Tag Archives: Prose

Angkor Sinjapura

In 900 years, where the many estates of Toa Payoh, Queenstown and Punggol once stood, tourists in the bus-loads of hundreds are crawling over the ruins and crumbled masonry of the HDB flats. Trees grow out of what used to be kitchen windows where maids once looked wistfully out of. The twisted and rotting carcasses of playgrounds and bus stops are uncovered from the earth by archaeological digs. All around, there are tourists – maggots infesting the festering flesh of history and memory, advertised and monetised.

“Angkor Sinjapura was a grand city-state that perished somewhere after the 21st century,” says one of the many guides to his bus-load of Chinese tourists. The Angkor Sinjapura Tourism Board has misappropriated “angkor” from the older, now destroyed, tourist site of Angkor Wat. The association brings greater revenue. “Sinjapura” is promoted as more a palatable name than the historically-accurate “Singapore” which sounds too modern, too Western.

He continues – “The limited ability of the small state in keeping up with the rapid changes in global developments and the rise of the China saw its diminishing place in global history. Its Golden Age was clearly over by the middle of the 21st century. By the end of the 21st century, economic destitution and great power conflict resulted in severe depopulation. Her ruins were finally rediscovered two years ago by a venture capitalist firm.”

Of course, what can tiny states compare to giant geographical entities like China in the passage of history? We are but mere islands, mere breakaways-soon-to-be-remerged, in the shifting tectonic continental plates of history.

“During its Golden Age, the city-state was run by a dictatorial regime. Chewing of gum was punishable by death.” This was a fact that historians referenced from the Sinjapura Annals, an ancient historical text, which was honestly just a satire comic book by a local artist. Camera flashes enshrouds a museum display of an electric chair that apparently executed a record number of 120 gum-chewers in 2017 A.D.

Amidst the ghastly displays, the guides caution the tourists, “We shouldn’t pass judgement so quickly. In those days, the world wasn’t so civilised and Angkor Sinjapura was among the greatest and most civilised of their time. We must have historical and cultural context.”

“I am one of the descendant of the indigenous people of Angkor Sinjapura” – The guide stands proudly before the tourists.

But no not really. His forefathers were but mere economic migrants to the city-state in the early-21st century. In those times, to consider his forefathers “indigenous” would be an affront to the actual indigenous population. But the tourists don’t really care. Where heritage is fetishised, living heritage, however inauthentic, is sacred.

The same historical text purports that Angkor Sinjapura was founded in the 16th century by a mythical Japanese mermaid lion from Cambridge law school which transformed a sleepy fishing village into a great city-state. Statues of a mermaid lion in a kimono with the scales of justice in its right paw and a char siew pau in its left paw are found littered around the ruins – artificially aged. You can find replica keychains in the souvenir shops and online as well.

More heritage: Shops sell language books that apparently teach the lingua franca of Angkor Sinjapura – “Maldarin”. According to the prefaces, Chinese Mandarin was the national language of the city and its inhabitants spoke a curious creole language mix of Bahasa Melayu and Chinese Mandarin which they termed, Maldarin.

A tourist somewhere vandalises an ancient royal porcelain drinking vessel which was really just a kopitiam cup.

Even more heritage: Actors along the tour routes re-enact day-to-day scenes of Angkor Sinjapura at its prime. They all wear Western suits with sarongs – the national dress. The Angkor Sinjapura economy, according to the guides, depended heavily on piracy, both on the seas and virtually. Their moral reprehensibility justified the Chinese hegemonic expansion into the region.

Somewhere further along the tour route, there are the recovered ruins of a HDB flat. For 5000 Renminbi, you can stay for a night in a HDB apartment. Perfect for social media, or whatever is the exponentially-bastardised 30th century version of it. Room service is Angkor Sinjapura cuisine which is a dish of ma-la hotpot, the national dish of Angkor Sinjapura according to the guide.

A television modelled after a 20th century model (they screwed up the dates) plays re-runs of archival footage of Angkor Sinjapura. Curiously, the original narration keeps referring to the city-state as “Singapore” rather than “Angkor Sinjapura”.

No one knows why, not even the guides.

Angkor HDB - 1

Photo taken at Angkor Thom, 2016

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The 3am voices

Your mother’s vagina – says A in a Hokkien so richly vulgar, so warmly familiar. He steps forward and in the darkness there is only a golden glint of his spectacles perched on the emptiness above his striped collared shirt.

I don’t owe you dog shit, you fuck – B returns in the Mandarin that still long retains the pollutive stench of Hubei. And unlike anything you see in the movies, B merely staggers back, hammered once in the face. It could have been a drop of blood, red on the tarmac, but all is black at 3am and memories too are fugitive.

*

Vagina! I told you the bitch was playing him – says C in mesmerising splotches of Hokkien, Mandarin and English. So too is the eclectic brands that he parades like ugly tattoos which are more manifestations of a rootless psyche than mere fashion choice.

Man-U is the red of his jersey, Xiaomi is the red melamine of his phone, TVB is the sound and fury that blasts from his screen unto his lighted face.

D leans back against the red of the plastic chair, now black in the 3am incandescent. He sighs in English – How the fuck I know? This episode is a fucking twist.

Made in China is the pollutive red of electric lanterns than hang above them – just a drop in the sea of artifice and cringe-dollars of Chinatown.

*

You love her or you love me – E screams. E is what we call an Ah Lian, a fierce one at that. Golden hair, blood lipstick, blue eye shadows – now shades of grey in the 3am alley.

I only love you – F says and a slap lands against his pimpled cheek.

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

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Nausea

In a month’s time, he would say goodbye to the world of green, to its uniforms, to its cloth ranks, and the stunted life in nauseous limbo that it presented. If life was a movie, those two years of NS were the two great vertical bars hovering over a paused movie playback.

He, like many, had counted down with a fervent zealousness to the last day of army life. But for some reason, he was there this morning, a fractured boy, hugging himself pathetically on his bunk bed in the grips of an acrid nausea that creeped up on his soul since morning, until then unnoticed.

Nausea is a crippling affliction. Nausea incapacitates, nausea torments. It is a discomfiture, an anguish and a despair that seemed to emanate from the core of his soul.  And because it seemed so, he can only feel a surging loath for his own existence.

The nausea of his soul now was as clear and as pronounced as the caustic blue of the skies outside his bunk windows. With a striking suddenness, he had realised a simple truth: he did not want to ORD.

He had grown to love so very much the limbo that army gave him that he could not survive without it. He could not survive without this limbo, without this excuse from life and all its contingent terrors. He thought deeply and saw the unassailable fact that NS has been his perfect excuse from facing his faith and its proselytising he had run from, from facing family and home, from the failed relationships that was the unmistakable manifestation of his own moral and emotional failings. Those two years in an isolated world of green was the best holiday he had ever had even if it had been nauseating, and only now did he realise that he could not breathe in a world without NS.

And that was when the panic came with its full barrage: he couldn’t breathe, he shivered, he vomited, he tore at his own skin, he screamed his head off.

There was but one simple solution: he had to continue running from the terrors of living, one way or another.

He had to sign on. This nausea of the army was more bearable than the nausea without.

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The Toilet Cruiser

Jim spends his free time at the Chinatown MRT toilet. There, he makes lots of friends that he barely exchanges intelligible words with. In a place so full of taboo and detritus, it is the heated exchanges of eye contact and stolen glances at the mirror which substitutes conversation.

His hobby is sodomy.

Within those cubicles, pinned against semen-stained walls and urine-tainted tiles, he lets men sometimes old enough to be his grand-daddy fuck him. He moans in between the crackling announcements of “please stand behind the yellow lines”. His favourite moan is “baby wants to fuck”. There are somedays when they hurt him. But there is a point where pain and pleasure consummates and one is then lost to a momentary session of self-exculpatory sensation.

Jim likes to think he’s a happy person. Happy however is not a word most would use to describe a writhing creature that cries pathetically in the midst of atrociously sober orgasms.

Jim needs some love.

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Monday Evening

Monday evening. There’s a raging storm outside, spitting its deluge of insolence against his windows.

On his table, lit by a single jaundiced bulb spluttering its last breath, there’s a plastic cup of noodles. The noodles are cold, damp, lonely and chronically depressed. He slurps them up, like bales of hay impaled on the tips of his pesticided chopsticks. They are cold, damp, lonely and chronically depressed in his digestive system.

There are newspapers and news magazines strewn around the place. Dates unknown and contents abandoned.

He looks into the humidity-stained mirror. There he is. Gaunt and white as his lifeless grandfather, dead since three years ago.

A fluorescent realization dawned upon him like the wind howling on the facade of his flat – he was entirely and eternally incapable of love.

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Semangat Purrs

Osman looked upon the past 19 years of his life with the disdain one would reserve for the lesser characters of a theatre production. He was in all definitions of the word, a ponce – in his gaunt and pimpled physicality, in the soft manner in which he spoke, in the disgraceful state-sanctioned level of education he had resigned himself to, and in the immutable anxiety that was an unsightly and disowned tattoo, etched eternally on his frail heart. None of these however betrayed the inner conflagration in his soul – a certain raging conflict between the general lethargy of existence and a certain Kantian-esque obligation to action.

It was a Wednesday after school, when Osman bumped into Semangat. Semangat was the carpark stray cat – white with blotches of black like the leaked ink of a G2 pen on the blankness of a paper. Kneeling down, he stroke the Semangat and ruffled its ears. Semangat stretched forward with closed eyes, offering a savouring purr.

Action was an antonym to his existence. Where action would be a fire, his tendency to lethargic inaction was merely a dearth of oxygen. And he felt this asphyxiation. He felt it in the halls of a school where hammered memories of school bullies dwell. He felt in the walls of his one room flat where the blood spurting from the punched mouth of his mak would fornicate with the saliva of his inebriated ayah. And beyond all, he felt it in the Madrasah where his imam droned on and on about social injustice. Action and inaction. Glucose and melatonin. Fire and vacuum. Torpidity and a living force of will. It was an endless dialectical existence by which inertia always overcame.

From his pocket he took out a tin can of Friskies. Tearing open the soft aluminium, he dribbled a stream of pelletised calories before Semangat who without so much as a purr, nibbled and gorged down the pellets. As Osman got up to leave, Semangat afforded a tentative lick on his ankles. Osman reeled backwards and found himself fleeing.

There however were moments where the predisposition to inertia gave way to a raging resentment. In the silence and solitude of his consciousness, resentment knew only one form of expression – violence. Violence, personally foreign as it was, to Osman, resolved the dialectic of action and inaction. In a single moment of unbridled bloodshed so shocking in its intensity and inhumanity, it would instantly achieve a cathartic synthesis of this existential struggle. The first few years when his mak was beaten had been tortuous, but in recent years he found a certain excitement, if not almost satisfaction in the weekly beatings. They for the short moment liberated him from the soulless lethargy and ignited a burning conflagration of short-lived bliss.

Osman returned shortly to the carpark with a sawn-off three-feet piece of rebar and stood in front of the dozing Semangat. In a succession of chops, he broke its legs, obliterated its spine, splintered its chest cavity, smashed in its skull and brought an eternity of silence to the lamentable purrs. 

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5.19 seconds

The old Marxist adage goes that the bourgeoisie own the factors of production, but yeah fuck that. I transcend the capitalist mode of production. Proletariat or not, I own the factors of self-destruction. Standing one hundred and thirty two metres above the cold hard concrete void deck, laced with contrived plots of ixora, watered twice weekly by Bangladeshi town council gardeners, I am beyond Marx, Keynes and the Hegelian dialectic.

One hundred and thirty metres roughly translates from forty storeys of three point three metres from floor to ceiling and ceiling to floor. From the roof to the ground takes a mere 5.19 seconds, assuming I’m an average 60 kilo resident. In those 5.16 seconds where I would hurtle pass the evening lives of 240 households at the maximum speed of 183 klicks per hour, I have barely enough time to recite the first portion of the national pledge. All these forty storey edifices of the housing development board have aided in the agency of self-immolation. They are expressways for the living to the world of the dead. Toll free, without speed limits. To an eternity of death, a slumber secure and undisturbed, beyond reproach and beyond clouds.

From that height I saw a sea of amber lights of smouldering joss sticks and burning piles of incense paper. Plumes of choking smoke that encroaches and then engulfs. They said the smoke rising to the clouds is a bearer of the incinerated offerings and wishes of the living to the dead. I say the dead are better left undisturbed.

When I took a step out of the fortieth storey into the air, I knew it was apropos of smouldering joss sticks.

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Midnight Florist

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Because night is an oscillation between the crass happiness that excites and the sidelong glimpses of lucidity that mortifies. Because coffee is a dialectical struggle of playful suggestion and the unspoken itch for desperate diversion. Because the midnight florist is a sole light in a corridor of florescent darkness. Whence a requiem for memory long dead is solicited. Whence the dust of aged shutters and paper-wrinkled skin come. Whence flowers are trafficked and to where flowers go to die.

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Triad Bus

There is great interest in the bus driver that fetches us from the MRT station to the army base daily. Some say he hails from the rougher parts of lower Shanghai, others say he comes from the ganglands of Taipei. But we all know he is a member of the Singaporean branch of some Taiwanese mafia because of his cool aviator shades, grey jacket and the two packs of Dunhill Reds that he smokes per day.

He drives like a madman. The potholes on the road feel more like craters under his helm. The windows on the ageing bus rattles like punctured lungs in its death throes. Where the Sunlong bus would be a lumbering hippo under any other driver, it is an aggressive and sure-footed bull with him at the wheel. Amusingly, he’s always on time right down to the minute. He probably hails from a long ancestral line of aggressive and industrious occupational drivers, chauffeurs and rickshaw pullers with anger-management issues.

Rumours and water-cooler grapevines assert that he smuggles wads of illegitimately-gained bank notes across the causeway. His coach-driving job is merely a cover. Others say he is a high-ranking enforcer of the Taiwanese mafia, in a sabbatical exile in Singapore. Others would rather believe that he is the biggest boss of the local triads who drives commercial buses as a form of therapy.

One thing is clear: we all are in consensus that the Taiwanese techno music he blasts all-day are coded messages transmitted to his underlings.

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Deathly Wednesdays

Consider the world of the neighbourhood idiot.

His is a world of fury within – a raging misanthropy directed at anyone and anything and himself. When he is not consumed by a hatred for his own existence and his own consciousness, he is devoured by a wordless resentment for a world that ignores him. It is wordless for he is illiterate both written, spoken and in thought. Bitterness condemned to an eternity of wordlessness is an inextinguishable misery for there is no salvation of catharsis. Beyond physical illiteracy, his thought processes is a blur of images and impulses of hunger and emotion; his speech is one of incomprehensible grunts and hollering; his physicality is one of limited facial features on a large, burnt face mounted on a rotund torso.

He has lived to an age of 54, with shirt and shorts worn to tatters since his last caretaker left 20 years ago. In all those decades of blurred time and space, his once pitiable stupidity has morphed into an odious public indecency. In the mindless passage of the hours from dawn to dusk, hunger and hatred are the sole constants.

It was a Wednesday (not that the days or even years are of significance to him) when he died.

He was languishing by the Walls road-side ice cream hawker, nibbling on scraps of bread – alms of the ice cream aunty, discarded to his famished growls. A gang of upper secondary school boys had stoned him with pebbles. In a retaliatory fit of fury, he had inexplicably rushed onto the main road and was flung to an immediate death by a double decker 186.

***

Consider the world of the ice-cream hawker aunty.

Hers is a world of worry – a perennial state of anxiety and concern. Hers is a family of breadwinners too destitute to even have a one-room flat to themselves and yet completely untouched by the helping hands of social welfare.

Each day is a Sisyphean struggle to raise enough to pay rent and fuel in face of her worsening arthritis and cataract. Language had ceased to be an issue with a printed poster of ice-cream flavours. The universal language of pantomime sufficed for that.

What little else that is left from her daily revenue is a pathetic modicum of notes and coins that she brings to the dinner table. Her husband brings to breakfast table slightly more. Breakfast table, because his punishing taxi driving shifts has fucked up his timezones. Her son brings home only homework and free McChicken meals for the entirety of his McDonald’s salary goes to his polytechnic education.

She lives in the fear of increasing debilitation by cataract. But nothing could compare to the fathomless shame of failing her son. The lack of a family guarantor with a bank account possessing $50,000 has denied her son a government scholarship for higher education and a path out of poverty.

She incidentally sat on a matured government life insurance plan – a pay-out in excess of $50,000.

It was a Wednesday when she died.

She had been riding her ice-cream cart-mounted motorcycle home along the AYE when she found a route out of inherited destitution, if not for her then at least for her son. Swerving abruptly onto the opposite lane, she met the oncoming traffic in a blaze of tears and unspoken goodbyes. Social mobility had been achieved in a traffic accident.

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