Monday, December 17, 2018

Dirty Dough (Prosperity)


The string of garlic immediately attracted. Rather beautiful to behold now, lovely as an orchid. How long had it been since the like had been seen? Was it in one of the garages down in Melbourne, the Calabrese Sig. Niccola a few doors down, or Frane’s perhaps in Seaholme? Here you sometimes see purpled baby garlic in small baskets in the markets or provision stores; rarely was it tasted in the local food dishes and certainly not the lashings we Mediteranos use in our cuisine. At the Haig in front of Mr. Lim’s fruit stall, in the flower stall on the other side of the passage, numerous strings were hung close together holding 4, 5, 6 or more whole bunches and wrapped in blood red netting. Kinda risqué Santa socks sans foot hanging arrow straight. Well, decoration of some form or other clearly, though doubtless edible too. The Haig is a Chinese market; some of the food stalls in front are Malay and Indian, but the Chinese predominate. So, go figure if you can….
         It would be unfair to suggest Chinese, or even diaspora Chinese in these particular market conditions on the Equator, favour anything over family, clan, homeland &etc. Perhaps if anything was to come close it was coloured paper possibly. In Hokkien and possibly Mandarin Schwan—soft vowel as in arc—was in the costermonger’s boy Mr. Lim’s translation “calculation.”  Of course calculation equaled one thing only. The characters for “garlic” and “calculation” were different, though they were articulated precisely the same. Schwan. For the New Year, Mr. Lim explained, presumably meaning the international—CNY was not until early February. The flower seller was preparing for the early birds. Nothing was more dirty than money, the Montenegrins held (because of all the hands grasping).

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Missing Piece


A couple months now no catch-up with the painter Elle Z. Last night that was made good. Here was Ellen bowling along as usual, smiling when the eyes were caught and stopping. Once or twice she may have slipped past the last couple months without notice, or avoided one side or the other. A stop now, with her younger boy in tow as usual complaining about the matter. It may not have been jealousy in this case. Surely the lad could read the disinterest in his Mummy on the other side. Perhaps his mother’s behaviour was embarrassing. At any rate, Ellen in her usual state, reporting another virtual lover who had raised her hopes, No. 3 or 4 in the series. To date there had been no dollars filched in these romances, just some heartache. It had been forgotten now, perhaps even by Ellen herself, how the different ones had dropped off. There had been one white guy among the compatriots; after a few months one may have begun angling in the direction of the coloured paper, a sick child, or his own money coming through at the end of the next month, if Elle could advance some funds…. This latest guy had been settled ten years in the States, NY banker with a passion for photography in his spare time. Good work Ellen underlined; she had been on a judging panel that had awarded the man some kind of prize. Having found the chap herself on one of the sites was different to being targeted by a gold-digger; soon enough they were Weibo chatting every night. No kids this man and OK with Elle’s pair. The prize or runner’s up award came subsequently, Ellen herself seeming to have suggested that particular competition. (Prize fixed; wouldn’t be the first time. If Elle could win a good partner through it the Art gods might forgive such transgression.) An example of the man’s work was shown on Elle’s phone, roof-tops taking soft dawn light it may have been with blue-black pigeon foreground flying over caught in unusual posture. Not the worst pic. you had seen in the last week, but possibly a difficult one to forgive winning a competition. The young lad was always greatly cheesed off forced to wait on Mummy’s chat, wouldn’t ride his bike round the block, wouldn’t go on ahead home (just over the road). Eventually the lad had given up the screen so that Mummy could show the photograph and then a photograph of the photographer himself. Just turned 60, passable looking, tallish and not too fat, caught leaning against a rail on a pier in Manhattan it must have been. There was a close-up Ellen couldn’t find and the boy all the while nagging. In this case the lad was not against this particular man in Manhattan; not like the others neither of the boys would hear about. Both boys had struggled with the death of their father, in fact for over a year they had kept the death from their school friends. Ellen said in this case they were on the contrary welcoming, for this particular man at least. Perhaps he had won them over somehow, or Ellen talked them round. A “big artist” Ellen, teaching here originally at one of the expensive international schools. Won some competitions, held shows, both group and solo. Last report her new private painting school was going great guns (Ellen had quit teaching for the venture); good deal of money coming in. Now the news on that front was even brighter too: there would be three painting schools altogether shortly; either that or the three were already up and running. All this without bullshit. Ellen had been interviewed on Chinese TV, Mainland China, not small fry Sing. Evidence to prove it. Interviews in the magazines, gala openings and big price tags. Every right to think herself a “big artist” with all that lot. One of Ellen’s patrons was an even bigger Mainland artist relocated here, a huge spread on the water somewhere, large studio, gardens, double storey. A year or two ago Ellen had shown those pics too. Certainly the gal was an artist in spirit. Passionate as they come; indomitable. If the prolific output on her IPhone looked like condo crud that may have been unfair. (Attending the shows had been avoided, the risk of an abrupt end to the friendship as Ellen had warned once braved.) Tragedy had struck six or seven years ago when the love of Ellen’s life and the father of her boys had suddenly died unexpectedly. Big-hearted, passionate Ellen while she sat at the Wadi table hugged a large soft toy the whole while. A few weeks before in a pass by the table without stopping Elle had impulsively gifted another as she returned from dinner with her son. There had been $10 hangbao one CNY; cakes, biscuits and chocolates on other occasions. (Blushing to say, Elle had done her darndest to hook the author. Once or twice she had laid her cards openly on the table: there was her condo over the road, $$$ in the bank, a thriving business. Ellen had PR here. Even a dalliance would be OK to get the ball rolling. Practical, direct Chinese; the Yanks would have not the slightest chance against them.) Poor dear wasn’t getting laid. That had been abundantly clear well before last night. Fiddling with the phone over the couple of pics while Elle was distracted with her boy up popped a thumbnail scene that made Elle blush briefly before she snatched the phone away, a frenetic close-up of a big size chap getting A-grade service such as El. would most certainly provide herself if only she could find some luck in love, the missing piece in her full life.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Wages of Sin


Replay. Impossible to guess the number of repetitions. It was not really like it was a serious survey or investigation. Simply, you meet one of the guys and chat in passing. They look tired or something, the natural question arises: Either, when did you start? or when do you finish? And from there the follow-up. So-called “native” people, kampung folk, were used to straight talk and no shyness. (On the other side, how many times had you been asked by a perfect stranger, Are you married? Or the like.) Here the nice short Tamil stationed either at the rojak stall or collecting the plates and glasses. In this instance around at the entry to the bathroom washing out his dishrag that was used for cleaning the table-tops after collection. (Some relief to see those filthy rags washed occasionally by the way. Usually caked in grime from the regurgitated scraps &etc. left on the tables.) Started this morning at 9:45. Unusually precise answer. Oh! And finishing 10 was it? Reasonable guess. No. Not in this instance. Twelve. Midnight…. Oh. I see. Fourteen hours. Long day…. Something in the look returned led to still another enquiry. Rat smelt. Usually everyday fourteen? (Hardly likely, but the look was indeed such.) Bang-on. Bulls’ eye. Yeah, that was the term of servitude alright. Finally, and this was perhaps not 100% to the last cent: That’d get you, I reckon, say.… twelve hundred. That was what the chap got. One day off a month was standard for the foreign workforce. (Currently, in the last couple of weeks again, the question of a minimum wage raised here. Costs. Benefits. Dangers. Comparisons over the globe. A notice in this morning’s paper of a Sunday feature where the case would be argued by a proponent and a naysayer, the latter a former union head. YOU READ RIGHT. That is the state of labour-government relations in this republic.)

Friday, November 30, 2018

Going Under Cover


This was how the thought process unfolded: Shortly before 8AM the hard slap of the flip-flops going past the house, a few words called out to someone going the other way. Ah! the plastic container man around on Onan Road…. The curious posture as he went along each morning uploaded lying on the bed staring at the ceiling. Highly unusual. Not done with the image, in the bathroom a few minutes later an inward smile was produced. Encountered later in the day around at Wadi or on Geylang Road the man didn’t bend like that, snout forward foraging as in the evolutionary charts. That particular carriage was only on the march to work in the morning, opening up the shop first thing on Onan where across the road a competitor could not be allowed to steal a march, so to speak. Back in the room following the ablutions some short while later the sequence concluded: ….By golly! You know what? Here in fact you had another Eurasian before you that in all this time you never ever ID-ed as such. Never an inkling; passed entirely under the radar. The man had been signalling Han Chinese pure and simple how many years was it now? when of course one close examination would have made the case perfectly clear.  Chap had bought you a couple of teas, paid for them from his position in front in the queue. It had taken a year to return the favour, only the other week in fact succeeding. Never twigging. Some of the lads in a neighbouring shop said the man was loaded. If so it was old form money-bags, nothing whatever to indicate. Spoke good Bahasa as well as the Hokkien it must be. Somewhere in the Haig blocks behind he lived, never sat out in the evenings, neither at the market nor at Wadi or the other eateries. Perhaps you now knew why. The gait alone ought to have told you something. Particularly strange. This morning his passing was heard from the bed on the other side of the wall, window closed and aircon blowing. Breakfast had been a little earlier and the plastics man the other side of the fence was missed in the back garden. All the oldies roundabout would have known; the youngsters on the other hand perhaps no more than you. Possibly even his children if he had any might be in the dark.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Tourist Playground


A photograph of Nekula’s St. Moritz in today’s newspaper—the usual touristic piece funded by commercial interests highlighting adventures & food. The photograph however came as a surprise, the kind of loveliness on display quite unexpected. All the luscious green firs up immediately behind the town, sturdy buildings and no sign of boutiques and fanciness. Not at all what one expected. The very wealthy were preserved from crassness possibly, the cultivated, seriously wealthy. (Possibly they still existed and visited such sites.) Jewellery and watch makers in this alpine town were likely hidden in modest shop-fronts without any advertising apart from the family name perhaps. Glitz and dress-up excluded within that locale. Examining the wide angle shot over the morning tea one understood better how cousin Neki had spent thirty years in St. M. and developed such an affection for the place. In fact it presented a very close counterpart to the Montenegrin coast. There were always the mountains, the stand of firs ringing round and then the lakeNeki had mentioned a lake freezing over in winter and skaters taking over. Here the water was on the doorstep of the compact little town, like our village in Boka anchored to the life-giving source. Human presence and behaviour could only impact so far in such setting; visitors would be forced to adapt to the environment, adjust their rhythms and quiet themselves. There was an other worldly feel to this display, an uncanny absence of modernity and ugliness. The Sound of Music was filmed in such a setting, but the truth was the mountain domain exceeded the solace of music. In a recent mail Neki had been told he could be visited now in his adopted new home of Zurich, when St. Moritz had always been assumed to be impossible.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Aircon X


The Great Christmas Village was still being erected in the forecourt of Ngee Ann City, a merry-go-round out front of Tower No. 2 playing Auld Lang Syne. (Spell check deleted an extra “e.” Good luck to the locals with that favourite number beneath the aircon on the Eve.) Pacing along the stretch by the department stores and then from the window of the bus there had been no sign of the Disneyfication that the church groups were complaining about; nor a single elf or reindeer visible what was more. It seemed very odd. In the front window at Paragon, in the Raoul display it may have been, an eye-catching heavy knit in bright verticals on a cream base lured wives of men lucky enough to be able to take the season up on the Swiss Alps or Monaco. At Takashimaya the tree inside the entry was complete, all the scaffolding removed and a hundred or more illuminated decorations hung. Up at ski lodges in the Northern Hemisphere tall firs laced with snow would catch moonlight in a similar effect. One recalled the Kiasu man Johnny Lau, wondering whether he may have been responsible for the arrangement. (Johnny had worked on McDonalds and 7Eleven briefs here, which cachet could easily segue to the giant 3 - 4 storey fir that always drew the cameras.) Slow on a Monday afternoon, understandable with the event still a full month away. As usual tourists from the reagion seemed to predominate: Indonesians easy to pick, Mainland Chinese and Filipinos. Many places in China would still lack the full Christmas production. A Paul baguette would suffice on this particular day. Usually there was a brief pass through Kinokuniya before the stop for the bread, then prior to the bus the raid of the essential oils at Miu Miu Paragon. A sudden fit of cowardice had taken hold at the prospect of what may have awaited among the stacks at the bookstore—elaborately outfitted animation characters from the best sellers, celebrity chefs with egg-beaters on stage, minstrels trooping through. You could be caught completely unawares even a week before the end of November. Indoors at Paul the maitre’d in his baker’s coat had recently opted for muted orange, or mustard-loquat perhaps; just a wee suspicion of implants. A latte might have decided the case one way or the other. In recent months it had been difficult to venture again at Paul. Paul posed problems difficult to ignore. One could take a chair near the table where three years ago Neet had made her entry and sat nervously for coffee. What a presence she had made, never an inkling of her own beauty among all the Parisienne branding. Within a minute she had begun begging for departure, or at least never again to be forced to meet there. I beg you P…. Unforgettable. There was never any kind of prospect for the ladies at Paul. (Was it Orwell who said attempting to shag a rich woman would entirely unman a man of principle? A man of democratic leaning.) Sitting against the wallpaper surrounded by the fawning staff, beneath the faux chandeliers. The faux fireplace with its implements on a stand, the windmill prints. (Perhaps in fact the campaigne did have windmills dotted around after all? It could not have been a confusion of the designers surely.) At the takeaway counter a pair of Chinese staff were squabbling and ignoring a customer in a fine panama. The lad inside the door at Juicy by the escalator had sagged in his posture and would need to rise from a depth at an entry. Before scurrying off a mental note was made for proper survey of the area nearer the time; firm resolve and no dilly-dallying. The translation for an authentic tropical Christmas always held interest.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Highest Principles



Honey Bee used a similar yellow for their branding, if not indeed the precise tone. There was no bee fluttering here, though the side door of the van was open and only part of the display was visible. RECTITUDE emblazoned like that was a surprise. After lunch at Aljunied the chap was happened upon in the lorong leading from the MRT, seated in the side with feet in the gutter and cardboard for softening beneath him. Banks here used a similar form of language, and not only banks. (Of late the latter here, like elsewhere, had come under scrutiny for funnelling ill-gotten gains and money laundering from the neighbouring politico chieftains, the trouble catching up even the PM.) Probity, irreproachability, integrity: that was supposed to be how it went in banking. Sing Post aimed for similar high-mindedness in its advertising: difficult to forget their delivery van UNDETERRED BY DARKNESS. In the present case Rectitude Pte. Ltd. promised utmost scrupulousness in their line of safety boots. There was indeed an illustration toward the rear of the panel in what looked like attractive alligator skin. They stood firm behind their product at Rectitude. No surprise the orang China taking a short break under the shade of the tree frankly confessed he did not have the faintest. “Rectitude?...” Search him. There was a web site on the card…. Manufactured in Thailand admittedly, but clearly under closest direction and supervision; and no doubt a different campaign up in the north to suit that market.