. Samy recalled reading that about 20,000 locals made their living serving the servicemen. Harry, Pinto, Constance, him and the other employees of the club were all part of these statistics. The Admiralty Sports & Recreation  Club had an almost exclusive clientele of servicemen. Not that there was any discrimination against locals , but few had ventured to apply because the servicemen had treated the club as their own domain.

Behind the bar counter, Samy set about arranging the bar service for the day. He strained his ears to listen to the “Beatles” song over the pitter-patter of the rain on the pitched roof. On a normal Sunday mid-morning, there would have been many servicemen quaffing beer or sipping whisky on the rocks at the bar counter.  The club had fallen on hard times; sports and recreational activities had been curtailed. The tennis courts and the badminton courts were deserted. The judo instructor had changed his weekly classes to fortnightly classes. Even the children had disappeared from the ping pong table and the playground outside the club pavilion. The nearby “Kinema” which screened reruns of popular American or English movies for servicemen was to close within the next few months.  Not that he was affected, he preferred to visit Diamond or Royal Theatre in the city to watch Tamil or Hindi movies with his wife because he was a regular subscriber to the Indian Movie News magazine.  The many with the “big thirst” –the likes of  SAC Goodman, Sgt Rodford and WO Musgrove had all left. The few remaining health-conscious servicemen preferred using the gymnasium or the squash courts and they came to the bar only  for a glass of gunner or lime juice.

The few local members only hogged the room with the jackpot fruit machines.  The locals preferred gambling to drinking. The jackpot machines were the main draw for them to join the club. They did not even come to the bar counter to change coins for the jackpot machines because they could do so now at the games room. How long could the club afford to keep the bar open? It would be a pity to see the best-stocked bar in the area go bust.  Pinto had to negotiate with the breweries to extend the club’s credit terms.  The bar had stopped stocking different brands of beer.  Samy’s long term employment prospects looked dim.

He did not mind the lazing around because he felt lethargic after having eaten his usual heavy Indian  breakfast. He should watch the paunch that he was developing of late. It was not a paunch formed by beer drinking. There were enough beer bellies in the club. He had stuck to his father’s advice that a bartender should never drink because temptation was near at hand. His father, though only  a mandore in charge of the daily rated employees of the Public Works Department, had home-spun wisdom and brought up six children and seen them well settled in life.

Maybe he should go into the food catering business with his wife with whatever savings they had. Getting into the late thirties required him to plan for the future. A few times, he had obtained Pinto’s permission to sell his wife’s home-made samosas at the bar. The servicemen had lapped them up as soon as they arrived.  A catering business would give his family of three including his toddler son, a better income than the exiguous pay he received from the club since everyone had been forced to take a cut in pay. The wife had been  visiting the Hindu temple in Changi Village on Tuesdays for the regular evening prayers to seek blessings and better times for the family from Lord Rama. Maybe he should start joining her whenever he was free. The only problem was that the temple was quite far away from their home in Nee Soon and the bus services were not that reliable.

He picked up a copy of the “The Connoisseur’s Bar” monthly from the top of the large refrigerator behind the counter and started flipping the pages. How much longer could the club afford to subscribe to this wonderful  monthly magazine?

“I say, does that dog belong to the club?” a thin well-dressed man walking hurriedly approached the counter. He had a canvas bag slung over his shoulders.

“Uh, why? What happened?” Samy asked

The man pulled back the sleeves of his blue shirt and pointed to the back of his left palm. Samy took a cursory look and saw some traces of red marks on a pale white skin.

“It nipped me,” he said pointing to the brown dog which was lying under the ping-pong table and watching them intently.

“I’m sorry. It’s a tame dog,” Samy blurted out and immediately regretted saying so. He should have asked more questions before admitting anything to a stranger.

Stranger he was because Samy could not recognise his face; it was not one of the British servicemen who frequented the club. Perhaps, he was a visitor introduced by a member. But he did not recall any one signing the visitor’s register  at the pavilion for the day. Maybe he had been registered at the guestbook at the main clubhouse. Pinto would not have been happy to see visitors moving around without being accompanied by members, especially of late when there had been some cases of pilfering of ashtrays and table cloths. Club employees were empowered to ask unfamiliar faces about who they were with, but Samy felt that the awkward situation did not lend itself to such a course of action.

“That dog bit me. See the bite marks here.” The man extended his arms closer towards Samy. He examined the bite marks closely. There was no bleeding, but there were teeth-like marks.

“That dog has been here since it was a puppy. It hasn’t bitten anybody yet,” Samy said. He was not exactly sure of the veracity of the statement, but he was not going to be on the defensive.

“That’s all that I wanted to know,” said the man, his breath smelling heavily of stale smoke.

How should he interpret that statement? The man had established that the dog belonged to the club. Would he complain to Mr Pinto? This could mean trouble for him and the club.

“Are you going to complain?” Samy ventured to ask.

”You sure that the dog has been with the club all this while? Is it a stray dog?”

Samy moved his head from side to side, “Definitely not a stray dog. How did it happen?”

” Guess I should not have patted its head while it was asleep. If it’s not a stray dog, I need not get a rabies shot.” The man took a seat on the bar stool.

Samy was sanguine at this turn of events. After all, the man had admitted that he was   partly to blame for the incident. Serves him right for disturbing a sleeping dog. He said with a smile, “Yes, there is no need for that.”

The air of hostility had disappeared and the man seemed much friendlier.

“Do you keep any antiseptic cream and cotton wool?” the man asked.

“Of course. I’ll find some for you,” He searched for a key from the large key ring  with a bunch of half a dozen keys,that was hanging from his belt . He unlocked a cupboard on the side wall and brought out a small metal first-aid box which he handed to the man.

“You should tie up that dog,” the man muttered while he was cleaning his wound and applying the cream on it.  Samy said nothing. After all, the dog would not have bitten him if he had not patted it. There was a long silence and the man did not seem keen to carry on with the conversation.

“Can I fix you a drink?” Samy asked trying to break the ice.

“Maybe scotch on the rocks.” The man said, seating himself on one of the the tall stools at the bar counter and picking up an English newspaper tabloid from the adjacent newspaper rack. He rested the canvas bag on the bar counter. This riled Samy because the bag looked worn-out and dirty.  However, under the awkward circumstances, he decided to keep quiet.  He pushed the first aid box to the side of the counter.

Samy reached for a short glass among the tankards, goblets, long drink glasses and brandy balloon glasses from the elevated work top in front of the bar. He chose a key from his bunch to unlock a cabinet with a glass door beneath the counter to bring out a whisky bottle. From the ice bucket inside the freezer of the refrigerator , he used a scoop to get ice cubes into the glass before topping it up slightly below the rim with a generous amount of whisky. Holding the glass at the base, he placed it in front of the man.

“Good whisky” the man said, taking a sip.

“Black label – the drink’s on the house.” Samy wiped the rim of the bottle with a clean cloth, screwed on the lid tightly and locked the bottle away in the cabinet. He felt that he was justified in giving away this free drink. He did not consider it as an admission of guilt, but rather one of goodwill.

“Thanks. I was curious why you did not pour from the bottles over there,” the man pointed to the neatly stacked colourful array of liquids in bottles on the display shelf with a glass door behind the counter.

“ Hard liquor is kept in the cabinets beneath ,  beer and soft drinks in the fridge”

“Then what do you keep there?” asked the man

“What do the colours remind you of?” Samy asked.

“Nothing very much.”

“If you observe carefully, you’ll see that I have arranged the bottles to form the colours of the rainbow from left to right,” Samy said with pride. He pointed to each bottle in turn.

“ Cherry Brandy is red, Curaco orange, Benedictine yellow, Peppermint is green, Sambuca blue, Parfait Amour indigo and Opul Nera is violet.- the seven colours of the rainbow. They look especially colourful at night when I turn the spotlights on. The regulars call it the rainbow bar. I try not to disturb the arrangement.”

He had picked up these tips about bar decorations from the magazines. They came in handy to impress his customers.

“What are these fancy names for?” the man asked.

”They are liqueurs, usually drunk after dinner,” Samy was keen to show off his knowledge.

“Who drinks this stuff?” asked the man, swirling his glass around.

Samy pointed to the clubhouse,” The diners at the club’s restaurant. “

“You are quite an expert on this job, aren’t you?” said the man.

Samy was flattered. “I pick up ideas on the job and from magazines.”

“Why’s the bar not there, but out here in the open?” the man asked pointing to the restaurant.

“ We also have to serve the tennis and badminton players in sports gear,” Samy said. The main clubhouse did not admit members in sports gear. That was why the pavilion had been built with a wide lean-to-roof on a concrete plinth as an extension to the main clubhouse to house the bar. The pavilion stood out as an anomaly to the grand old colonial style villa that was the main clubhouse. The bar at the pavilion was a pale comparison of the elegant one that used to be located in the restaurant.  There were about a dozen bar stools along the counter. The drinks on display at the shelf were few; the rest were locked up in cabinets because of security concerns.

“Not very convenient, is it?” continued the man.


“And you cannot turn on the spotlights in the daytime because it’s so bright here,” said the man.

“Yes, but the mirror behind the bottles does bring out the colours of the rainbow,” Samy said with pride.

The conversation ended there . They both went back to reading, the man on the stool the tabloid and Samy standing at the counter his magazine, Indian Movie News published both in English and Tamil . In between the reading, Samy threw occasional glances at the man. He was well-shaven and the short sideburns had traces of grey. His skin was too sallow for a serviceman.  Samy guessed that he was in the mid-forties, probably one with a modest indoor job. He was definitely not of the British upper class; he did not know about liqueurs. The man was reticent.

A wad of paper sheets on the lower shelf of the counter caught Samy’s eyes. These were the “Keep Singapore Clean” campaign posters that he was asked to display at the bar. He unrolled one to reveal some amateurish drawings of how a housing estate would look like when the surroundings were clean. The posters came with the campaign messages in four languages. He did not want to clutter up the bar with irrelevant posters. But since Pinto was sure to notice their absence, he taped a solitary poster in English on the mirror behind the display. His patrons could surely read English and after all, his bar and the surroundings were the cleanest part of the club. His patrons were not guilty of littering other than flicking cigarette ash or throwing an occasional cigarette butt on the floor.

Campaigns after campaigns, when will the government get tired of them? They petered out in enthusiasm after the first few days, but this campaign would be different. The Prime Minister himself was involved.

His thoughts turned to the dog when it rose from under the ping pong table. The man also turned his head to glance at it.

“Can you tie up that dog?” he asked.

“ It is harmless,” said Samy. Why could the man not leave the dog alone?

The man stood up and stared intently at the dog which let out a low growl.

“See,” he said.

Samy finally decided that he had to do something about the dog. He did not believe that the mongrel could bite although it certainly caused annoyance by its barking.  But why take a risk by letting it loose when visitors were around in the club? He did not want to be caught in the awkward situation again. Most clubs did not allow dogs unless they were on leash, but this was the club’s caretaker’s dog. The service men were in the habit of feeding it with tit bits. The caretaker only came in at night, usually in an inebriated state. It was common knowledge that he slept through the night and relied on the dog to keep watch.

He recalled seeing a dog leash in the store room.  If he left the bar counter, there would be nobody to attend to the patrons. He peeked into the jackpot machine room to see if he could get the games attendant to tie up the dog, but changed his mind when he spotted a long queue waiting to change coins.

What should he do? Could he leave the bar counter unattended for a short while? There would hardly be any patrons ; but would someone filch the drinks? Well, not in broad daylight, he surmised.

“ I’ll need to tie up the dog on a leash. I’ll be gone for a while. If anybody comes to the counter, please ask them to wait for some time”, Samy said. The man who had sat down on the stool again, took his eyes off the tabloid for a moment, grunted and went back to reading.

With the dog wagging its tail in his tow, Samy walked barefoot across from the pavilion to the store room, the bunch of keys on his waist making clanging noises. On unlocking the door with a  key from his bunch, he was aghast to find the floor strewn with old cyclostyled club newsletters, staplers, used staples, paper clips, pins, rubber bands, used envelopes  and old receipt books. The dog started sniffing around the room. Pinto must be arranging the office cleaning to prepare for the “cleanest club contest” that the Health Ministry was organising. This was fine way to hide the mess from the judges’ eyes! He felt annoyed that they left much of the store in this untidy condition. He had to tread softly in order to avoid sharp staples and pins on the floor.  It took him a while to find the dog leash.

The dog did not take kindly to Samy trying to hook the leash on to its collar. He took some time to coax it to approach him and remain still. Leashing the dog took the better part of fifteen minutes. It was a harrowing experience for him.  Samy returned to the pavilion with the dog on the leash after locking the store room,  with the intention of hooking the other end of the leash onto a slender column.

The bar counter was deserted except for an empty whisky glass . The man was nowhere to be seen . The bottles of the rainbow display were gone. Samy could not see the main road through the chain link fence which was overgrown with creepers. He had to stop the man if he could. He hurried bare footed to the gate with dog. The water ponding around the gate of the club had receded, but the ground was muddy. He had to stop to roll up his black pants to avoid getting them smeared with mud. The dog took this opportunity to break loose and to run back to the pavilion, dragging the leash along.

Seated on the  bus shelter on Canberra Road were two boys , who looked in his direction on hearing the din from the bunch of keys. He looked at both directions of the straight road, but there was no trace of his man. As he approached the boys, they rose from their seats and hurried away. When he smelt cigarette smoke, he understood the reason.   He saw no point pursuing the boys; he did not believe they were involved in any way.

He returned to the bar counter at the pavilion after wiping his feet on the rug at the entrance.  The dog had gone back to lie under the ping pong table; there was a trail of muddy paw marks on the floor that he would have to clean later. The cleaning lady did not come on Sundays.

He inspected the damage at the bar counter with trepidation. The latch of the glass door at the display shelf had been unhooked and all bottles within the shelf stolen. The cashier’s till had not been touched, which was a relief to him. None of the cabinets with the hard liquors located beneath the counter had been tampered with. Looking into the fully stocked refrigerator through its glass door, he noticed that one pack with six cans of beer was missing.

Samy felt silly that he had fallen for the ruse. The dog had been a convenient excuse, but he did not want to blame the dumb animal. The man must have known about the thin crowds at the club on Sunday mornings. He counted the cost to himself and the club- all they had lost was a first-aid box and six cans of beer. It could have been much worse. In his heart, he recited a prayer thanking Lord Rama for being merciful to him.

He had taken note of a recent letter from a bartender in the “Connoisseur’s Bar” that liqueur deteriorates even in unopened bottles if left out in the open. Samy could not leave liqueurs out in the open pavilion and so kept them in a separate cabinet. Instead, he had improvised a bar display with coloured water in used liqueur bottles of well-known brands to imitate the rainbow effect. The man had only carried off seven bottles filled with water. The joke was on the man, Samy grinned.

Samy had to start his collection of used liqueur bottles again. On second thought, he resolved to make that decision only after the next day’s meeting with Pinto. He had not much time to mull over it because small groups of members had started arriving for lunch.

[All characters in the story are fictional and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. Names of streets, places and institutions have been mentioned only for authenticity and it should not be taken to mean that any of these events took place at these locations]

To none will we delay justice

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The price of friendship

“You ever cheated during your exams?

“ Why?” Gabriel Koh was taken aback by that query.

“Just asking? Ever cheat?” repeated Damien Li.

Gabriel, seated opposite Damien was reluctant to answer. Did Damien get him alone in this solitary Sentosa cable car cabin to ask such a question? Normally, the undergraduate would have been cruising home to Kota Tinggi, in a shared taxi to an uneventful weekend with his parents and siblings. For this Sunday, he was glad that Damien had coaxed him to visit Fort Siloso in Sentosa to do research for their joint final year project. The University had just changed its name to the National University of Singapore and the new syllabus had a greater emphasis on South-east Asia. Damien always seemed to know the correct thing to do; Gabriel was content to be the junior partner. Besides, Gabriel did not look forward to the weekend reunions at home any more- there was so much acrimony.

“What type of question’s that? Gabriel demanded.

“You haven’t answered.”

“And if I did ? What would you do?” Gabriel asked, twiddling his thumbs.


“Are you sure,” asked Gabriel.

Damien nodded. Gabriel leaning forward, smiled and gave a playful push on Damien’s broad shoulder. Damien’s well-built frame with a fair complexion and his vivacious nature earned him the friendship of both sexes so easily. He was the goal keeper of the University’s hockey team and hence very fit. To top it all, he always dressed well; even for this field excursion, he had donned a dark blue Polo tee shirt , a pair of light blue Levi jeans and white suede shoes. Next to him, Gabriel cut an unflattering picture with a white Tee shirt and a pair of denim shorts- he dressed for comfort, not for style.  Damien was one of the last big spenders on the campus , which attracted many friends. Being already on a shoe-string budget, Gabriel could only envy Damien’s affluent lifestyle, especially now that sister, Mei Ling had left Robert Gan.

“I get Mei Ling married into a rich family.  She abandons them after two years to come back and teach in the village school,” Gabriel’s father had griped when Gabriel spent the last Chinese New Year with his family .

“When Robert throws out his mistress, I will return,” Mei Ling would counter.

“What does it matter? He looks after you, sends money to us each month.”

Gabriel came from a conservative Baba family that had its roots in Malacca. The babas were Chinese who used Malay as their language but adopted many Chinese customs

”So you will sell me as his concubine,” Mei Ling would retort.

“Give Robert a son. If you are here, how will you do that?”

The polemic went on through the entire festive season at home in Kota Tinggi.

The overhead cable car started its motion from the Mount Faber station with a sudden jerk. Gabriel held on to the steel railings next to the cushioned seats to steady himself. He was thankful that they had the four-seater cabin all to themselves. At least, he could stretch his long legs, which were always a problem on the seats on buses.

“Ever cheated?” Damien persisted.

“Why should I reveal such things?”

“Why not? We know each other well,” Damien said.

“Certain matters are very private.”

“So you do cheat, right?”

“Maybe I do cheat a little,” Gabriel’s voice was inaudible, “like all of us do.”

Everyone cheats once in a while. Had not even the respected senior lecturer in the History Department been taken to task for inflating his transport allowance claims?

“How?” asked Damien leaning forward.

Gabriel hesitated for a moment ,

“I used to scratch formulae on my plastic ruler for the exams……”

“Is that all?” Damien sounded unimpressed.

The next few words blurted almost unconsciously out of Gabriel’s mouth, “During the practical chemistry exam, we shouted out the answers when the teacher was not nearby ……..”

“Ever get caught?”

“Yes, once. The teacher kicked me out of the exam hall. I got a whacking from my father,” said Gabriel, emulating the action by slapping the back of his black denim shorts.

“How did it feel?” There was anticipation in Damien’s voice.

“I hated my teacher for telling …….”

“No, I mean how does it feel to cheat?” Damien asked.

“A lot of tension. I didn’t feel so great,” said Gabriel, gazing out of the glass window at the approaching cable cars,” Hey, we have already passed four cars returning.”

“You feel guilty?” Damien continued.

“ Why ask all these questions?” Gabriel stroked his receding hairline; the men in his family seemed to bald early.

“I wonder what it’ll feel like to cheat like you do,” Damien scratched his chin.

Gabriel waved to a couple of giggling girls seated in a cable car that passed them. They just rolled their eyes.

“You don’t need to cheat. You get good marks at exams,” Gabriel said.

“I spot the right questions,” Damien said.

Gabriel wished he could be that fortunate. He was sedulous in his studies, but all his life he had to struggle to cope up. He had to put in much more effort than his classmates, just to keep even. Only on the second attempt had he managed admission into university; and that only because a few who had been given places did not take them up. By that time, father had retired. Fortunately, brother-in-law Robert Gan pledged to sponsor his university education. Now even that pledge was in jeopardy.

“You’ve had it made. You’ll take over your father’s medicine shops,” Gabriel said while fiddling with the buckles on the haversack.

“The old man has other ideas. He thinks that I’m irresponsible. He has me and my brothers watched like a hawk.”

“You shouldn’t call your father such disrespectful names!” Gabriel was flabbergasted. He would never say such ungrateful things about his father.

“Why not?” asked Damien,” Pa believes in a lot of Cantonese hocus-pocus, such as a fortune can’t last in a family for three generations. Grandpa came from Kwangtung and made a fortune by selling herbs to illiterate immigrants  and pa opened up a string of shops selling placebos. Pa thinks that I’ll fritter it all away.”

The conversation was getting awkward and the temperature was getting hotter. Gabriel looked down and turned his attention to the vehicles on Telok Blangah Road and the neatly moored container ships at the wharves, which came into view. The crane operators were continuously loading and unloading the uniformly shaped steel boxes of various colours on to ships.

“Everyone cheats- you, my grandpa and my pa,” said Damien.

“Why don’t we change the subject?” asked Gabriel without taking his eyes off the tiny ships that were gliding under the cable car.  He was angry.

“Do you want to know a secret?” Damien raised his voice.

“Sounds like a Beatles number,” Gabriel laughed, “Want to tell me how you spot questions?”

“No, not that. I also cheat.”

Gabriel moved his forefinger along the bridge of his nose to push his sunglasses towards his head,” You don’t say!”

“I’m telling you that I also cheat,” said Damien.

“That’s why you get such good marks?”

“No, not your type of cheating. I sell cheap cigarettes at the hostel, ”Damien uttered each of the last words slowly.

“What?” Gabriel’s mouth dropped. He did not smoke, so there was no way of him knowing about cheap cigarettes, he always thought cigarettes were expensive.

“I sell smuggled duty-free cigarettes,” Damien stressed each word.

“That’s a crime, more than cheating”

“No, just cheating the government. The money’s good and no chance of getting caught,” Damien grinned at him and fidgeted with the buckle on his belt.

“I don’t believe you,” Gabriel said. Damien hardly looked his mental picture of a common smuggler.

“I put my talents to good use,” Damien clasped his palms together.

The cable car cabin slowed down when it reached the halfway mark between the two tall towers. Gabriel spotted an oil rig gliding on the deep blue sea towards his cabin.

“Not a very comfortable feeling,” muttered Gabriel, looking down nervously.


“The rig’s mast is too high,” Gabriel repeated.

“Oh that? After a while, when the money starts rolling in, it’s very comfortable,” Damien continued his conversation, oblivious to Gabriel’s concerns.

“Why do they allow such high rafts to move around here?” asked Gabriel.

“Oh, they know what they’re doing. Let’s get back to cheating.”

“No. Let’s talk about Fort Siloso,” Gabriel pleaded.

“Why? Feeling guilty about cheating?” Damien asked…

“When did you start smuggling?”

“When my old man started restricting my monthly allowances,” Damien cursed under his breath.

“Why do you need so much money?” Gabriel asked.

” I have expensive tastes. I am what you call a sybarite. “

Gabriel knew the meaning of that word- it meant a lover of luxury. Gabriel was  fortunate to have been invited once to Damien’s opulent home at Queen Astrid Park. Each time, Damien invited his friends to dinner, it was at a fancy restaurant and he left very fat tips to the waitresses who served them. Damien brought his own furniture and carpets for his room at the university hostel. It was a favourite meeting place for some of the hangers-on. Every evening he would drive around the campus in his sports car.

“Look at the rain clouds. At least, it will be cooler soon. How do we get to Fort Siloso from the station?” Gabriel asked looking into the horizon.
“There’s a new monorail…… Don’t you want to be rich?”

“Yes, but with a salaried job that I’ll end up with………very unlikely?” said Gabriel mopping sweat off his eyebrows with a handkerchief.

“But there are other ways.”

”Like?” asked Gabriel expectantly.

“You tell me.”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t ask you, would I?”

“Turn dishonest.”

Gabriel went quiet for a while, “I’m not cut out for that.”

“Well, you cheat at exams”, said Damien.

”Now look here, that’s nothing”, protested Gabriel, “I should have kept my big mouth shut.”

“It’s only a matter of degree. You’re already dishonest,” Damien insisted.

“So are you,” Gabriel retorted angrily. This conversation was getting out of hand. It hurt Gabriel to talk about his cheating.

“So you don’t want to be rich?”

“We should be reaching Fort Siloso by twelve noon and then……,” said Gabriel, hoping to change the subject.

“You want to be a salaried man eking out a meagre living,” Damien interrupted rudely.

“Let’s talk about what we’ll do at Fort Siloso”, said Gabriel.

“I have a proposition for you.”

”A dishonest one?” Gabriel asked with sarcasm.

“Yes, only as dishonest at cheating at exams. Interested?”

Gabriel felt a hot flush rising to his face, “No”

”Hear me out.”

“What do you take me for? A thief?” asked Gabriel.

“You go to Kota Tinggi quite often, don’t you?” asked Damien.

“Yes, weekly.”

“Each time you return across the causeway, bring in 20 cartons of duty-free cigarettes,” said Damien

“Smuggling? Leave me out.”

“I call it smart business. You need a good strategy,” said Damien.

“What strategy do you need to smuggle?”

” You are a member of the university chess team, are you not?” asked Damien.

“Yes,” Gabriel was proud of this fact. On the chess board, he was a force to reckon with.

“Don’t you use strategy to cover all angles so as not to lose?”

“Yes,” said Gabriel.

“Similarly I use strategy to ensure my success at smuggling.”

“Now I understand why all those questions,” said Gabriel sitting down and holding tightly to the rim of his seat. How did Damien have the audacity to suggest such a thing to him? He must have been misled by his admission of cheating at exams.

“You’ll be paid a handsome commission. “

Probably a pittance for such small smugglers like him who took all the risk, while the likes of Damien who ran the ring raked in all the profits.

“Let’s say for argument’s sake, I get caught. What would I say?” Gabriel asked.

“No chance at all,” Damien assured him, ”Are you interested?”

”Definitely not.”

“I should have known. You don’t have the guts to do something daring- you can never hope to be rich,” said Damien.

“Definitely not through crime.”

“I’m only offering this easy way to make money to very trusted friends,” said Damien,” Maybe, you can start with a something smaller and see how it feels before getting on to smuggling,”.

“Such as?”

“OK. I won’t be going to Fort Siloso” said Damien

“What? We came to do the project together. Where are you going in Sentosa?” asked Gabriel.

“Not in Sentosa. I’m returning to the mainland,” said Damien.

“You want me to do the project and say that both of us did it. Is that it?”

”No, silly. Something more than that. My plan requires you to be here.  If my pa ever asks, I want you to say that I was with you all the time and we returned to the mainland together,” said Damien.

“You want an alibi,” said Gabriel

“That’s the word,” Damien smiled.

“Why do you want to lie to your father?”

“I’m going for a poker session. In case my pa finds out, I need an alibi”

“I don’t want to lie and get into trouble,” said Gabriel emphatically.

” I’m not going to rob or kill anyone, only gamble” replied Damien

“First you ask me to smuggle cigarettes for you. Now you ask me to lie for you. I’m confused,” said Gabriel

“It’s the first step. If you can’t even do such a simple thing, I can’t recruit you in my business,’” said Damien

“I’m not interested in your smuggling ring.”

“It’s five hundred dollars each time. You can quit when you want”, said Damien

Five hundred dollars each time!!! Gabriel would be permanently free of monetary worries, but how will he explain to his father where the money was coming from?

“Still not interested,” said Gabriel.

“Don’t you want to think about it? It’ll set you up for life by the time you leave the varsity.”

“I’ll need forever to think about it, ” said Gabriel after a long silence. It was always good not to seem overly keen

“One thing- the offer only stands if you be my alibi today.”

”The two are not connected,” Gabriel said.

“They are. I have to test your nerves and your ability to tell a lie convincingly,” Damien said.


“Let’s say the customs officer asks whether you have any cigarettes and you can’t lie convincingly- you are useless to me.”

“But I thought you said that there was no chance of getting caught,” countered Gabriel.

“Yes, but we have to be prepared for contingencies, don’t we?” Damien smiled.

Gabriel had been travelling almost weekly to Kota Tinggi and back. More often than not, nobody was around to check anything. Once or twice, he had seen some officers walking with dogs which were sniffing out drugs. He had not heard of dogs sniffing out cigarettes. Maybe he should not reject the offer outright.

“Repeat what you want me to do today?” Gabriel asked.

” I was with you at Fort Siloso and we returned together, in case anybody asks.”

“Doing anything illegal?”

”Gambling in a private house is not illegal,” said Damien.


” You need not know where.”

“I’m agreeing only because you’re my friend and you have given your word that you won’t do anything illegal,” said Gabriel. He did not want to give the impression that he was doing it for any other purpose.

” I take it that you are also interested in my offer”

“It’s not automatic. I said I’ll think about it,” Gabriel said. He did not want to pass up the opportunity.

”Don’t take too long. Time’s money,” Gabriel noticed a triumphant smile on Damien’s face.

The cable car slowed down on reaching the Sentosa terminal, where a stout man in a blue uniform unlatched the cabin door from the outside to let them out. Without a word, Damien sprang out and skipped over to the opposite platform to the ticket office.

“Hey wait, your carrier bag’s here,” shouted Gabriel, but the cable cars had already started moving in the opposite direction.

Not even a word of thanks for the favour from Damien.  Gabriel was hurt. Maybe he was too hasty to have let Damien persuade him to lie.

At the station, Gabriel transferred to the monorail, after strapping the haversack on his back. He peeked into Damien’s bag. It contained a bottle of mineral water and a torn page of a street directory. Damien had obviously come ill-prepared for the trip. Whoever would have thought that Damien was involved in smuggling? He placed the bag into his haversack.

The cool breeze provided some welcome relief as the monorail trudged on towards Fort Siloso , the sole surviving coastal gun battery from the twelve such batteries which made up ‘Fortress Singapore’ at the start of World War Two. It was fashionable to build such underground forts in the late 1870’s because the earthen emplacements were good defence against both solid shot and explosive shell. The stores, magazines and generator rooms, which were underground offered excellent protection from enemy fire. Gabriel was very impressed with the neatly laid-out internal arrangements . The British built Fort Siloso to resist any foreign attack from the south of Singapore. With all these forts and sufficient soldiers, he could not understand why the British had capitulated to the Japanese without a fight. At the recent Falklands War , Britain had shown its prowess probably only because of a much weaker Argentina as compared with Imperial Japan. At the underground barracks, he spent time inspecting each item.

Intending to take down notes, he picked up his ball-point pen from his shirt pocket and was instantly reminded of the dwindling amount in his bank account. The expensive ballpoint was the gift he had received from the bank when he opened the account with money from Robert Gan. He was still on good terms with his brother-in-law, but whether Robert would continue to finance his education remained to be seen. He did not see how his father could help him from the exiguous pension that he received. Damien had offered him a way out, but was he bold enough to agree?

In between, when it got too hot inside, he stopped intermittently to emerge into the open area to watch the waves lashing on to the rocks on the beach, while munching on the sandwiches and sipping lemonade.

At five o’clock Gabriel returned to the cable car towers in the light drizzle. He had time to cogitate on Damien’s offer. He was flattered that Damien had confided in him. He would not be pushed into agreeing to smuggle, but would not refuse outright.  He had to find out all the details. He might even do a trial run before considering the offer.

A long queue indicated a long wait ahead to get home. On closer examination, he spotted that many were not queuing up, but taking shelter from the rain. While waiting, he wondered whether Damien was still in the midst of his gambling session. He felt a nagging fear that Damien’s father might question his alibi. He felt his palms going sweaty. He picked up a publicity brochure on the Butterfly Park, which he had not the time to visit.

The cable cars glided past one by one and the waiting queue advanced.

Out of nowhere, a loud twang diverted his attention to the large cables. They were swinging violently in both directions. The tower shuddered amidst loud shrieks. The waiting passengers were pointing to the cable cars. To his horror, he noticed that the cables were entangled around a high mast of an oil drill vessel. Two cable cars that were bobbing up and down on the cables hung precariously in mid-air. He could not avoid looking below to the sea. Boats were rushing to two small bubbles which were drifting with the waves. The tragedy had all happened in a flash. The great wheels of the crankshaft of the cable cars had stopped. One elderly woman in the queue went into hysteria and had to be calmed down by a teenager. There was commotion and some ran out into the rain. For a few minutes, everyone waited not knowing what to do until an announcement came over the public address system

“Ladies and gentleman. The cable car service and the terminal are closed until further notice. Please leave the terminal in an orderly manner and go to the monorail station. The monorail will take you to the ferry terminal. You can use the cable car tickets to board the ferry to Jardine Steps and Singapore. Please be patient. There is no need for any alarm. We apologise for the inconvenience”

A group of officials in blue uniforms came in to the terminal to clear it of passengers, many of whom were witnessing the rescue operations in the sea.

The tragedy filled Gabriel with pathos. He prayed that the poor souls in the fallen cable cars and those stranded on the cables would be rescued. He shuddered to think that if he had been ahead in the queue, he could have been the victim. A queue had already formed outside the monorail station. Despite the slight drizzle, many had decided to walk to the ferry terminal rather than wait in the queue. Gabriel was stuck in the terminal for the better part of half an hour. Then, the crowd started moving down the stairs in orderly but slow manner. Suddenly, a young lady, dressed smartly in a three piece suit and who was walking next to him, tripped on her high heel shoes and lost her balance. Gabriel caught her just as she was falling sideways. He could get a strong whiff of her perfume.

“Are you all right,” Gabriel asked with concern.

“Yes, thank you,” she replied as he let go of her arm. He stooped down to retrieve her shoe that had caused the accident

The incident had caused a minor obstruction on the exit .Out of nowhere, a young man wearing a T-shirt with the words “I love Singapore” blocked their way. He pushed a microphone under the chin of the young lady, before she could compose herself.

“Miss, did you see the accident?”

“Yes,” she answered and suddenly the television camera spotlight was on both her and Gabriel.

“What did you see?” the young man, obviously a reporter asked.

“The cables started shaking violently. Two cars fell into the sea. It happened so suddenly,” she said.

Gabriel tried to slink away from the spotlight, but the focus of the reporter moved to him.

“What else happened, sir?” the reporter asked him.

“The mast was tangled with the cables. There was a loud noise and the tower shook,” said Gabriel.

“Did you come here together?” the reporter continued looking at both of them.

An embarrassed Gabriel replied, “No, I am here by myself. ” Gabriel could not make out what the lady said before disappearing into the crowd.

The television crew moved into the tower to take more pictures.

It tool some more time for him to catch the monorail. He imagined seeing himself being interviewed on the evening television news. His thoughts were often interrupted by the whirl of helicopters hovering overhead.

At the ferry terminal, there was buzz of excitement. Some passengers had opted to return by the private boats, which were doing a good business.

He had to wait for what seemed like an inordinately long time to board the ferry. The ferry skirted around the rescue area. The whole sea was ablaze with search lights. Gabriel could make out policemen in their blue uniforms on the oil drill, which was still stuck under the cables. Everyone craned their necks to look up at the two unfortunate cable cars hanging on the cables. The passengers could not stop talking about the tragedy, with many blaming the port authority for their carelessness. His thoughts were occasionally troubled by Damien’s offer, which he tried to put off from his mind.

It was very much past midnight when he reached Sheares Hall hostel at Kent Ridge. The common room was deserted. Newspapers and magazines were strewn all over the chairs and sofas. Gabriel never understood why the residents had to leave a mess each night to be tidied up by the cleaners. He switched on the television set and sat glued to it, watching a live coverage of the rescue at the cable car disaster site. He half-expected to see himself being interviewed.  After waiting for half an hour with no indication of any interview, he headed straight for Damien’s room. There was no answer. Not wishing to go down again to the common room, he decided to read about the accident in the next day’s newspapers. When he retired to his single room, he let out a sigh of relief.

It had indeed been a day of drama and mixed emotions. After carefully filing his notes for the day, he ate some biscuits and washed them down with a hot cup of  horlicks.

Half an hour later when he checked before going to bed, Damien had yet to return. He wondered whether Damien’s father had found about the gambling session and he felt his hands sweating again.  Gabriel had heard that gambling sessions lasted throughout the night because gamblers would not give up that easily; so he probably had nothing to worry about. Consoling himself with such thoughts, he prepared for bed with the glad feeling that he could sleep late because there were no lectures on the following day. However sleep would not come easily because his thoughts turned to Damien’s offer. Damien was sure to bring up the subject – how much longer would he give Gabriel to decide? Opportunity, although a twisted one, was knocking at his door. What should he do?

He was awakened in the mid- morning by a hurried knock.  Damien was standing at the door, wearing the same clothes that he had worn the day before. He had not shaved, which was most unusual for him. His face looked haggard.

“Must have been a long session, ”said a sleepy Gabriel, still in his pyjamas.

“I just returned.”

“Did you hear the news; an oil drill hit the cable cars yesterday.”

“I haven’t seen the papers. Look, I need your help, ”said Damien

“What?” Gabriel’s worst fears had come true.

“Come downstairs with me to the car park to tell my lawyer that I was with you the whole of yesterday in Sentosa.”

“Lawyer or your father?”

” The firm’s lawyer” Damien repeated

“But I thought you won’t be involved with the law……”

“I also thought so. The police are involved.”

”Gambling raid?” Gabriel asked.”

“No, I was asking someone to return some money,” said Damien.

“I thought you were gambling?”

”I was collecting money owed to me by a gambler.”

“Extortion?” asked Gabriel.

”Nothing of that sort. Would you come with me and speak to the lawyer. He’ll handle it from then onwards. You don’t need to do anything else.”

”You’re not coming clean with me,” said Gabriel angrily.

“It’s just a big mistake. You promised to help me. Change your clothes and we’ll go now.”

“I don’t want to tangle with the law. I was only prepared to be an alibi in case your father asked.”

“Does it matter? Just help me,” pleaded Damien. Gone was the confidence that he always exuded.

“I didn’t bargain for the lawyer and the police.”

“If it’s money that you want, I’ll see you are rewarded,” said Damien. The remarks stung Gabriel, did Damien consider him to be that low-down?

“What do you take me for?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” said Damien.

“I’ll come with you, never for any money, but because you’re my friend,” Gabriel said emphatically.

“I’ll be grateful. I don’t forget favours, “, a smile appeared on Damien’s weary face.

“Are you sure that I won’t get into any trouble?” asked Gabriel.

“Our firm employs a good lawyer.  I have told him I was with you. Just confirm that and he’ll take it from there.”

“So your father knows”

“Of course, what else?” said Damien

Damien led the way down the staircase with a reluctant Gabriel in his tow. One thing was clear to Gabriel now. He was going to refuse any offer to join Damien’s smuggling syndicate. Damien was not that competent after all. Gabriel did not have to make that agonising decision, this unexpected turn of events had made that decision for him.

When they passed the common room, Ariffin Ahmad called out,

“Hey Gabriel, I just saw you on TV.”

“They interviewed me, “ said Gabriel

“Yes, there were some interviews.”

“ Was my interview on it?”

“No but the stunning girl with you was interviewed. Who’s she?” asked Ariffin.

Gabriel just smiled and said, “ A friend.” It was harmless fib.

Then something dawned on him- he could not be Damien’s alibi.

“I can’t give a statement,” he turned and said to Damien.

”Why not?”

“Too many people have seen me on television,” said Gabriel.


“I was interviewed.”

“So, what?”

“They saw me alone. You were not there.”

“Who will remember? I could have been around,” asked Damien

“Someone might just remember-  that girl, the reporter……. ”

“They don’t know you or me. I still have the cable car ticket.”

“What about Ariffin and others at the hostel?”

“Why should they be bothered? If they ever ask you, make up a story,” said Damien

“Tell another lie?”

”A sort of. ”

“I would have,” said Gabriel, “but not this way.”

“We had a deal.”

“Lies quarrel among themselves.”

”So you won’t help me”. There was desperation in Damien’s voice.

Gabriel felt pity for him. Damien had always been good to him, but the more he thought about what could happen, the more jittery he became.  There was damning evidence on videotape if it ever came to light. If not for that, he would have helped Damien, but appearing on television had not been of his own choice. He would forever regret not helping Damien, but he could jeopardise his own safety by committing perjury.

“I’m sorry. Not that I won’t, but I can’t”

“What about all that inflated talk about friendship, just a few minutes ago?” asked Damien.

“ I didn’t know it’ll turn out this way……the accident, reporter, interview.”

“What’s the difference now?  I should have known better than to trust you,” Damien said and slunk away quietly.

Three weeks later, Gabriel read this in the newspapers:-

“An undergraduate Damien Li was jailed for 6 months for posing as a police officer and trying to cheat Leong Ah Heng of $1000. Damien met Leong at the junction of Yio Chu Kang Road and Track 24 on the evening of 23rd January 1983 and demanded $1000 to settle a case for Leong’s friend whose shop had been raided by the Film Censors Board. He promised to help Leong’s friend out of the problem. Leong reported the matter to the Police and identified Damien. ”

[All characters in the story are fictional and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. Names of streets, places and institutions have been mentioned only for authenticity and it should not be taken to mean that any of these events took place at these locations]


Kurlywee anthology
April 8, 2010, 8:37 am
Filed under: Author's notes | Tags: ,

English short stories are becoming common among non-native speakers of English. Many of these writers continue to receive international acclaim. In Singapore, there are also famous fiction writers whose works continue to impress.

However, the market for such fiction works when it involves stories with a Singaporean background is not large. The National Arts Council holds biennial Golden Point Awards for writing to acknowledge good writers.

For amateur writers like me who may not fit any of the above categories, this blog is a way of expression of my short stories with a Singapore background. Many of my short stories revolve around a historical event (even a mundane event) that happened to Singaporeans past and present, in our fair city – pleasant or unpleasant. I have taken liberties with some of the facts and locations of these events to fit into the life of the characters in the story. The exact dates of the events may have been slightly changed to fit into the story.

All characters in these stories are fictional characters (except for historical ones who are mentioned) and any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. Although names of places and institutions have been mentioned for authenticity,  this also does not in any way mean that the fictional events occurred at these  places/institutions.

It is my hope that the collection will bring smiles/ recollections/ remembrances  to the face of some of my readers and also encourage young Singaporeans to write stories about our country.

 I am grateful to those who advised me on some ethnic customs which I have included in the stories.

If you need permission to reprint or use the material, please e-mail me at


April 2010