Singapore Life

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Part III

Right from the beginning, I have the inborn knack to create. Plans and elevation seems to be the only subject in mathematics I could comprehend otherwise I would have failed. My dad recognises my talent and I was even doing interior perspectives of our home that my dad really had them done up exactly the way I drew them. I was only 13 then. Some of the furnitures are still evident in Hutton Lane. Somehow my dad saved some when we lost our Jones Road home. The boss of the interior firm was so impressed with my handiwork, he told my dad that I should pursue this. And there you are, my career path was already written. And I was setting new standards with my brother’s double set of LEGO. I was building electric guitars, robots, buildings, and airports.

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My first ambition was to be an Interior Designer. No doubt about it and I actually became one. My results was good enough to enter Bournemouth College in UK where I set my sights on but then, because my overall results weren’t impressive and funds were limited or because I didn’t exude enough trust and confidence, I didn’t get that privilege to. My sister went, but I was sent to work in the petrol kiosk we owned at Chain Ferry Butterworth instead. The reason why I was so fascinated about interior design is common sense. Without it, buildings look lifeless, just like how cosmetics could enhance a woman’s feature. I termed it ‘cosmetic architecture’. I too like fashion design and when I was working inside the architectural firm, I found myself sketching fashion and oogling at fashion magazines. My colleagues thought it crazy, not like my results in architecture was bad. I was outstanding. I even got distinctions in building construction in the second year, and not only architecture. That made my classmates from Singapore disenchanted with me. My concept was also plagiarised by a classmate in my final year design.

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But my interest waned.

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Because if you could have seen the firm I was working in, it was dull. My colleagues was also dull, and so was lunch. If you can feel how we need to stand in line at ‘Lau Pasat’ or the basement canteen of the building the firm was situated in, you’d understand me thoroughly. Our office was at Finlayson Green in the old Asia Insurance building now known as The Ascot. I began to appear work late. Sometimes I came up in the same lift as my boss, to the dismay of my colleagues. In fact I was propping myself not to sleep each time I was directed to work on something, and I always looked forward to my office sending me to the Building Control Department to submit proposals or do amendments. There, I got to talk to some of my Poly classmates and lecturers. It was a long walk across Stamford Road and Cecil Street no doubt but I enjoyed it. I can also drop by to MPH bookstore to entertain myself. My boss was kind. He looks a bit like Tony Curtis. In my four years, my paycheck doubly increases each year I was there. And he left it all to the draughtsmen who guided me. What I learnt from Kah Chong was his perseverance and dedication to his craft. Although I was annoyed with him once, he taught me how to measure buildings with our eyes on plan without the use of scales. My boss, Soo Seng gave me books on architecture to read. But he has an odd habit. He carries the type of school bag we use in primary, sort of a flipped open brown colored cardboard hard case. He was outstanding amongst the occupants of the same building and he moves as fast spending only two hours before noon and two hours after lunch in the office each day. At other times he’d be at the share market. And when his friends invited him for lunch, he will reduce their wishes to merely ‘Char Koay Teow’. I knew he was prudent but over excessive, but he’s nice. Really nice at least to me. No doubt about it. In office we also had Margaret who started off as apprentice whose uncle was Kah Chong and a clerk, can’t remember her name who used to speak like a melted cartoon each time her husband calls up. But I felt I was in the wrong job. I kept asking myself is this the life I want? Working for people and working eight hours a day for a mere pittance? And how long then could I save enough for a car or a home? The more I thought about it the more I felt distanced from this job.

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After work, I will take the no. 176 bus and head to Dover Road. Where poly is situated. I was the gallant gentlemen in buses back then . Beit from office to school or from school back to home, never for once did I not give my seat to others. And the same few women whom we meet inside the buses would always glanced at me.

My classmates was fun too but because most of them went into National Service, our intermission is inundated with just that. Their life in the army is interesting to me, considering we don’t need to, over in Malaysia. And because I attended it part time, most of my classmates was working in different aspects of the construction field during the day and so we exchanged notes. I even received a note from a female classmate expressing her interest in me. But i wrote a note nicely back declining her advances. I can’t remember her name. But right after that, the entire gang of female classmates ignored me after that. I felt chastised but what can I do? I was not there in class to be liked anyway I thought to myself. I remembered Pulau Tekong as we went there for a camp at one time.

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Outside office, Singapore life has it own fun. My daily commute from home in the East to office in the Central then to Poly in the West and then back again., makes me feel like a molecule in motion. There wasn’t MRT in those days but buses and taxis. So, depending on my schedule, it’s either one or the other. So it was year in year out (except for my regular diversion to Orchard Road to meet my friends and modelling) That became the addicted routine.

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In Singapore I have three branches of friends. Colleagues, classmates, and casual ~ a bunch of outside friends which I got myself acquainted to. They are the most fun and treated me well as a friend and guest of Singapore. I must mention some of their names in particular- Desmond & Derek, Ronnie, Steven, Ivy, Connie, Janice. All in all I garnered about 100 friends. Roughly 25 a year not counting those women who always come knocking at the doors. Today there’s only one left. Her name is Ivy. A professional model turned talent scouter living in Hong Kong. They all left a big impression on me and of how naughty we were, sneaking out with Ronnie’s parent’s car in the middle of the night for supper and enjoyment, and even drove to Changi Airport from River Valley Road which was just completed. There we sat playing guitar in the stairwell. We went Sentosa island, we went swimming, went drinking, and not to mention the haggling and fights, and girls. When the cable car collapsed, we were just nearby. That was to me, the days of wine and roses. We always hung out at Orchard Rd, and I earned my badge as one of those Mc Donald boys back then at Liat Towers. Sometimes we’d meet at Yaohan Plaza or Paragon. Sometimes opposite Lucky Plaza to the sound of breakdancers performing their stunts to the beat of Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It!’ Those were the days when Richard Gere and Julia Roberts was the idol, starring in hit movies like ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘The Officer and the Gentlemen’. Also it was the age of Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Boy George and George Michael with his famous hit ‘Careless Whisper’. Sometimes we hung out at Key West, or Shangrila’s ‘Xanadu’ Discotheque. If we are hungry, we’d go to Newton Circus for a nice bowl of Soup Kambing or to Katong, for the famous Hokkien Char Mee or Murtabak. A classmate of mine came to work in Singapore too, contacted me and for months, he stayed with me, at my 2nd aunties place in Joo Chiat until he decided to leave for Holland to be with his mom. We also had a pop band of our own and we used to go Fort Canning jamming and use the studios up there!

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After a while, I went into modelling. That was my first exposure to backstabbing, treachery and deceit. Believe me, no one is no one’s friend. And as a model you are expected never to have friends because with friends, the agent finds it difficult to offer one but not the other. We were trained in stage makeup, catwalk, deportment, etiquette, I even got a certificate in that! We used to carry with us Liechner Foundarions and rouge sticks, a back with three colours of shoes, black, brown and a pair of sports shoes. In fact it was Edwin whom I got acquainted to who helped me a lot to understand the mechanics of modelling, he being seasoned in this. I helped him once out of a fight being a hot blooded man I was, and ended up nearly sodomised by him (or was it him wanting me to sodomise him?) in his room when he invited me home. His hands were all over me in the middle of the night when I was asleep and until I realised that, I quickly turned, face down and ran off from his home in the wee hours of the morning. never to see him again. If there is anything sweet about modeling life are the women, the wild encounters and night rendezvous. Some came knocking at the apartment doors of my auntie’s home.

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But the beautiful most surprising thing about these guys I knew outside my workplace and school was, they all come from well-to-do families. I even get to visit Run Run Shaw’s personal viewing room at Shaw Towers once. But we didn’t connect well to sustain for those were the days devoid of internet.

My 2nd aunt was a shifting cultivator. When I first arrived in Singapore, I was staying with her in a rented apartment in Joo Chiat Rd together with her lived in boyfriend and her three girls and a boy who rented a room from her. Then she moved to Fidelio St, then to Bedok. By the time she wanted to shift again, I was at loggerheads with her and went to stay with my 3rd Ee at Hougang and then Tampines. But my 3rd Ee’s family wasn’t like my 2nd aunties. They were modest and I could feel a genuine warmth. My 3rd Ee works hard for a living having initially two daughters and an adopted son from the brother of my 3rd Tniau. They gradually bore one more son Kenneth and again another daughter named Alvina.

Out of the few places I ever lived, Fidelio Street was the most memorable. We moved into that scruffy one story old terrace which was once occupied by my 3rd Ee now becomes my 2nd auntie’s abode. As a tagger , she gave me a room at the very end which in those days I believe, was used by the maid. She didn’t inform me we are moving till very late and when I found myself there, she told me the whole family is going back to Penang for Chinese New Year, leaving her youngest daughter Janice (she works as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant) here. I couldn’t leave because exams was nearing I think! Janice is today Dennis by the way, after having a legalised sex changed operation in Singapore. So alls good as I remembered the new bus route I needed to take and carried on my routine as usual. On the first night, I found myself alone after unlocking the gate, then the main door and back to my tiny ‘cell’. I cleaned myself up and rested on the double decker bed, with my right side face exactly facing the room door. Right where my toes are, the end of the bed, is the wardrobe with its side facing me and another wardrobe facing it which is the wall the entrance to the room sits. Thus, where my torso was till my legs, there was a retro sideboard with a low table top and a large mirror. Very fashionable in those days. There, I placed my powder, comb, hair gel, etc. As I was about to catch forty winks, I could hear the main door opened, then closes. By the way, between my room and the main door which is the family cum living is the air well and the bath stall we use with a separate water closet. But all’s good as I was expecting my cousin to be home. I could hear the footsteps walking in , but instead of stopping where her bedroom was, the steps came behind. Just next to my bedroom is the bath and the toilet so there was nothing unusual about that but then, the footsteps walked right in, into my room without even opening the door! And I was like “Oh my God!” And the steps went to the sideboard and I could feel the presence of someone fiddling with my things! I dare not open my eyes then because my bedroom door was a latched type where it can’t be opened from the outside! I closed my eyes tightly but with my toes fiddling with the blanket I was given which is at the end of the bed! When my hands could grab it, I pulled it up and hide under. And I was sweating profusely hoping the sound would end. It did not until I chanted some Buddhist mantras we were taught when young for protection, the usual ‘Amithaba’ that all Buddhists are acquainted with. Suddenly, my mind envisions a room full of distorted furniture. Then fades away and on the next scene it was total darkness! But out of nowhere, a door of light opens up! Only then did the whole nightmare disappears and my experience normalizes. I shared this with my cousin the next morning so we promised to wait for each other at the bus stop before we walked back together each evening for about a week or so, each of us taking turns to stake out as we bathed until my auntie is back. And many many years later, as we sit back with my cousins reminiscing the old days, my cousin Madeline who used to stay there before us recalled the time when her family was at the living watching tv when her adopted brother, then still young came in to inform them that an old lady with long hair is waving at him at the air well!

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Anyway, I returned to Penang after four years, to escape the concrete and clay and the color grey, as how my lecturer Tay Cheow Bin puts it. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I felt I was in the wrong job. I kept asking myself is this the life I want? Working for people and working eight hours a day for a mere pittance? And how long then could I save enough for a car, or even a home? The more I thought about it the more I felt distanced from this job. Although I miss my friends. I couldn’t stay there illegally after giving up my work permit. Thus, I went to clear my taxes etc. My auntie was surprised with my decision telling me I should not have and how stupid I was to cancel that work permit I was carrying which is very difficult to obtain. She claimed it could be kept for other jobs. Who knows? But Poly life helped in a way and taught me alot about architecture and what I’ll be getting into if I decide to become an interior designer. Where I worked, the firm did not procure enough projects that would make anyone of us excited plus the laws then was strict, pardon the language. Still is, but I believe the degree of flexibility is much better now than it was before. When I left, Raffles City just opened up, and so is Marina Tower designed by John Portman. My dad aspires me to be an architect so he could be a developer. That did not happen..

I left Singapore for good.

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((To be continued))

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