On Saturday afternoon I took an MRT to Tiong Bahru. Alfian Sa’at, playwright yang femes (and possible member of Perkasa, cawangan Singapura), had given in to my pestering and agreed to be my guide for the day. I waited for him at Tiong Bahru Plaza, the MRT station’s associated mall.
At the entrance, besides the sorry-looking smokers, where several sorry-looking elderly people, plying their trades for the day:
There was an uncle playing an er hu, to moderate degree of success.
There was an auntie with a head of white hair, selling from a wet-market cart little bouquets of plastic flowers and shelf-sized teddy-bears, wrapped in pink ribbon.
There was an uncle in a motorised wheelchair, missing one leg. He wore a stained Santa hat, and had a rainbow-coloured windmill attached to his right armrest. I’m not sure what he was selling. Perhaps nothing.
I was curious, but hesitant to approach, because these were not my poor.
Am currently in Singapore, for Laneway — well, for Feist. This musical pilgrimage is meant to last me for the rest of the year.
Came down at the start of the weekend. Putting up with Norman Teh (of Poskod.sg, which seems to be doing good work) in Serangoon Gardens, a middle-class neighbourhood built in the 1950s with handsome 1950s-style terrace houses.
The house in which Norman rents his room has a pretty garden with fruit trees (got durian) and wind chimes (got six). His landlord is an elderly Chinese uncle who is bent-backed and soft-spoken.
"Oh, I’ve been to Port Dickson," he said, softly. "Very nice beach."
Yesterday I visited the friendly neighbourhood 7-Eleven to acquire milk and bread. The clerk recognised me. She usually gave me a friendly ribbing about wearing sarungs in public.
"Kenapa pakai kain?" she’d ask.
(She recently started wearing a tudung, in-store; she mentioned a husband previously, so I presumed he was the reason for it.)
This time she asked me about my bike-riding.
"Kenapa selalu naik basikal?" she asked. "Tak susah ke? Naik motor la."
"I takde lesen la," I said.
"Ambik lesen la," she replied. "Bukannya susah pun."
"Motor pun takde," I said. "I tak mampu."
"Tu, banyak duit tu," she said, pointing at the contents of my wallet, which happened to be full of 10-ringgit notes.
"Ni duit ang pow la," I answered.
She wasn’t convinced. “Eleh,” she said. “Tak mampu, tak mampu — nampak you pun tahu, ada tiga empat kereta kat rumah.”
Seen on the KTM Komuter, between KL and Seremban:
A pudgy young fellow in a dark-green collared T-shirt, falling asleep while holding a hardcover book. The cover, in gold letters, reads:
REMOVAL OF HYDROGEN SULFIDE BY PHYSICO-BIOLOGICAL FILTRATION USING DRIED ACTIVATED SLUDGE AND RICE HUSK SILICA
SEYED MUHAMAD MENDINA CHOUBI
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITI PUTRA MALAYSIA
Whether you are recovering from a night-long party, studying swamp gas, spending time in a station after being kicked by the cops, quoting Bertrand Russell, or missing a missing cat — well, it’s the new year.
Last night I had the worst dream:
There I was, minding my business, when a car honks outside the gate. It is my parents. They are in town on business, they say. They bustle in: Ma has brought fruit and biscuits and strange health foods from dunnowhere; Pa has another whatsit for home improvement.
Whilst taking over the kitchen, Ma informs me (in a oh-by-the-way fashion) that she has entered me into my old school’s Poetry Elocution Club; there’s a recital/final exam event that very evening.
"Just go lah," ma says. "Shouldn’t be a problem for you."
"Alright," I say.
Mentally, I file this away under the “nonsense stuff I’ve to do to keep my parents happy” category. The day passes.
Then it is nighttime, and we have to rush to my old alma mater, because I am late for the event. When we arrive in the school hall, things are already underway: red plastic chairs filled with school-kids and their parents; a panel of bespectacled judges; a lone microphone at which a sweaty boy is trying to finish stuttering out his assigned poem. The judges stop him.
"I think the young man is not prepared," says one judge.
"Yes, he isn’t prepared," says another judge.
"Young man: why are you wasting our time if you haven’t prepared?" says a third judge. "You can go home now."
Seen in a warung on Bt 17, Jalan Kuang:
An advertisement poster for Kopi Janda, featuring a photo of a moist glass of iced coffee; packaging for the eponymous instant coffee brand; and a heavily made-up young woman in a tudung, with her two thumbs up. The tagline reads: “Bukan nak menggoda, cuma nak berniaga.”
The more I think about it, the better that tagline gets.
Seen on a bus from Seremban to Port Dickson:
An almost-elderly Indian woman, who gets on and asks a tudung-ed office-worker whether she can take the seat beside her, which is empty. Well, not quite empty: it is 5pm, and on the seat is a styrofoam rice-box and several packets of gravy — presumably the Malay woman’s iftar.
She points to her food and says: “Pergi cari tempat lain duduk.”
The Indian woman is annoyed; the only other available seat nearby is next to two dudes. “Saya tanya baik-baik,” she says, “jawab baik-baik lah. You puasa pun macam ni semua.”
"Macam apa, hah?" the Malay woman replies. "Macam apa? You cakap Bahasa Melayu pun tak tau."
"Apa tak tau?" replies the Indian aunty. "Saya cakap macam ni, budi bahasa, you balas macam tu?"
"Balik lah!" the Malay woman says.
"Balik mana?" the Indian woman asks. "Hah? Balik mana?"
For the next half-hour, the Indian aunty natters on with the bus-driver in Tamil. The only words I can understand are “public transport” and “Perdana Menteri”.
The Malay woman stays silent, but continues to defend her meal-laden spot. She also turns away the next embarkee: a soft-spoken, smiling tudung-ed woman, who continues down the aisle less smile-y and perplexed.
So, after cycling out for dinner this evening, around 9.45pm, I stopped at the local 7-Eleven — PD also got, okay: don’t play play — to pick up two cans of pineapple juice, as is my wont. (Silly me, I forgot my change, so the guy at the counter had to run out and hand it to me.)
As I took the bike off its stand and strapped my riding helmet on, this chubby South Asian gentlemen pulls up besides me on his motorcycle.
"Can I suck your cock?" he asked, smiling.
I was too blanked to muster a reply.
"No?" he said, slightly dismayed. "Oh. Sorry, ah."
The guy sped off.
Er, WTF just happened here? Was I just cruised? If so, quite flattering lah. But a bit scary; a Port Dickson neighbourhood convenience store is the last place I expected to be propositioned …
Seen on the KTM Komuter from Seremban to KL Sentral:
A portly, balding Caucasian man in a short-sleeved shirt and grey slacks, cradling a backpack. Seated next to him is a tudung-ed woman in a sequined, denim baju kurung. Her young daughter is in an identical outfit. In English, she asks him where he’s from.
"I’m from the UK," he says. "And you? You sound like you’ve lived in the US."
"Oh? No, no," she says, in a television accent. "I’ve never been outside Malaysia."
She fusses with her junk food-eating daughter, then asks him why he’s here. He informs her he is in Seremban for several weeks as an examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
"Oh? Wow, wow," she says. "I’m not into music, but I like to sing in karaoke."
A crush of passengers embarks at Bandar Tasik Selatan. The man says: “A lot of young people in the train today.”
"Yes, I think it’s the weekend," the woman answers. "Young people like to go to KL on the weekend."
"Back home the crowd is usually older," he says.
"Oh?" she says. "Where are your young people? Do they move away?"
"Yes, maybe," he says. "Or maybe we’re just not making enough."
"Eh, adik," the woman tells her daughter. "Comot lah muka you."
Seen from a bus from Seremban to Port Dickson, via Mambau:
A six-armed pylon, whose cables cut a clear corridor through the oil palm sea. It is balanced on four concrete cubes; there is a red dirt road in front of it, running perpendicular to the flow of electricity. The pylon’s structure makes a tangrammed shadow upon the earth.
By the road, under the pylon’s shadow, a sign says “SIME DARBY Useful Plant”, followed by a Latin name too italicised to read. Next to it is a stretch of rickety fence — three poles, three horizontal pulls of wire — only two metres long. This wood-and-wire altar is completely bare — except for the left-most pole, which exhibits a modest offering to Modern Industry: a vine of light green leaves and tiny yellow flowers.