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]


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