Friday, 10 March 2017

US Republicans & Democrats both addicted to war and militarism

[All copyrights rights belong to the author and RT. I reproduce the article here as it is a good read.]

‘US Republicans & Democrats both addicted to war and militarism’

- by Brian Brecker

U.S. Marines stand in front of amphibious assault vehicles (AAV)
When the global military empire takes money from programs that poor people depend on and gives it to rich military contractors - it is a theft and looting of the national budget, says Brian Becker, the National Coordinator of the ANSWER Coalition.

Donald Trump's administration has announced that it is seeking to boost military spending by 10 per cent in 2018.  The American military budget already exceeds any other country's by far and could be set for a historic boost.

According to US President Trump, the aim is to "reform" the US military so that it can operate more effectively. Many analysts believe, however, that the proposed boost would hurt other American sectors, not to mention slash already starved public programs. Others suggest the move might even provoke a global arms race.

RT:  What do you make of the proposal to give defense spending a historic boost?

Brian Becker: I think that the Republican Party now under the leadership of Donald Trump, but the Democratic Party, too, are addicted to war, they are addicted to militarism, they are addicted to ever-increasing spending for the US military budget. The last time the US was invaded by a foreign power was the War of 1812 - that would be 205 years ago. The US has one thousand military bases in 140 countries all over the world. It is truly a global military empire. It is ridiculous, and it is ludicrous when Donald Trump says “the depleted US military.”

The amount that he is proposing to increase - $54 billion - is just a little bit less than what Russia spends every year on its military. In other words, this is an unnecessary expenditure increase of an already bloated US military machine. Trump says “we have to start winning wars again”. And the fact of the matter is that the US should stop waging wars that it needs to win but can’t win. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan - the problem with these wars are not that they weren’t won, the problem is that they were waged in the first place because they were wars of aggression. It is going in the wrong direction.



RT:  Will it come at the expense of other sectors?

BB: It has to, because the defense budget is part of what is called the “discretionary budget”. Entitlements like Medicare and Social Security – those are exempt from the national budget. When Congress approves a budget every year, that is the discretionary budget. How much will be spent on defense. How much will be spent on education, on housing, on transportation, on the environment. When you increase the discretionary budget, the part of the discretionary budget for the Pentagon, for war by $54 billion - 10 percent - that means the money has to come from housing, from education, from environmental protections. This is kind of our Robin Hood in reverse: taking money from programs that poor people and working class people depend on and giving it to military contractors who are already rich. It is transference of wealth from the bottom to the top. It is a form of theft and looting of the national budget all in the name of making the American military great again. It is already great. The problem is it is too big already. It should be cut; it should be seriously reduced because this kind of military spending incentivizes new wars.

RT:Could the planned spending hike ignite a global arms race?

BB: Yes, it will because who are these new high-tech weapon systems going to be directed against? They will be directed against Russia, they will be directed against China. They are going to be directed against emerging powers that somehow provide an obstacle to complete US hegemony in key geostrategic or resource-rich parts of the world. What will Russia and China do in the face of a growing military expenditure, they must take counter-measures. Because of course, Russia feels NATO has expanded to the East. China feels that the US has taken the South China Sea and pretend that it is an American lake. So, yes, this will be a global arms race. Nobody wins that race.

Compulsive Liars Need Compulsive Believers

{This article first appeared in The Guardian, 5 Feb 2017. All copyrights belong to the author and newspaper. I reproduce here as it is a good read.)

Trump’s lies are not the problem. It’s the millions who swallow them who really matter
- by Nick Cohen, Feb 5 2017

[As the alt-right continues to set the agenda in global politics at a frightening pace, has the world reverted to a 20th-century era of totalitarianism?]


Believers: Donald Trump supporters attend the inauguration ‘freedom ball’ in Washington last month.

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.

How you see the believers determines how you fight them and seek to protect liberal society from its enemies. And I don’t just mean how you fight that object of liberal despair and conservative fantasies, the alternately despised and patronised white working class. Compulsive believers are not just rednecks. They include figures as elevated as the British prime minister and her cabinet. Before the EU referendum, a May administration would have responded to the hitherto unthinkable arrival of a US president who threatened Nato and indulged Putin by hugging Britain’s European allies close. But Brexit has thrown Britain’s European alliance into crisis. So English Conservative politicians must crush their doubts and believe with a desperate compulsion that the alleged “pragmatism” of Donald Trump will triumph over his undoubted extremism, a belief that to date has as much basis in fact as creationism.

Mainstream journalists are almost as credulous. After decades of imitating Jeremy Paxman and seizing on the trivial gaffes and small lies of largely harmless politicians, they are unable to cope with the fantastic lies of the new authoritarian movements. When confronted with men who lie so instinctively they believe their lies as they tell them, they can only insist on a fair hearing for the sake of “balance”. Their acceptance signals to the audience the unbelievable is worthy of belief.

Hope against hypocrisy as Trump joins the swamp
“Rednecks” are also embarrassingly evident among Britain’s expensively educated conservative commentators, who cannot see how the world has changed. They say that of course they don’t support everything Trump does. Their throats cleared and backs covered, they insist that the real enemy is his “foaming” and “hysterical” critics whose opposition to the alt-right is not a legitimate protest by democratic citizens but an “elitist” denial of democracy itself.

Brecht wrote against the dangers of inertia in 1935 as Hitler was changing Germany beyond recognition : Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it, The drowning still cried out for their slaves.

As their old world is engulfed now, the sluggish reflexes and limited minds of too many conservatives compel them to cry out against liberal hypocrisy, as if it were all that mattered. There is more than enough hypocrisy to go round. I must confess to wondering about the sincerity of those who protest against the collective punishment of Trump’s ban on visitors from Muslim countries but remain silent when Arab countries deny all Israeli Jews admission. I too would like to know why there was so little protest when Obama gave Iran funds to spend on the devastation of Syria. But the greatest hypocrisy is always to divert attention from what is staring you in the face today and may be kicking you in the teeth tomorrow.

The temptation to think it a new totalitarianism is too strong for many to resist. Despite readers reaching for Hannah Arendt and George Orwell, strictly speaking, the comparison with fascism and communism isn’t true. When I floated it with the great historian of Nazism, Sir Richard Evans, he almost sighed. It’s not just that there aren’t the death camps and torture chambers, he said. The street violence that brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany and the communists to power in Russia is absent today.

The 21st-century’s model for a strongman is a leader who makes opposition as hard as possible, as Orb├ín is trying to do in Hungary, but does not actually declare a dictatorship, for not even Putin has done that.

To my mind, that does not make comparisons with the past fruitless, particularly in the case of the nihilistic and voraciously aggressive Trump. There are very few new ideas in politics. Parallels always illuminate. Aristotle warned of the “intemperance of demagogues”. Thucydides had the strutting Athenians sneer at the vanquished Melians that “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”. Both the warning and the threat from classical Greece are as contemporary as ever. Hannah Arendt described leaders who knew their followers would “believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism”. She was describing Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin. But her words apply as well to today’s Trump supporters, who gulp down incredible falsehoods and then dismiss the “crooked media” when the stories collapse.

We are not reliving the 20th century, for how could we? Rather, ideas from the past have melted and reformed into a postmodern fascistic style; a fascism with a wink in its eye and a bad-boy smirk on its face.

Conventional politicians and commentators are stranded because they were wholly unprepared for the new breed of leader who lies as a matter of policy as well as a matter of course. They are flailing around, and inventing phrases like “fake news” and “post-truth politics” to capture a state of affairs they think is entirely novel. Instead of saying that we are seeing something new, it is better to accept that something old and malignant has returned like foul water bubbling up from a drain.

Comparisons with 20th-century totalitarianism are not wholly exaggerated. With Trump, the lies are a dictatorial assertion of his will to power. “I am in control,” he says, in effect, as he conjures imaginary crowds at his inauguration or invents millions of illegal voters so he can pretend he won the popular vote. “You may know I am lying. But if you contradict me, I will make you pay.”

No one in the west has seen Trump’s kind of triumph in politics since the age of the dictators. But look around your workplace and perhaps you won’t be so surprised by their victories. If you are unlucky, you will see an authoritarian standing over you. The radical economist Chris Dillow once wrote that, while the fall of communism discredited the centrally planned economy, the centrally planned corporation, with the autocratic leader who tolerated no dissent, not only survived 1989, but blossomed.

Dillow is not alone in worrying about the harm the little Hitlers of the corporation might bring. Since the crash, economists have looked as a matter of urgency at how hierarchies encourage petty tyrants to brag their way to the top. They exhibit all the symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder: a desire to dominate, overconfidence, a sense of entitlement, an inability to listen to others or allow others to speak and a passion for glory. If you want to know how they can win the votes of those around them, remember Fred Goodwin’s vainglorious decision to takeover ABN Amro. Perhaps the single worst decision in UK business history, whose consequences we are still paying for, was not opposed by a single member of the RBS board.

In the right circumstances, compulsive liars can create compulsive believers, as Trump has done
Narcissists in business are more likely to seek macho takeovers and less likely to engage in the hard work of innovating and creating profitable firms, the researchers found. They are more likely to cook the books to feed their cults of the personality and make, if not America, then themselves look great again. Academics from the University of California have asked the obvious question: why would rational companies let the fascism of the firm survive? Surely they ought to be protecting their businesses, as free market theory dictates, rather than allow dangerous and grasping men and women to risk their destruction.

They found what most of us instinctively know to be true: in the right circumstances, compulsive liars can create compulsive believers, as Trump has done. “Overconfident individuals attained status” because their peers believed the stories they told about themselves. It should not be a surprise that Donald Trump, Arron Banks and oligarchs backing the Russian and east European strongmen come from business. The age of the dictators never came to an end in the workplace.

Long before anyone worried about the death of truth, Trump was showing that he might have based his career on the Don DeLillo character in Underworld, who says: “Some people fake their death, I’m faking my life.” (A motto that applies as well to Boris Johnson.) Of all his lies, none to my mind is more revelatory or more ominous for the future than the lies he told when people assumed he was just another loudmouthed tycoon.

In 1989, a white investment banker called Trisha Meili was horribly beaten and raped in New York’s Central Park. She had lost three-quarters of her blood and gone into a coma by the time the police found her. The authorities arrested five juveniles, four black and one Hispanic. In one of his first moves from business into politics, Trump said death was the only punishment they deserved. He took out adverts in the New York press declaring: “Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancour should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes. CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!”

Trump dealt with the accusations of racist scaremongering by rehearsing a self-pitying line that would serve him well in the future. Whites were the true underprivileged in American society, he told NBC television. “A well-educated black enjoys tremendous advantages over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. If I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black.”

You may oppose the death penalty. You may find Trump’s language reeked of the Munich beer hall. Cynical New Yorkers noted at the time that Trump was feuding with city bosses over tax abatements for his developments and was using the rape to attack a mayor who had damned him as “greedy”. For all that, you could think that this was still a legitimate response to a foul crime.

But mark the sequel. In 2002, a career criminal admitted to the rape and DNA evidence proved he was telling the truth. The police, it turned out, had forced confessions from their teenage suspects. The boys, now men, were released. But Trump refused to concede an inch of ground. He would not accept new evidence had put him in the wrong and the five were innocent. Even in 2014, when New York finally reached a compensation settlement with the victims of police abuse, Trump was still insisting that “settling doesn’t mean innocence” and the taxpayers of New York had been fleeced.

“It shows his character,” said Raymond Santana, one of the five Trump had smeared. So it does and, after that, nothing should surprise you. Connoisseurs of Don DeLillo’s American underworld will learn all they need to know about his character when they hear that Trump’s first lawyer was Roy Cohn, a grotesque figure from the McCarthy era of the 1950s. He persecuted real and imagined gays in public life who he claimed could be blackmailed. As so often with obsessive homophobes, Cohn gave every appearance of being a closet case and died of Aids in 1986. Before denying the human race the pleasure of his company, however, Cohn taught the young Trump to always attack and never conciliate. Whether Trump needed teaching is open to doubt.

This vision of life as a perpetual war you see so clearly in the Trisha Meili case is authentically totalitarian. Truth, reason, evidence, decency must all be sacrificed to the greater good of keeping the strongman looking strong. The weapons 21st-century technology provide for political warfare make me doubt that stopping Trump and his imitators will be easy. Just as Britain’s isolated Brexit government has no choice but to compulsively believe that Trump’s pragmatism will overwhelm his extremism, so Americans must hope that the checks and balances of the constitution will cage him. No one can see the future and both may be right. But, as I said, there is no evidence that they are. One reason for pessimism is that Trump’s character may make him worthless as a man but a success as a politician in our time of cyber-charlatanism.

After Trump’s victory, Hillary Clinton’s aide Ronald A Klain reflected with understandable shock on an election his candidate should never have lost. Trump tore up the rules of politics, Klain said, but still finished in the White House. The old wisdom was to apologise if you were in the wrong and move the conversation on with as much speed as you could manage. “If you’re explaining, you’re losing,” Ronald Reagan said, as he stated the commonsensical proposition that politicians should not dwell on their embarrassments.

Public relations in the Trump era: brand all media outlets as ‘fake’

But Trump understood that Twitter, Facebook and 24/7 news had changed the world. The modern chancer needed to stay with the scandal and arm his supporters with instant explanations. The Trump campaign would not apologise. When caught in a scandal, it doubled down within minutes. It knew its supporters wouldn’t care if the experts they despised as thoroughly as Michael Gove dismissed Trump’s explanations for refusing to release his tax returns or feminists said his advocacy of sexual assaults was something more than “locker-room talk”. “The point is,” Klain said, “Trump supporters were armed with an explanation that they accepted and could use to defend their candidate” on social media.

The same need to instil a party line and protect his supporters from reasonable doubt leads Trump and his sidekicks once again to imitate dictators and attack the whole of the free press. Not just opposition journalists, mark you, but the entire media. The reasoning is obvious. Every one of the many financial and political scandals Trump will surely generate will emerge in the media. Every media organisation must therefore be branded as lying and fake before they publish. Journalists need to learn, if they have not learned already, that no accommodation is possible with the alt-right because its ideology and tactics preclude it from wanting an accommodation. You cannot “balance” or appease such people – you can only expose them.


White House press secretary Sean Spicer… and a media cohort that is at a loss on how to deal with the new administration.
 White House press secretary Sean Spicer… and a media cohort that is at a loss on how to deal with the new administration. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA
Unless Twitter bans him, which it should if Trump incites violence, the same tactics can be used against politicians. Republican legislators will think hard about exercising their constitutional right to check a president if they know that Trump can use social media to provoke their supporters back home to denounce and harry them.

I am sorry if I am being “hysterical”, but I cannot see how conservatives can argue in conscience that there is nothing monstrous about the 45th President of the United States. The Ku Klux Klan has endorsed him. He has brought Steve Bannon, a true postmodern fascist, to the centre of power. Bannon exemplifies the Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt’s sinister ideal of a political leader who unites his supporters by creating enemies for them to hate. Bannon and the alt-right have made Islam – not al-Qaeda, Islamic State, or the Shia theocrats in Tehran but all Muslims – their enemy of choice. They unite their supporters on racial lines against blacks, Jews and Latinos too. As a former journalist on his Breitbart site explained, Bannon believes “in a nutshell that western culture is inseparable from European ethnicity”.

Nor, and even when all due deference has been paid to the learned objections of Richard Evans and other historians, is it a sign of hysteria to say that western democracies are seeing an increase in the indulgence of political violence that echoes the 1930s. Once, the apologetics were confined to the worst elements in the liberal-left. In the last decade, I could feel the thrill of satisfaction as they decided that the latest terrorist massacre was a just and righteous punishment for the wars of Tony Blair and George W Bush.

As late as 2015, an article for Jeremy Corbyn’s Stop the War was saying that the slaughter of civilians in Paris was “the result of deliberate policies and actions undertaken by the United States and its allies”, while the National Union of Students was deciding that it would be “Islamophobic” to criticise Islamic State. (A genuinely racist notion, incidentally, that implies, Bannon-style, that all followers of Islam welcome the mass murder of unbelievers and the sexual enslavement of captured women.)

Reacting with violence against Trump? That’s exactly what he wants…

Just as the far-left has moved from the fringe to take over the once mainstream British Labour party, so the far-right has moved in to take over America’s Republicans. Violence and fear are its fellow travellers. Look at Trump telling his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters at his rallies, or at the contempt with which the Daily Mail greeted the verdict and sentencing handed to the murderer of Jo Cox, or the loathing with which Nigel Farage treated her widower. Try, then, to put yourself in the place of a black or Muslim American and imagine how they feel about what is to come.

There are few reasons to be cheerful. But amid the despair, I hope I am not being naive in sensing new forces stirring and the will to fight back hardening. We are now at the beginnings of a new opposition movement, a liberal version of backlash politics, which feels the urgent need to drive the right from power.

Trump wants a violent reaction. He wants to be able to tell white Americans his opponents are 'professional anarchists'. It could all go wrong. Trump, Bannon, Farage and the Tory right want to polarise societies. They can look to the example of Bashar al-Assad and see a path to victory. The dictator won by shooting down the peaceful demonstrators of the Arab Spring and targeting moderate forces in the civil war that followed. By the time he was finished, there was no middle ground left. Assad could turn to the brutalised survivors and say: “See, it’s either me or Islamic State now. That’s your only choice. What’s it going to be?”

Understand the logic of polarisation and you will understand that Trump wants a violent reaction. He wants to be able to tell white Americans that his opponents are “professional anarchists”, as he said last week. He wants liberals to treat all his supporters as if they are as debased as he is. He can then turn to his base and say liberals hate them because they are white; that they see them as nothing more than stupid, deplorable bigots. Force me from power, he will conclude, and these hate-filled enemies will come for you and give the “tremendous advantages” he was pretending blacks enjoyed in the 1980s to their favoured minorities.

The alternative, and not only in America, is to go back to the despised and patronised working-class followers of the right. You should try to win them over in elections rather than march with the already converted at rallies. You should cordon off the true racists and fascists and listen to and argue with the rest with a modicum of respect. If that can happen, then perhaps the world will learn that the best way to end the power of compulsive liars is to break the compulsion of their followers to believe.

- The end.

Truth, trust and Trump's attack on journalism

(I reproduce this article here as I find it a good read. All copyrights belong to the authors. This story was found published in The Straits Times mar 5, 2017.)

Truth, trust and Trump's attack on journalism
- by Bret Stephens, Mar 5 2017

Mr Trump speaking to reporters at the Oval Office on Jan 28, after signing a memorandum directing US security services to defeat ISIS. By then, he had already begun his running war with the media, calling them the most dishonest people on earth. Some dismiss his rhetoric as pure trumpery, but the danger is that too many are becoming inured to his brand of reality, desensitised to the truth by the numbing onslaught of alternative facts.



[This is an excerpt from the Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture delivered last month at the University of California, Los Angeles by Bret Stephens, a Pulitzer-prize winning columnist with the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Daniel Pearl was a WSJ reporter who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002. I'm profoundly honoured to have this opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Danny Pearl, my colleague at The Wall Street Journal.]

My topic this evening is intellectual integrity in the age of Donald Trump.

When you work at The Wall Street Journal, the coins of the realm are truth and trust - the latter flowing exclusively from the former. When you read a story in the Journal, you do so with the assurance that immense reportorial and editorial effort has been expended to ensure that what you read is factual. Not probably factual. Not partially factual. Not alternatively factual. I mean fundamentally, comprehensively and exclusively factual.

And therefore trustworthy.

This is how we operate. This is how Danny operated. This is how he died, losing his life in an effort to nail down a story.

Substitute the words "truth" and "falsehood" for "justice" and "injustice", and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with. If you can sell condos by claiming your building is 90 per cent occupied when it's only 20 per cent occupied, well, then - it's 90 per cent occupied. If you can convince enough people that you really did win the popular vote, or that your inauguration crowds were the biggest - well then, what do the statistical data and aerial photographs matter?

It has been stunning to watch a movement that once believed in the benefits of free trade and free enterprise merrily give itself over to a champion of protectionism whose economic instincts recall the corporatism of 1930s Italy or 1950s Argentina. It is no less stunning to watch people who once mocked Mr Obama for being too soft on Russia suddenly discover the virtues of Mr Trump's "pragmatism" on the subject.

We each have our obligations to see what's in front of one's nose, whether we're reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.

In the 15 years since Danny's death, the list of murdered journalists has grown long.

Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya in Russia. Zahra Kazemi and Sattar Beheshti in Iran. Jim Foley and Steve Sotloff in Syria. Five journalists in Turkey. Twenty-six in Mexico. More than 100 in Iraq.

When we honour Danny, we honour them, too.

We do more than that.

We honour the central idea of journalism - the conviction, as my old boss Peter Kann said, "that facts are facts; that they are ascertainable through honest, open-minded and diligent reporting; that truth is attainable by laying fact upon fact, much like the construction of a cathedral; and that truth is not merely in the eye of the beholder".

And we honour the responsibility to separate truth from falsehood, which is never more important than when powerful people insist that falsehoods are truths, or that there is no such thing as truth to begin with.

So that's the business we're in: the business of journalism. Or, as the 45th president of the United States likes to call us, the "disgusting and corrupt media".

Some of you might have noticed that we're living through a period in which the executive branch of government is engaged in a systematic effort to create a climate of opinion against the news business.

The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as "fake news". The administration calls the press "the opposition party", ridicules news organisations it doesn't like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press.

This isn't unprecedented in US history, though you might have to go back to the administration of founding father John Adams to see something quite like it. And so far, the rhetorical salvos haven't been matched by legal or regulatory action. Maybe they never will be.

But the question of what Mr Trump might yet do by political methods against the media matters a great deal less than what he is attempting to do by ideological and philosophical methods.

Ideologically, he is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favour of the media he likes - Breitbart News and the rest. Another way to make this point is to say that he's trying to substitute propaganda for news, boosterism for information.

His objection to, say, The New York Times, isn't that there's a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He's perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt - as long as it's on his side.

But again, that's not all the President is doing.

TRUTH IS WHAT YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH

Consider this recent exchange with TV host Bill O'Reilly, who asks:

"Is there any validity to the criticism of you that you say things that you can't back up factually, and as the President, you say there are three million illegal aliens who voted and you don't have the data to back that up, some people are going to say that it's irresponsible for the president to say that."

To which the President replies:

"Many people have come out and said I'm right."

Many people also say singer Jim Morrison faked his own death. Many people say former president Barack Obama was born in Kenya. "Many people say" is what's known as an argumentum ad populum. If we were a nation of logicians, we would dismiss the argument as dumb.

We are not a nation of logicians.

I think it's important not to dismiss the President's reply simply as dumb. We ought to assume that it's darkly brilliant - if not in intention then certainly in effect. The President is responding to a claim of fact not by denying the fact, but by denying the claim that facts are supposed to have an argument.

He isn't telling O'Reilly that he's got his facts wrong. He's saying that, as far as he is concerned, facts, as most people understand the term, don't matter: that they are indistinguishable from, and interchangeable with, opinion; and that statements of fact needn't have any purchase against a man who is either sufficiently powerful to ignore them or sufficiently shameless to deny them - or, in his case, both.

If some of you in this room are students of political philosophy, you know where this argument originates. This is a version of Thrasymachus' argument in Plato's Republic that justice is the advantage of the stronger and that injustice "if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer and more masterly than justice".

Substitute the words "truth" and "falsehood" for "justice" and "injustice", and there you have the Trumpian view of the world. If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.

If you can sell condos by claiming your building is 90 per cent occupied when it's only 20 per cent occupied, well, then - it's 90 per cent occupied. If you can convince enough people that you really did win the popular vote, or that your inauguration crowds were the biggest - well then, what do the statistical data and aerial photographs matter?

Now, we could have some interesting conversations about why this is happening - and why it seems to be happening all of a sudden.

Today, we have "disintermediating" technologies such as Twitter, which have cut out the media as the middleman between politicians and the public. Today, just 17 per cent of adults aged 18-24 read a newspaper daily, down from 42 per cent at the turn of the century. Today, there are fewer than 33,000 full-time newsroom employees, a drop from 55,000 just 20 years ago.

When Mr Trump attacks the news media, he's kicking a wounded animal.

But the most interesting conversation is not about why he lies. Many public figures lie, and he's only a severe example of a common type.

The interesting conversation concerns how we come to accept those lies.

REDEFINING THE DEVIANT

Nearly 25 years ago, Mr Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the great scholar and Democratic senator from New York, coined the phrase, "defining deviancy down". His topic at the time was crime, and how American society had come to accept ever-increasing rates of violent crime as normal.

"We have been redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatised, and also quietly raising the 'normal' level in categories where behaviour is now abnormal by any earlier standard," Mr Moynihan wrote.

You can point to all sorts of ways in which this redefinition of deviancy has also been the story of our politics over the past 30 years, a story with a fully bipartisan set of villains.

I personally think we crossed a rubicon in the Clinton years, when three things happened: We decided that some types of presidential lies didn't matter; we concluded that "character" was an overrated consideration when it came to judging a president; and we allowed the lines between political culture and celebrity culture to become hopelessly blurred.

But whatever else one might say about former president Bill Clinton, what we have now is the crack-cocaine version of that.

If a public figure tells a whopping lie once in his life, it'll haunt him into his grave. If he lies morning, noon and night, it will become almost impossible to remember any one particular lie. Outrage will fall victim to its own ubiquity. It's the same truth contained in Joseph Stalin's famous remark that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of a million is a statistic.

One of the most interesting phenomena during the election campaign was waiting for Mr Trump to say that one thing that would surely break the back of his candidacy.

Would it be his slander against Mexican immigrants? Or his slur about Senator John McCain's record as a prisoner-of-war? Or his lie about New Jersey Muslims celebrating 9/11? Or his attacks on TV anchor Megyn Kelly, on a disabled New York Times reporter, on a Mexican-American judge? Would it be him tweeting quotations from fascist leader Benito Mussolini, or his sly overtures to white nationalist David Duke and the alt-right? Would it be his unwavering praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin? Would it be his refusal to release his tax returns, or the sham that seems to have been perpetrated on the saps who signed up for his Trump U courses? Would it be the tape of him with TV host Billy Bush?

None of this made the slightest difference. On the contrary, it helped him. Some people became desensitised by the never-ending assaults on what was once quaintly known as "human decency". Others seemed to positively admire the comments as refreshing examples of personal authenticity and political incorrectness.

Shameless rhetoric will always find a receptive audience with shameless people. Mr Trump's was the greatest political striptease act in US history: The dirtier he got, the more skin he showed, the more his core supporters liked it.

Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, called on Americans to summon "the better angels of our nature". Mr Trump's candidacy, and so far his presidency, has been Lincoln's exhortation in reverse.

Here's a simple truth about a politics of dishonesty, insult and scandal: It's entertaining. Politics as we've had it for most of my life has, with just a few exceptions, been distant and dull.

Now, it's all we can talk about. If you like Mr Trump, his presence in the White House is a daily extravaganza of sticking it to pompous elites and querulous reporters. If you hate him, you wake up every day with some fresh outrage to turn over in your head and text your friends about.

Whichever way, it's exhilarating. Haven't all of us noticed that everything feels speeded up, more vivid, more intense and consequential? One of the benefits of an alternative-facts administration is that fiction can take you anywhere...

To tell a lie is wrong. But to tell a lie with brass takes skill.

So far, I've offered you three ideas about how it is that we have come to accept the President's behaviour.

The first is that we normalise it, simply by becoming inured to constant repetition of the same bad behaviour.

The second is that at some level, it excites and entertains us. By putting aside our usual moral filters - the ones that tell us that truth matters, that upright conduct matters, that things ought to be done in a certain way - we have been given tickets to a spectacle, in which all you want to do is watch.

And the third is that we adopt new metrics of judgment, in which politics becomes more about perceptions than performance - of how a given action is perceived as being perceived. If a reporter for The New York Times says that Mr Trump's press conference probably plays well in Peoria, then that increases the chances that it will play well in Peoria.

Let me add a fourth point here: our tendency to rationalise.

One of the more fascinating aspects of last year's presidential campaign was the rise of a class of pundits I call the "TrumpXplainers". For instance, Mr Trump would give a speech or offer an answer in a debate that amounted to little more than a word jumble.

But rather than quote him, or point out that what he had said was grammatically and logically nonsensical, the TrumpXplainers would tell us what he had allegedly meant to say. They became our political semioticians, ascribing pattern and meaning to the rune-stones of Mr Trump's mind.

If he said he'd get Mexico to pay for his wall, you could count on someone to provide a complex tariff scheme to make good on the promise. If he said that we should not have gone into Iraq but that, once there, we should have "taken the oil", we'd have a similarly high-flown explanation as to how we could engineer this theft.

A year ago, when he was trying to explain his idea of a foreign policy to New York Times correspondent David Sanger, the reporter asked him whether it didn't amount to a kind of "America First policy" - a reference to the isolationist and anti-Semitic America First Committee that tried to prevent US entry into World War II. Mr Trump clearly had never heard of the group, but he liked the phrase and made it his own. And that's how we got the return of America First.

More recently, I came across this headline in the conservative Washington Times: "How Trump's 'disarray' may be merely a strategy", by former editor-in-chief Wesley Pruden. In his view, the president's first, disastrous month in office is, in fact, evidence of a refreshing openness to dissent, reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln's Cabinet of rivals. Sure.

Overall, the process is one in which explanation becomes rationalisation, which in turn becomes justification. Mr Trump says X. What he really means is Y. And while you might not like it, he's giving voice to the angers and anxieties of Z. Who, by the way, you're not allowed to question or criticise, because anxiety and anger are their own justifications these days...

In his 1953 masterpiece, The Captive Mind, Polish poet and dissident Czeslaw Milosz analysed the psychological and intellectual pathways through which some of his former colleagues in Poland's post-war Communist regime allowed themselves to be converted into ardent Stalinists. In none of the cases that Milosz analysed was coercion the main reason for the conversion.

They wanted to believe. They were willing to adapt. They thought they could do more good from the inside. They convinced themselves that their former principles didn't fit with the march of history, or that to hold fast to one's beliefs was a sign of priggishness and pig-headedness. They felt that to reject the new order of things was to relegate themselves to irrelevance and oblivion. They mocked their former friends who refused to join the new order as morally vain reactionaries. They convinced themselves that, brutal and capricious as Stalinism might be, it couldn't possibly be worse than the exploitative capitalism of the West.

I fear we are witnessing a similar process unfold among many conservative intellectuals on the right.

It has been stunning to watch a movement that once believed in the benefits of free trade and free enterprise merrily give itself over to a champion of protectionism whose economic instincts recall the corporatism of 1930s Italy or 1950s Argentina. It is no less stunning to watch people who once mocked Mr Obama for being too soft on Russia suddenly discover the virtues of Mr Trump's "pragmatism" on the subject.

And it is nothing short of amazing to watch the party of one-time moral majoritarians, who spent a decade fulminating against Mr Clinton's sexual habits, suddenly find complete comfort with the idea that character and temperament are irrelevant qualifications for high office.

The mental pathways by which the new Trumpian conservatives have made their peace with their new political master aren't so different from those taken by Milosz's former colleagues.

There's the same desperate desire for political influence; the same belief that Mr Trump represents a historical force to which they ought to belong; the same willingness to bend or discard principles they once considered sacred; the same fear of seeming out of touch with the mood of the public; the same tendency to look the other way at comments or actions that they cannot possibly justify; the same belief that you do more good by joining than by opposing; the same Manichean belief that, if Ms Hillary Clinton had been elected, the US would have all but ended as a country.

This is supposed to be the road of pragmatism, of turning lemons into lemonade. I would counter that it's the road of ignominy, of hitching a ride with a drunk driver.

So, then, to the subject that brings me here today: maintaining intellectual integrity in the Age of Trump.

When Danny's father, Judea, wrote me last summer to ask if I'd be this year's speaker, I got my copy of Danny's collected writings, At Home In The World, and began to read him all over again. It brought back to me the fact that the reason we honour Danny's memory isn't that he's a martyred journalist. It's that he was a great journalist.

Here's something Danny wrote in February 2001, almost exactly a year before his death, from the site of an earthquake disaster in the Indian town of Anjar.

"What is India's earthquake zone really like? It smells. It reeks. You can't imagine the odour of several hundred bodies decaying for five days as search teams pick away at slabs of crumbled buildings in this town. Even if you've never smelled it before, the brain knows what it is, and orders you to get away. After a day, the nose gets stuffed up in self-defence. But the brain has registered the scent, and picks it up in innocent places: lip balm, sweet candy, stale breath, an airplane seat."

What stands out for me in this passage is that it shows that Danny was a writer who observed with all his senses. He saw. He listened. He smelled. He bore down. He reflected. He understood that what the reader had to know about Anjar wasn't a collection of statistics; it was the visceral reality of a massive human tragedy. And he was able to express all this in language that was compact, unadorned, compelling and deeply true.

George Orwell wrote: "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." Danny saw what was in front of his nose.

We each have our obligations to see what's in front of one's nose, whether we're reporters, columnists, or anything else. This is the essence of intellectual integrity.

Not to look around, or beyond, or away from the facts, but to look straight at them, to recognise and call them for what they are, nothing more or less. To see things as they are before we re-interpret them into what we'd like them to be. To believe in an epistemology that can distinguish between truth and falsity, facts and opinions, evidence and wishes. To defend habits of mind and institutions of society, above all a free press, which preserve that epistemology. To hold fast to a set of intellectual standards and moral convictions that won't waver amid changes of political fashion or tides of unfavourable opinion. To speak the truth irrespective of what it means for our popularity or influence.

The legacy of Danny Pearl is that he died for this. We are being asked to do much less. We have no excuse not to do it.

- The end.

[A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline 'Truth, trust and Trump's attack on journalism'. ]

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

2017 Chinese Zodiac Fortunes

Once again, here are my Chinese Zodiac Fortune predictions. They are based on real forecasts but done up in a humorous way. See you if can pick up relevant cues from the stories to help you navigate 2017 safe and sound and maybe a little more prosperous. ;-)

The sections are arrange thus, in Zodiac order:
Rooster || Dog || Pig || Rat || Ox || Tiger || Rabbit || Dragon || Snake || Horse || Goat || Monkey 





1) Rooster - Fire and Earth

You are driving up to Malacca and is now passing under a giant signboard. It is KFC, that Col Sanders company or once was. You laugh as you are a Rooster too. Zodiac sign, that is. Stupid chickens, you then say, feeling superior. Being top CEO of a Fortune 500 company gives you that right. You feel like a crowing rooster, not a plated chicken! You smile as you look back on a life of scaling setbacks and overcoming them: Single parent, kampung kid, public schools, indifferent public servants, etc, etc. You have two left feet but somehow you managed to climb the corporate ladder with ease.

Your smile widens. You recall how pretty your Damansara bungalow had looked during Christmas. It was covered in gold and brilliant sparkling fairy lights giving the place a rich bejeweled look. Singapore's Orchard Road Light Up couldn't even compete, you snigger. Then suddenly, without warning, the next thing you remember is the car flipping and skidding on its side. Sparks fly and petrol spills. As the road is on an incline, the spill crawls ominously in your direction. As if on cue, the engine pops and a fire snakes out under the hood. It is not looking good and you say uh-oh.  

Uh-oh, you repeat once more, as if not believing in the situation. Dang, might you be burnt to a crisp like the Colonel's famous fried chicken?

You try to wriggle free but your legs are stuck. An arm is broken and marred by a radius bone jutting out. The pain is excruciating and tears well up in your eyes making the scene look pretty in a disco disorientated way. You try to call for help but the only sound that escapes your throat is a gurgling one. Blood must be filling it from somewhere.

A grey Asian squirrel stands a short distance away. He is wondering about the sound you make. Most folks will just coochy-coochy him but you are making a different kind of noise. He wonders if you are trying to sell him something. Shell-less groundnuts? Fur dye? He has heard it all before. One time, he bought and tried on a black and white combo and was chased around like a skunk for weeks by an amorous fella named Pepe Le Pew. He almost got it "in the back", but thankfully, a timely placed nut prevented a "Crying Game" moment. Or would that be a Brokeback Mountain one?

Actually the squirrel with the nut in his tiny hands is wondering if a fire roast might turn his snack into a delicious treat. He is eager to find out, making chattering noises as if recalling recipes of generations past. It is likely that his chatter is driven by an ancient memory of a tree full of nuts cooked accidentally by indiscriminate lightning. You know it is true because scenes like that is always affirmed in museum dioramas.

The squirrel doesn't seem very sorry for you though. These creatures are usually amoral to the core, much like tree bark, which is why they make homes in them. They only care about nuts and about scratching their large soft large ones in their leisure.

The creature continues to stare at you with his black expressionless eyes. Without missing a beat, he then rolls his chestnut toward the spilled petrol. It picks up the flammable liquid and carries it all the way to the hungry fire which is now getting quite out of control. In an instant, the whole goddamn thing explodes, creating a giant fireball. It tosses the nut into the night sky and far, far away. The squirrel himself is half singed making him look like a dashboard hula girl doll: half naked, below fur. It crys an Eeek! and runs away.

The blast looks spectacular from a distance. But close by, you could only say, Oh shit!

Next:

From above a hospital bed, you hover and see yourself wrapped in bandages. They feel tighter than a popiah roll made by that Newton Hawker Centre hawker who's always quarreling with his brother. In another time, you could audition as the movie Mummy's next new star, but for now, you float above your own body causing you ask the obvious question: Am I now a drone selfie camera?

No, idiot. That's just near-death experience or NDE, a well-known phenomenon. If you have experienced childbirth or gotten a kick in the balls, you'll know what NDE is.

A doctor picks up the clipboard hanging off your bed and mulls over its contents. Then he nods knowingly and announces in a serious tone: "In the next days you will itch like hell. There's nothing we can do for you except for Nurse Betty here to show you some cleavage. No doubt I can already see you staring at her without my prescription. No worries though. Nurse Betty is not offended. Far be it, she is very academic about the whole thing. She is writing a research paper on Nursing Staff Haberdashery and Patient Recovery Rates: A Correlation. It is about steeper necklines and shorter hemlines and whether they will lead to faster hospital discharges and thus more free beds. Always, it is about freer beds in public hospitals. "Churn rate" is what drives us now. It used to be compassion, but hey, that is difficult to quantify in terms of dollars and sense."

The good doctor continues:

"Enlightened people in Germany have experimented with nude newscasters and found that it makes bad world news go down a lot easier. We are hoping to do the same with busty nurses in 1960s A-Go-Go mini uniforms. In the male wards first, at least. It is projected that recovery rates will be phenomenal!"

"In any case, this hospital wing you are in is paid for by Miss Amy Yip, that Category III HK actress who has now made her home in the nearby KL Twin Towers."

Nurse Betty nods in agreement and runs a finger alluringly down her ample chest, most likely as a tribute to Ms Yip, who is now a volunteer lifeguard at the Die Happy Elders Home. You could glimpse through your bandage that Nurse Betty is indeed togged up "pretty tight". Her lovelies are like grapefruits straining against clingwrap ready to pop.

"But really, the reason you, Mr Ayam Api Bin Bumi Logam, cannot reach out to touch those lovelies is that you have..." The good doctor checks his clipboard again before peering over his glasses at you to say: "Sir, you have offended Tai Sui. Do you know what that means?"

Wrapped up as you are, you try to shake your head as best as you can. A strip falls over one eye making you look like a bad-ass Frankenstein. The cables holding your arm and leg casts rattle like chains on a wind chime. A bird outside the window turns to stare in horror and immediately shat green shit. No so long ago, it was chained to a bird stand outside a pet shop in Chong Pang but was released as the shop's lease was up. The pet shop is now located in Blk 716. 

"Offending Tai Sui is a very serious matter," the kind doctor gravely informs you. "Basically you are screwed. Bad stuff will happen to you. This car accident is an example. Witnesses say it is all because of a very cute squirrel. It was trying to cross the road when your car came barreling along. If it was a chicken, the locals say, you could have escaped all this drama. Everybody knows that chickens are experts at crossing roads and making people wonder why."

You want to open your mouth to say something but the bandages are tight and only a sorry "pffft" noise escapes. The doctor continues, this time in a more reassuring tone. Everybody relaxes except you.

"Now, now, Mr Ayam. You do not have to worry. The worse is yet to come." 

On hearing that, your eyes widen in terror. What could probably be worse than THIS???

The kind doctor again explains: "Not only have you offended the Tai Sui, but you have also offended all the Star Gods up there. They are circling round like vultures, impatient to rain down meteors of bad omen upon you. Why are they so mean, you ask. I'm not sure. But as astrology goes, it is just how the planets and stars are lined up. It's all very scientific you know. We do all our surgeries here according to star charts and what they tell us. It's why we do 8-hr surgeries at a stretch until our eyes cannot open or until the stars disappear over the horizon. Even though our success rates are no different than before, temple mediums say at least the bodies in our morgue are at peace. That's important too!"

He wipes his brow and continues:

"The only thing we don't do is plastic surgery. Man, those new stars are born so far away we have problems discerning what is good or bad!"

Then vexing, "Well, do note that you will at first get bodily harm. Then it is financial ruin followed by sabotage by those close and dear. The year is going to be a Shit-Hits-The-Fan kind of thing for you."

As you lie there inert, hopeless and confused, the good doctor continues in his non-committal but wise voice, sounding more and more like Morgan Freeman playing his regular God role.

"The good news is, if you ride this all out, your next year will be much much better."

Ride this out? You mean just lie there and let the days pass?

The good doctor narrow his eyes as if to say: You got somewhere to go?

"By the way, you will need to stay in this hospital for the next three months. The bill is roughly RM300,000 - give or take RM100k. I know, the bill seems high. But blame it on NII or "Najib Induced Inflation". That 1MDB thing is making fuckers of all of us, right? The whole world knows about this except the mainstream Malaysian press. The reporters and editors might as well be bandaged up like you, heheh..."

Your body fails to see the humour and shakes involuntarily at the large sum of money mentioned. It has always been like this since you were a young kid running barefoot in the kampung with nothing but rubber seeds as playthings in your pocket. It's why you'd climbed the corporate ladder as fast as you did. Or bought that Damansara bungalow so quickly without as soon as you had the cash and credit. Mostly credit.

You wife and kid appear at the ward door (which bears the number 9630, for you 4-D punters out there.) The well-fed, well coiffed lady breaks into tears upon seeing you - all wrapped up like a festival dumpling. Thank goodness there's no red sauce anywhere, she reassures herself.

Your similarly overfed and pampered kid shrieks and bounces over to you. However, his congenital clumsiness (two left feet) flares up and he trips launching himself right into your stiff in-cast arms. You scream in agony as something else cracks.

The good doctor's prognosis comes back to haunt you. It echoes in your mind clearly. "Sabotage by those close and dear..."

He looks at Nurse Betty and then at her thesis-bound cleavage. The four of them acknowledge that perhaps, the worst is over for you Mr Ayam Api Bin Bumi Logam. They just couldn't have imagined that it would be over so quick. At times, miracles do happen!

The end. - by TC Lai



2) Dog - Just You Wait

You have just finished an important company dinner and your boss has just given you an outstanding award. 

You beam as you make your way to the men's toilet, the Sales Top Dog trophy clutched firmly and triumphantly in your hand. In the other is a fortune cookie that has just been handed out. It can wait, you think, and slips it nonchalantly into your pants pocket.

The year has been one hard slog but every bit of it has been worth the sacrifice. The overtime, the traffic violations (never putting enough parking coupons when out meeting clients), the cabaret sessions at Yeh Lai Xiang with the ladies, etc, etc. Well, at least the whiskey and attention of the ladies at YLX were a balm.

You look again at your Top Dog trophy. It is a variation of  the RCA His Master's Voice sculpture. However, instead of a docile puppy looking at what could be an ant trail, this one has an eager Alsatian with a bone in its teeth. Below is the inscription: Top Dog Deserves His Bone. 

It is also a paraphrase of the company's Sales' mantra: The Top Dog Gets His Bone. 

"Bone! Bone! Bone!" the mantra rings in your ear like a pleasant earworm as you recall the Mao-like rally chants at each quarterly sales meeting. They are called Invigoration Meet-ups or IMU (pun, I Am You, get it? Success breeding success), where everybody is encouraged to be xiao-on, eager and gung-ho. It's the same kind of uplifting seminar Tim Robbins used to run before he was wiped out by Trump's friend, Bernie Madoff. 

Grandma used to say the same thing about her Tupperware sales meetings as well, but you know that was just "jealous talk". Well, at least Grandma was smart enough not to fall prey to that guy with the pyramid scheme.

You know the company hasn't always been like this before. Things changed when the new COO arrived from Microsoft. Obviously the Steve Ballmer Win-At-All-Cost Effect had rubbed off on him and he had brought that dog-eat-dog mentality to you all, a company that prided itself on making and selling photocopy paper that won't stick in the copier. 

The COO said this on his first day: "If Nokia can rise to be No.1 in the mobile phone industry after starting out as a toilet paper maker, we can do the same!" Last heard, your company has been hiring business analysts from the wearable tech industry. It is rumoured that they are being paid quite handsomely in bundles of A4-sized tree pulp. 

Apparently the COO has one belief: that brick-like smartphones - no matter how supermodel thin - would become a thing of the past, much like how company executives have all stopped carrying briefcases to work preferring thumb-drive their stuff instead. It proves my point, the COO had proudly pointed out then.

To him, it is just a matter of time before the Telecoms World will once again face upheaval as it did when mobile phones and Wi-Fi appeared on the scene, knocking out the appeal of residential lines and IDD calls. Suddenly the telcos found their cash cows falling over from Mad Trends Disease. They have since replaced them with EDRC or exaggerated data roaming charges.

"If you need a new SIM card, you will visit the dentist instead of your neighborhood 7-11. Jawbone tech is the Future of Comms," said the new bright-eyed COO then.

The gleam in his eyes that first day was so bright that everybody shaded their faces and tried to clap with one hand on their thighs. They all went home happy but sore.

"How would we text?" you'd asked when the extreme thigh-slapping died down. "Or even read a PDF file?" 

Everybody went silent at your comment and stared at you as if you had committed the ultimate sin. But the COO was patient. He flipped his custom-cut C-Office hair before saying: "Your SIRI will be in the 2nd last molar." 

You know he was just baiting you to ask the next obvious question, which is: "And what's in the last molar, the wisdom tooth?"

"Ah, the wisdom tooth. That's where we shall put your Smart Digital Assistant," the COO cooed. He then winked and flashed his well-practiced Microsoft winsome smile. The same one that Bill Gates had used countless times to successfully convince millions that each new Windows was a better OS than Apple's IOS. That smile was the only thing Bill failed to patent. Really, a corporate smile? The same question a Fast Company magazine editorial once posed.

According to R&D, the whole jawbone thing is going to be powered by saline wash, something the company is going to produce in partnership with a company called Leesterine in China. You find the name familiar, but it's been years since you swished your mouth with something toxic blue and you forget. In any case, aren't there also many Lees in Korea too besides China? Or maybe sauce-maker Lee Kum Kee has decided to diversify his business by recycling his same bottles. These days you can never tell, what with Millennial children at the helm. They are as clueless as social media interaction is vaporous.

You arrive at the toilet and find it rather luxurious, exuding Art Deco chic. A row of urinals shaped like tulips grred you, or more accurately, your gu-gu-jiao. 

Holding your weiner, you close your eyes as your stream of "yellow consciousness" eases a certain discomfort. It impacts the white porcelain with glee, turning it a shade Heaty Yellow. You forget the Pantone code for that. However, a trained TCM doc might remember, but he will only call it "yit hei". "You have worked too many late nights," he'll say. "Drink more liang teh instead of coffee," will be his learned advice.

As you let go, the smell of leek becomes strong. It is from the dinner's 4th course, an excellent stir-fried Shandong vegetable dish accompanied by fat, juicy Japanese scallops. You realise it is more than a recipe because Shandong is Japan's premier leek supplier. No one should be surprised that Hokkaido would reciprocat with scallops. Either that or milk from its luscious cows.

Well, all in all the dinner was an excellent affair. The supply of seafood at the buffet table was endless: lobsters, crayfish, oysters, you name it. Even the top shell done Szechuan style was superlative in taste. Not like the canned thing from the old Warren Golf Course eatery which was uncommonly famous.

As you return to think about the jawbone thing, your tongue begins to subconsciously search your teeth. You wonder about the remaining roles your other chompers might play in that COO's Jawbone Revolution vision. Local storage? GPS? AR engine? Or DAB radio? Thirty-two teeth, 32 appliances. You have to say the idea is pretty cool!

If you you loose one tooth, you could always rely on dentures. They are better as they come pre-ordered with "click & play" modules. No more waiting for nature to run its course. Or drilling to fit in the necessary micro-mini SOC microchips. Who has ever liked dental drilling? Only Mr Bean.

As your tongue search, it locates a piece of meat stuck between the cuspid and biscupid pearlies. In case you are wondering, they are just fancy names for your incisor and incisor-buddy teeth.

You work your tongue to get that stucked foodbit loose, but without much success. The picture stuck in front of your urinal is that of a sexy lady with a curled lip coaxing you to pee and aim well. Yet you do not see her. Your mind is in a dark cavern keenly looking at a lit-up crack between two teeth; looking at a piece of meat stubbornly flabbing on. It reminds you of the old joke about an old lesbian's "doughnut" after years of pleasure-abuse. At that, you smile. You are given to be a "vaginaterian" sometimes.

I'm indeed a Top Dog, you say. ego suddenly boosted. You try hard again to get the foodbit out and thus work your tongue more vigorously. However, despite all your effort, that piece of stubborn meat refuses to budge. That it is wagyu beef perhaps explains your failure despite the effort. It is expensive, leave it there, is what your subconscious is telling you.

Meanwhile, a burly and well-tattooed gent has arrived at the urinal next to you. He sees your Top Dog award on the mantle shelf in front and wonders about you, eyes closed and a tongue working with pleasure against cheek. He wonders about your sexual orientation and if you are trying to be "cute". 

He doesn't wonder very long, for in your revelry, you have accidentally brought your  stream of yellow consciousness onto his expensive Alden Longwing shoe.

That you are still humming and recalling the fifth course of the dinner - some variation of Buddha Jump Over The Wall - does not matter to him. He looks at you, your weiner and then at his foot. It is all very plain. You are one kinky motherfucker!

At the very same moment, you open your eyes and leap back in aghast and quickly check your yellow issue. But too late. The tattooed gent, angry beyond words, picks up your Top Dog award and whacks you on the head. Blood creeps from a crack and you start to feel whoosy. He whacks you again, calling you "Bloody faggot!" before flinging your treasured award across the far wall. It breaks neatly into two, with the Top Dog segment separating and bouncing onto the floor a few times before coming to a rest on a soiled piece of discarded toilet paper. The once proud animal now looks a bit disappointed. It seems to wonder if you really deserve him.

You too fall to the ground as the room starts to grow dark. Your piss has stopped to a dribble; with your weiner still hanging outside on a half-zip. It is shriveled and limp like sea cucumber given bad news. A fly lands thinking that One-Eye Grandpa had come to visit. It proceeds to make fly-ish conversation with him. Soon, other relatives join in. You are now unconscious but still slightly aware that many tiny feet are walking all over a very sensitive part of your body. For some reason, you picture dozens of feet belonging to bikini-clad women running on a beach towards you. Fingers out ready to grab you.

Next:

It is the hospital and you are being prepped by some nurses. Their hands are all over you but in a good professional way. Only Nurse Betty's hands seem to wander a little. An anxious woman looks on. The nurses address her as your Mrs and they pass her your clothing and belongings.

She empties your pant pockets and finds a crumpled fortune cookie. It must have crushed when you fell like an oak tree in the toilet. The fortune cookie slip reads: "Your career will be on the rise. Avoid unnecessary confrontations as these can be bad for you. Romantic entanglements may also threaten your marriage." 

In the other pocket, she finds a receipt slip from Yeh Lai Xiang Cabaret. On it is a woman's neat handwriting with the words: "Need to talk to you. I'm pregnant. Love, Ivy" 

Your wife's face turns from concern to crimson red. She grits her teeth and clenches her fist at the half zip of the pants in her hands. Oh, just you wait you dog, is what she wants to say but doesn't. OH, JUST YOU WAIT DOG.

The end. - by TC Lai





3) Pig - Poke The Peach

You are sitting in a small meeting room and waiting to speak with your kid's form teacher. She has called you in because he was again distressed.

"Er, what seems to be Sammy's trouble this time?" you ask, once the teacher has walked in through the door. Your mind is still at your workshop office where few dozen letters await. Most of them credit notes from your creditors demanding payment before CNY. It's been that kind of year.

"Your son has been crying a lot in class because his classmates have called him Pig."

"Oh, that doesn't sound so bad, right? He is after all  rather fat," you say, and regret it immediately for using that accurate but un-PC word. You were brought in a generation where truth is heard and where kids are expected to be "thick-skinned".

You and your wife have always used the word "ho oi" or Cantonese for adorable. The kid has always been chubby and a little fragile emotion-wise since birth. And dropping him once on the head might have complicated matters.

You blame it on your wife's side of the family: they are about the same - soft spoken and easy to tear. That's why they all ended up in civil service jobs. Parents claimed they couldn't take the rough and tumble of private sector life. She and her sisters even look the same: fair of skin and porcelain-like. And just like those Ming-famous vases, all have very shapely curves. All in all, very "hapless gu niang" is what popular literature calls them. 

In fact, that's how you met your wife outside 7-11 one night. She was craving for kaya and you had found her gently sobbing on some steps. She couldn't open a jar of the stuff to save her life; and you were always a sucker for a damsel in distress. It's why you are seeing one of the sisters on the side as well. One tear and your heart sinks.

"Sir, are you listening to me?" the teacher asks, seeing you mentally adrift.

"Oh yeah, right." You notice that she is also fair and shaped like porcelain. She won't understand your Tough Guy Theory.

"I think Sammy will have to take it on the chin, that's all," you offer, knowing that it is not unlike a "horse face" situation. You know, the kind of thing where people call you horse face because, well, you looked just like Mr Ed. There's no evil intended, just unfortunate genetics at play.

And truth be told, Sammy's shape is kind of tough to hide. At least with a horse face, you can cover up (partially) with an N95 mask, the perennial haze not withstanding.

"Sir, you really have to pay attention to this and be more attuned to Sammy's needs and hurts," the teacher says, almost working herself up to a cry. You wonder what hurt she herself is struggling with. Is it her her feet? you wonder. Or cleavage. You look to confirm this suspicion. 

But they are fine and dandy. 

At that, you sit upright. The teacher thinks you are finally paying attention and gives you a smile. The same old porcelain smile that melts you during CNY family gatherings. You also notice her lips are lovely too! All bud-shaped and crimson.

"Ok, ok, I'll have a word with Sammy," you say, knowing that the longer you lingered in that room, the more aroused you would be. And the overalls you are wearing from the office is roomy and don't hide such situations well. 

The engineers always joked: "Er, your 'spanner' like size 10 or 12?" The proper reply would be: "Ya lor, the nuts big mah!" Engineers. A nerdy lot.

Back in the office, five old gentlemen await. They are all your uncles and they have helped you in your business since it fell incumbent in your hands. They also have all grown spoilt during your grandfather's halcyon days as a successful towkay and clan leader. They probably must have also stolen quite a bit from his cash register as well, if your mom's stories are to be believed. But you never held a grudge, and that's why they like this young nephew of theirs. Also, you were the only one willing to continue with the family business. The rest of the kids simply refused to become a "grease monkey" like them. Not that many of them did touch grease. It dirties porcelain pretty obviously.

Your grandfather had come from Panyu, Guangzhou and grew a business making and supplying parts to the Marine industry. At the time, the industry was booming; first with the ferry-making business in Geylang and Tanjong Rhu and then with the mega projects at Tuas.

The first cruise ship in the region was full of parts from your grandpa's workshops. It still is floating and plying its trade.

And because of his success, your grandfather was better known as the King of Lavender Street. It is where his workshops are located. 

You find it funny because Lavender Street was a swamp where folks used to dump their bucket-shit in. The nickname Lavender was given to give the place irony. But you know your grandfather was a generous man who wished others to prosper with him. Maybe it is just the clan thing. You'd want all the left-behind families in China to do well. It's just village love, is what you figure. You wonder of the current crop of business leaders think the same or it is just "My bungalow is bigger than yours!" kind of mentality.

Irony or not, back then, folks had a tough life but they also had a good sense of humor. However, presently, the faces in the room are glum. But mostly just very old and wrinkled.

Lavender Street is the reason why many hardware stores supporting the marine industry are located too, spilling over to Jalan Besar. Quite a few still remain to this day. Hardware is also the reason why many canvas sewing shops exist there as well. Canvas was used in the old days in the making of tool-bags and heavy sacks. Together with rattan.

Your uncles call you Siu Tung, and for a reason. As a toddler, you loved to hit a metal can (a used Milo one) repeatedly like a drum. "Tung, tung, tung..." It was apparent from that age that you prodigiously endowed with the family genes for beating metal to a pulp.

"Siu Tung, kam neen si sai ng ho ah," says Yi Pak (2nd Uncle), in Cantonese. The times are bad this year, is what he is saying. Or trying to say. The man is truly old. When no speaking, his head would droop and nap.

The other uncles, they nod in agreement. They are similarly elderly and prone to naps. Some even have hearing problems that make conversations difficult and surreal.

"Ngoh deh ng pong tuck gong tor lor," says another. Translation: We cannot help you anymore.

Huh? you say. That sounded very real and not surreal at all.

But it is the truth. Your uncles have been helping to prop the family business up for a few years now. Times have been rather bad, what with big companies muscling in with their economy of scale and storage spaces, and with the Malaysian ringgit so low, business in the industry has mostly gone south. Directionally it's been heading north to peninsular country.

"Well, financially, we have managed to break even the last couple of years. But our workers are getting old and bent. Like Kan Suk here. (You point to an old gent tottering outside with a broom and dust pan.) He is already 70. He's so old that I have to get my domestic maid come in here and help sometimes. Especially with the heavy stuff. If MOM finds out, I'll be in deep shit. Why, just the other day, he fell asleep whilst running the lathe machine and almost got mangled in it."

You pause for your old uncles to take all that in and finish adjusting their hearing aids.

"And all the employable kids from Malaysia just want to be in the food industry. No one wants to be a mechanic anymore. Those who want would rather work in auto workshops that handle expensive cars such as the Benzes and BMWs. And ONLY if these cars are serviced in an aircon service center with capsule coffee machines, like those along Leng Kee Road."

"And friends tell me the last time Sin Min Industrial Estate got a young mechanic was back in the late 90s. Even he has gotten married and returned to Johor Baru to start his own family and business."

You pause to catch a breath. You rather talk to fair and porcelain ladies for they take less effort. They are also more agreeable. However, you continue. 

"And with the stupid Americans electing Trump and doing away with the TPP, things are just going to get tougher." You pause, to get a reaction. But the old gents are either snoring away or picking at their age spots. Only Sam Suk (Third Uncle), with a sudden gleam in his eyes  ventures this: 

"Sell the business. The shophouses alone are worth $3 million."

Sam Suk has been eyeing the property a long time and always advocating to quit and sell. His sons (your cousins) are no better. They hardly work a day in their lives and only concern themselves with flipping condos. They flip a lot of pizzas too, which explains their obese body sizes. You are pretty sure Sammy got his cue from them.

$3 million is a lot of money, you think. But after dividing that sum with this lot of greedy relatives, you won't even have enuf to start a new biz with. And at your age, what kind of work can you find?

"Sell backside," says Ng Suk (Fifth Uncle), with a laugh. He's the youngest and the person to best to "get" you. Apparently he also liked to beat a Milo tin when young. Maybe not Milo; some other era-defining brand like Ovaltine.

"Huh?" says Dai Pak (1st Uncle), who had been napping. "Did someone say 'sell backside'?" Of all the uncles, Dai Pak was the most extravagant and spendthrift. And had a reputation as a swinger when he was young. He liked both genders for company and to "duk toh gor" - poke the peach - with young boys, an affliction that brought great stress and crisis to the family. Everybody is still surprised that he is still around and did not catch AIDS. He was a big reason why Grandpa's fortune shrunk as quickly as it did. If Grandma did not contrive to marry him off to a thrifty and no-nonsense woman, the family would have ended up "begging outside the Kwan Yin temple" as the old matriarch liked to say.

Ng Suk speaks again. 

"Siu Tung, how about 3-D printers? I hear they are all the rage now."

He removes a set of keys from his pocket to show you a trinket attached to it. It is a Chinese Puzzle Ball. Tiny, but wholly functional.

"My grandson gave me this," he continues. "He said they made it during D&T class in school. Cute, isn't it?"

Pride is evident in his eyes. His kids are probably the best in the clan; well behaved and liked to earn their keep.

Just then, a knock on the door. Your secretary pokes her head in and informs you that the 2017 calendars you have ordered as gifts for your regular customers have come in. And for you to proof-check them so they can be signed off. She hands you a copy.

You look and flip the pages as you check. The design is appropriately new-yearsy: Red with gold splashes and suitable imagery for the Year of the Rooster. Each page also carried a fortune-telling.

You stop at the page of your birth year, Pig. The fortune forecast reads:

"It is going to be a so-so year. Your benefactors will be few and you have to rely on your entrepreneurial spirit. Mind your health and the family's too, especially the elderly. They could be in a "spear and cutlass" situation."

You read the fortune again and go hmm. What a timely cue, you think. Perhaps Ng Suk is right. The family should modernize the workshop business to become a one-stop 3-D printing solutions company. If all the present equipment are sold off, there could be enough capital for a modest start. 3-D printing after all has been heralded as the 22nd Century industrial revolution.

Under your breath, you thank the deity Tai Chi Yeh for this fortuitous coincidence. You were, after all, christened his godson when you were born. Not much good it did over the years because you toggled between being an atheist and Taoist.

Gods, as some medium told you before, like folks who stick to the straight and narrow.

You turn to say something to Ng Suk, but a scream comes from your secretary. Old Dai Suk has just fallen from his seat like a drunk, face down and visibly expired. Backside stiffly pointing to the sky. 

Sell backside? No need liao. You finally know what to do to revive this moribund family business and give these few surviving geriatric souls a few more good years. That's the least a good nephew can do.

The end. - by TC Lai



4) Rat - Late Liding Lood

You are nodding off to sleep at the airport lounge and beginning to dream. In it, you are having a discussion with your wife. You want to drive to Malaysia but your wife insists that you fly.

"Didn't you see that Youtube video? Some folks were just innocently driving to the Tuas Checkpoint when suddenly they were whacked by a car travelling in the opposite direction. You tell me, if not sway, what is the chance of that happening at all in Singapore?"

You blame your trip with her to Queen Street for that. After having that rather old-school fried Hokkien mee at the nearby hawker centre, you both then walked to the giantic God of Fortune statue in the courtyard and read your CNY fortunes posted there.

Apparently your fortune this year isn't very good. Like that Rooster friend at work, you too have offended Tai Sui. But unlike your friend who could be struck by lightning on a bright clear day, your luck is slightly better. It's like when you get run over by a car and that vehicle's license plate is going to win you 4-D. It is that kind of balance. Suffer in order to win some. What to do then?

Generally if you offend someone, it is best to apologise and move on. But with Tai Sui, it is like offending a gangster. You just don't know what's the right thing to do. Giving money seems right. Since Tai Sui is some deity in a temple, that is where you shud go. At a Chinese temple, buying "fragrant oil" will win you many favours. Just ask that regular guy at the temple who drives a Benz. Before he fragrant oiled, he was driving a pithy Toyota Altis (although in car-expensive Singapore, no vehicle is actually pithy; just LC.)

Of course, he has also installed a four-sided Thai deity in his home. These days, deities have to be four-sided to be effective. The worship space is that crowded. We are hitting 7 million souls soon.

Well, it's not unlike a crowded Wi-Fi network. It needs the newest router with the latest and most sensitve directional antennas to get someone connected. Pointed the right way, Web's Google god can then shower you with much search engine blessings. Else it'll be a "Error 404: HTTP Not Found" deadend. That's not fortune, just arse luck.

So, you were dreaming and suddenly all these come to pass.

You wake and find a stewardess gently tapping on your shoulder. 

"Sir, wake up. We are going to start boarding now." 

You see a smallish Boeing plane parked on a tarmac and remember where you are. Gate 23. Regional flight. Salary disimbursement to retrenched staff. KL subsidary. Najib and Rosmah. Corruption. Anwar. Saiful's backside kenna poked. Mahatir. Yellow tee.

It's all fragmented but the world is slowly returning to your consciousness. You pick up your hand luggage and follow the rest of the trolley bag-toting lemmings into the queue. A baby cries and you hope to God that that little rascal and his mom is not sitting next to you.

Soon, the plane is in the air and the seatbelt signs are off. You relax and wonder about the persons next to you. A baby cries in the distance. You smile.

On your immediate right is a lady in red. On your left is a guy reading a dossier numbered 6821. You wonder what's inside such a document. But before you could think of anything, the lady in red introduces herself. 

"Ai, I'm Late. Late Liding Lood."

What??? A lisping fairytale character? You look at her intently, as if disbelieving. She then tells you that she is off to see her grandmama in KL, who is very sick. An anging (dog) had bitten her and given her tetanus. Unfortunately, treatment was delayed and she has now developed hydrophobia afraid of water. It being monsoon season, the condition is thus calamitous. Grandmama is afraid to leave her house in the rain and cowers all day under an umbrella. Such is why good granddaughter Late (Red) is bringing along groceries from Singapore. She informs you that it is all packed nicely in a basket hamper and kept in the overhead compartment above you. 

"Lu you wan tu see?" she asks, rather impractically. 

You politely decline, knowing that food hampers are all the same. Scotch, dried mushrooms, cans of abalone, yusheng, kueh bangkit, etc. - the ilk. At least if the plane crashes, you know where to find a feast. You then try some small talk with Late.

"I work at a paper mill. We chop trees down to make all kinds of paper."

"Oh, a loodsman then. How larming!"

"Haha, yes. A woodsman. You can say that." 

You strike a nervous laugh to hide the realisation that you too have become a fairytale character. The day is indeed getting weirder and weirder. You wonder what other characters from that murderous story will pop up. And what became of the girl they called Red and her woodsman. Did they marry happily after? Or was it a Desperate Housewives kind of situation: a lady and her secret affair with a gardener.

And did Grandma become their confinement lady? Where's Grandpa in all this? Did he stir up the wolves in the first place? Questions, questions. Fairytales are simple but they leave a web of unanswered questions. 

Suddenly, the plane jostles hard and alarm bells go off. Oxygen masks drop and everybody grips their armrests in uncertain fear. What's happening? Didn't the plane just take off?

Well, we all know that when things go up they eventually come down... even Viagra is of limited promise. 

The recently risen plane then makes a nose dive... And falls. Everybody now is clear they are going to die.

But you are calm. This is a fairy tale story after all you tell yourself. You look at pretty Lood and feels happy that she is gripping onto your hand, although a bit too tightly. But nebermind. For once in your life, a pretty girl takes a liking to you. Who cares if the world ends now. They say if people die together, they will reborn together and end up buying the same time-share apartment. That is why every time you go back there, there's a sense of deja vu. Everything looks familiar but smells fishy.

The plane's Captain, a guy named Wally (or is it Sully?), comes on over the intercom. 

"Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a privilege flying with you, no matter how short it was. But as you can see, this is not how I would like to fly the plane. I am not in control anymore as we are free-falling. Sorry to say, we will not achieve zero-G, so there are really no positives to take from this situation.... Huh, what?!"

In the background, the co-pilot can be heard saying this to the Captain: "Keep it simple, Cap. People are going to die."

"Oh...yes. The dying bit. Alright folks. If you are thinking of praying, this is a good time to do it. See you on the other side, Captain out."

With that, the Captain resigns everyone to their fate and returns to fighting for control over the steering yoke, which is juddering like a possessed pneumatic hammer. Something in the plane has gone surely very wrong.

Later, major news networks in Malaysia wake up from their 1MDB induced acquiescence to report on a plane crash in a forest not far from KL. Two survivors are found. A woodsman and a  woman in red, whose name sounds very much like Red Riding Hood from the renown fairytale. Apparently they are - like in the story - on their way to grandmama's house.

The woodsman is injured, hysterical about some lost money (that's not insured) but otherwise is in no life-threatening situation. The woman in red has a lisp but doctors in KPJ Hospital (with their best educated knowledge) confirms that it is not due to the crash. They say they will refer her to a bomoh who could cure it if given the right "incentive". You realise it is the same bomoh used by Najib's wife Rosmah to find the missing MH370 with two coconuts. Malaysia really is Boleh Land.

The end. - by TC Lai





5) Ox - Mind Her Lady Parts

You have just finished a sumptuous dinner and now belly-button gazing. You rub your sizeable food-baby post-makan and realize it has been a pretty good life thus far. Someone calls out to you . You look up. It is good ol' Sim from your NS days.

"Ah Heng, ler ho boh? Jin ku bo dut tiok lu," he says, cheerful-like.

It's the standard greeting between Army lao jiaos. You both laugh at that and shake hands.

"Wah, Heng, you look prosperous now. Must be doing well."

By prosperous, Sim is referring to your paunch. Yes, you have certainly "fa fu" (expanded) quite a bit since Reservist ended. Your company business is doing well and the recent expansion into China had gone off without a hitch. Plus the new secretary is turning out to be such a great help - young and eager to learn - unlike the last two who seemed frustrated because they didn't have a secretarial pool to run. Well, that is what happens when you hire an MNC type for an SME. 

That your business is doing well is no surprise. It's what your personal fortune teller in Toa Payoh has foretold long ago. She's an accurate one you know, after having consulted her the last 20 years. The only things she don't get right are her appointment times. Her son has always got to wake her up for that. 

"She needs her dream time," he had confided one time. "In them she go places and learn things."

It's all very mysterious, but you are glad. Her dream time has been very effective for you. Kind of like that movie Inception. Maybe that's where she goes: the future.

Or the past. One can surely influence the future knowing the past. (Unprotected sex, for one)

This fortune teller is someone your mom first brought you to see before your A-level exams. She had wanted to know if you would get into uni and be somebody in life. Or that she should just use her life savings for a round-the-world cruise while you learned the ropes at your uncle's bakery. He was looking at reinventing the chiam tao roti at the time.

Without knowing the first thing about you, the fortune teller had said: "Your son is born in the year of the Ox. Oxes are steady and stubborn creatures who see the fruits of hard work but not the drudge." 

You wondered then if it was the Red Bull tee-shirt you had on that gave the game away. But your mom eagerly nodded and egged her to go on. Tell us more, tell us more, she had enthused and then clapped.

Examining your face, the fortune teller had this to say: "The glow on his T-zone is not due to face oil. It is the touch of the God of Fortune when he was thinking of gold. Your son will have much "guai yan" - benefactors - throughout his life. Especially so in the year of 2017."

Turning your face sideways and patting it like some melon at the supermarket, she then observed: 

"His left cheek is good to slap, it means he will meet a good wife. His right cheek not so...means he will not get on well with older women. Mother-in-law, secretaries, that kind."

And children? your mom interjected, concern clearly in her eyes.

The soothsayer then turned your hand over to look at its side. Small lines at the base of your little finger indicated one or two kids. Your mom said she preferred more but was glad that at least you won't be shooting blanks. You blushed at that, knowing that your mom didn't have to say that in front of the fortune teller. But they are starting to be like old friends.

The soothsayer then told you to remove your pants, turn left and cough. But the son reminded her it was something he had told her about of his NS check-up, not what she should do for this client.

Clearly embarrassed by her faux pas, she ended the session immediately saying she needed her nap. You then continued to talk to the son about NS as yours would be coming up soon after your impending A-level exams. Maybe there's more to coughing in underpants than meets the eye.

Back at the dinner table, your kid Xiao Gang is looking at his school report card. He is over the moon as it is the first time his results are all blue. He has indeed done well. And his good performance is the reason for this dinner. But his CCA is still a dud. Cannot do sports, don't want to join a uniform group. So the teachers threw him to the AV Club where the students are mostly in charge of morning assembly set-up. You pray he doesn't short-circuit any equipment and set fire to the school.

Across the table, your wife is busy with a plate of oyster omelette. With her your fortune teller has suggested to pay more attention to health.

"But she's healthy as an ox," you had said, having seen her wash your car in under 10 minutes, impressing even the most efficient of neighborhood maids. Often, their faces are blacker than at a funeral when it comes to washing their bosses' cars. Your own maid still takes 30 minutes to do the task. And you drive only a smallish Toyota Altis.

"Not that," had replied the fortune teller as she made a circular motion about her lady parts.

"Huh?" 

"Chaboh dai chee," was she meant. "Chaboh dai chee," she repeated.

"You must encourage her to do more check-ups. Pap smear that sort of thing," the fortune teller then clarified.

"But women are always getting urinary infections, no?" You protested, feeling cheated for getting advice that everybody knew to be true. 

"Well, usually when they don't want to have sex," had replied the old fortune teller, trying to wink. It is difficult with folds and wrinkles get in the way. 

"Oh," you say, finally realizing the numerous times your wife was having a headache or inconvenient infection when you are keen and horny. Then she would just do her Soduku or crossword puzzles. And the longer her vocabulary list grew, the shorter your "ambition" became. Soon, your lovemaking occasions ran like the national average:  once every two months.

You look at your wife, who is now devouring an oyster bit. Some green stuff oozes out from the shellfish. Maybe it is not fresh, you think. But already most of the dish is gone. And the happy look on your wife's face slapped any concern of yours back down into your head and under the table.

Later that night, your wife indeed wakes up with horrific diarrhea cramps. You send her to hospital and is told she is having food poisoning. The oyster omelette being the chief suspect. As your wife cradles her tummy in regret, you surmise maybe the fortune teller was trying to tell you this as well.... that your wife would face problems in her digestive tract. You think back and wonder if there were other occasions when the old lady could have miscommunicated her visions.

No. The last time she merely scratched her armpits with both arms at the same time looking very much like a phoenix rising. Or a chimp dancing. Does that mean anything? you wonder.

The end. - By TC Lai





6) Tiger - Teeth and Apricots

You have just helped an old lady to her feet. She's well dressed - pearl necklace, dark green jade bangle, gold rings. She's probably 80 but looks more like 70 - still sprite - despite her slip and fall.

"Thank you, young man," she says, slightly embarrassed. Both of you are standing beside her VW Beetle, a frosted lime green reincarnated one, not the original dubbed The People's Car which famously had a naturally aspirated engine where the boot was supposed to be. The car was so easy to run and maintain that it easily ran for 25 years without hiccup. And most did.

The new VW Beetle, well, is just a little too fat, too clumsy. You haven't seen many of them around these days (probably scrapped due to COE) and that is why you paused to look at it, being there fortuitously to catch the old lady when she fell.

Your uncle had an old Beetle. You liked the car but hated riding at the back. The boxer engine almost always made it terribly warm and uncomfortable sitting there. You had wondered if your uncle and aunty ever made-out in that car at Katong Park. Probably not. They would have been swimming in a pool of sweat. That scene in Titanic comes to mind. Hand print on steamy rear windscreen. Or was it a footprint?

The day is bright and sunny. You clear your head and return your attention to the old person at/in hand.

"Er, no problem, M'am." you say, avoiding the term 'aunty'. Somehow, it is not right to call someone in their 80s that. 'M'am' has a bit more respect.

"If not for your timely catch, I might have fallen and broken a hip or two," declared the old lady, in a voice that would have charmed many a young man in the day. Immediately you feel a kindredness and ushers her to rest on a nearby bench. The old lady rubs an ankle to make sure the discomfort is but temporary.

Again, you notice that the ankle would have caught the eye of many a young man in the day. It's absent of age spots and you wonder about the rest of the "old" lady. But just.

"Hot day, isn't it?" she says, noting that you have been staring.

"Er, yes. And it is going to be like this for the next few days," you quickly reply. What will your buddies think if they knew you were checking out an 80-yr old lady? They probably wouldn't care. After age 50, most were so horny they would hump a beer bottle after a few. If only the neck was wider. (Well, at least that was the case with the guys who had fallen out of love with their partners. Long term marriage IS a terrible institution.)

The weather. You know it well because you play petanque at an open court somewhere in Woodlands and it's become a habit to check the weather at a stretch.

"Do you need a drink? There's kopitiam nearby," you say, surprised at the offer you have just made. What's the flirtation all of a sudden?

"It's just round the corner, behind that PAP kindergarten." 

The old lady nods and gives you a kindly smile. She wants to say something but decides it can wait.

At the kopitiam, you order a kopi-O pok (thin) for her and a teh-C orleng for yourself. The latter is teh-c with less sugar, less carnation milk but with thicker tea. It ends up looking orange, why the moniker. No one else but the kopi-sohs at this kopitiam know your preferrence. They are tickled by it and so are you. If the kopitiam had sold teh tarik, you wouldn't need to order your tea this way. Teh-C orleng when pulled/tariked at home, becomes, well, teh tarik.

"Young man, thank you again for your assistance just," says the old lady once more after she has sat down.

You laugh at the "young man" reference. Yeah, compared to her, you are young. You gladly accept that. Your birthday had just passed and the occasion finally made you feel old.

"No problem, M'am. I was at the time looking at your car."

"That is a piece of junk. But my daughter loves it. My own Miata is in the workshop. The Beetle's the reason why I tripped and fell. The car is clumsy and makes you clumsy as well."

Hearing the name Miata makes your heart skip a beat. It's your fave car to own...but you only drive a Toyota Altis. When bite comes to crunch, practicality wins. You look at the Miata MX-5 the same wistful way at most beautiful women. The one that got away. Still, you cannot complain. Your partner never complained about your car or hankered to live in a condo... So it's all fine and dandy.

Some partners can be demanding. You know a good many buddies who have been ruined living the high life or at least is living on edge. Financial edge.

"Yes, I hear the Miata is a good car, roadster. You've driven one long?" you ask, trying to not let the enthusiasm get over you. On another day, you would have whooped like a kid.

"Yes, since day one. Before that, it was a Honda 2000. Dunno, I just like roadsters," says the old lady, her hair, you notice, is a little windswept in style. She would be a perfect stiff in a Mannequin Challenge.

"My name's Theresa by the way."

"And mine's Connor."

"I've a good feeling about you Connor. Do you believe in happy coincidences?"

You see the smile in her eyes and say yes without thinking.

The lovely old lady continues:

"I've spent a a gap year with my first husband in a monastery in Tibet.... some place north. We learnt much stuff... Stuff you don't usually find written anywhere in the civilised world."

"My first husband was a gynae. He wanted to test his skills in some rural area, so off we went. In the end the lama in the temple and village there were so grateful, he decided to share "some stuff" with us. In any case, we were curious to know. Turns out, this lama was a student of an original renegade lama who was persecuted by the Chinese in the 50s. They escaped and settled there."

At this, the old lady leans in close and whispers:

"They escaped, but also with a treasure trove of very old scrolls from the monastery's library at Sera."

"Wow," you say. Speechless at what you have just learnt. The furthest you have travelled to was Bangkok. And the temple you visited exalted gemstones instead of salvation or what-not, no thanks to some stubborn tuk-tuk driver who could only gesticulate and say "We go, we go". Fortunately the damage was not much. Besides condo and car, your partner is also not excited about jewelry. Marrying her has been like keeping fish. They are happy no matter what tank or food you provide.

You decide you will think more about your partner and fish later on. This old lady is turning out to be more interesting than the VW Beetle she came parked in.

"Of course, there were more libraries than just the one at Sera.  At the time, the monks were worried the Chinese would destroy whatever they could to impose their Communist ideals on them. But it turns out the Cultural Revolution in the 70s was worse. However, by then all the docs were safely squirreled out, leaving fake and token documents to burn. Pretty smart of them, I say."

The old lady pauses to sip her kopi-O pok. She looks pleased.

"So what did you learn at this place you and your hubby were at?" you ask, curiouser and curioser. After having read the book, A Search for Historical Jesus by Dr Fida Hassnain, in 2004, you have been curious about religious texts and facts. Apparently the Catholic Church had been actively getting rid of any evidence that Jesus the Saviour lived post-cross. Much evidence pointed to him travelling BACK to India afterwards. It also explained why his years between 10 and 30 years of age remains a blank. He was under tutelage in the East, far from Palestine.

You had joked back then that the Three Wise Men were no more than academic recruiters like those from the government's Public Service Commission (PSC). After all, Jesus seemed an extraordinary learner and practitioner like David Blane.

"Oh, my gynae husband was naturally interested in birth. He had questions about fate and destiny and past lives. Also rebirth. And the Tibetan lamas were very good in these kinds of stuff. Still are."

"How does your teh-C orleng taste? Here, let me take a sip."

Without waiting for your reply, she reaches our for your drink, which had been left untounched. You were busy listening to her back story.

In any case, it's a good sign. You recall the Body Language 101 class the university made all the students go through. And a girl wanting to share your stuff is a sure sign that she "digs" you. You can even kiss her and she wouldn't mind, was what the speaker said. So unlike what the Trump "grab their pussy" incident was all about. There was no body language reading at all. Just assault, which is plainly wrong.

"So what are you doing here in these parts," you ask, hoping she has a condo here somewhere.

"I'm here to look after my late husband's business. That dental clinic over there is part of his stable."

"Oh, I thought your hubby was a gynae?"

"That was my first husband. He died while mountain climbing. He was in a difficult situation and was checking his palm lines to see if he would survive his predicament. That's when he lost grip of the rope and fell. Kind of silly and self fulfilling, isn't it? In any case, my second husband was a dentist. He died the most boring way. Collapsed while playing golf in the Philippines."

"So you see, my husbands were a gynae and a dentist. Friends joke I'm well taken care of either end."

With that, the old lady shows you her perfect teeth. You wonder if she was going to spread her legs to... but they remained crossed.

"Yup, tight," says the old lady, reading your next question and laughing.

"It's ok, we are adults here. And I'm 80. What action am I gonna get at this age? Those who can do not want to play with prunes. And those who can't are either deaf or daft."

You laugh your nervous laugh again. You enjoy the company of sharp women, but they can also make you nervous. Afterwards, you just cannot stop thinking about them. And you know this old lady is not going to be forgotten soon.

"And what do you do for a living, if I may ask," asks the old lady, who has taken a liking to your teh-C orleng. She takes another sip.

"I own a 3-D printing solutions center. I'm a silent partner actually. A cousin of mine runs it. It's a family business sort of."

"Then you are indeed the person I should bump into. I'm thinking of using 3-D printing to make fitting dentures. Singular tooth fixtures. Just scan the extracted tooth to make a perfect replica. Folks will get their new tooth refitted back quickly. People do not realise that their tongue is very sensitive to changes in their teeth alignment and surface. This new approach will correct all that."

"What do you think?"

"I think it is possible," you say. The subject has been on your mind too. It had come up during brainstorming sessions with your cousin, the one who liked ladies who were porcelain. You wonder what he would think of this lady sitting in front of you. Obviously once a procelain but now lightly sun-beaten from one too many journeys in an open-top coupe. But you wouldn't call her RubberMaid just yet.

"Good. I am meeting my board of directors later, which is nothing more than a bunch of widowed dentist wives. We all have too much money and too much time on our hands. They will be thrilled."

With that you exchange name cards and realises she does have an office nearby.

"Yeah, I keep an office in each cardinal direction. They are more like factory real estate investments. You are welcome to use them too."

With that you lean forward to shake her hand, but a sharp pain stops you. The old lady notices.

"You seem to have some trouble there," she says, pointing to your lower region. "I think it is the same trouble my late husband has."

Really, you can tell? is what you are thinking. You have one hand resting on a thigh. It's nearer to your crotch than you would like.

"Tell me if it is not inguinal hernia," she says, which is exactly the jackpot diagnosis you didn't want to hear. You've been ignoring the problem because, well, it is not health threatening.

"How could you tell?" you ask, feeling maybe this woman had learned a kind of superpower from the Tibetan mystics.

"You kept adjusting your pants there unconsciously," she replies. "And you look about the age when men get it. I'm 80, so it cannpt be the other reason." Saying that the old lady chuckles.

"I could also tell that you were once a sportsman too, judging from your gait and reaction time to me tripping."

So, you were not the only one with the scanning eyes. She too was doing the discreet deed. Touche, you concede.

Before the both of you leave, you tell her she must tell you more of her adventure in the Tibetan north sometime.

"Oh yes. It's why we have Operation Harry Spotter, a wordplay on that magician boy with the forehead scar. We think we know where he is reincarnated to. The Tibetan lamas know these sort of things. And like I said, we are just a bunch of bored widows. Maybe this is the greatest service we can leave for this tiny island country, besides having given women good teeth and healthy apricots."

You cock your head a second and then understand what she means. Then arm-in-arm both of you laugh and make your way back to the car park where a CP aunty is about to write a ticket for a very lime green Beetle.

The end. - by TC Lai




7) Rabbit - Green Porridge and G Cheong Fun

You are walking under some HDB blocks in Ang Mo Kio. It is Avenue 4 where some areas have been voted the most dirtiest in Singapore. It is also a living museum to some of the country's deadliest flying killer litter, worse than Boon Lay where shopping trolleys and flower pots have been known to rain down on unsuspecting passer-bys.

You are of course oblivious to that fact. You, like most people, are glued to your handphone. A heated exchange of messages  in a flurry is leaving you flabbergasted and fuming. A promised shipment of sea cucumbers for CNY is not going to make it after all. You suspect another buyer is "making eyes" at your regular supplier and luring your loot away. "Loot" because during CNY, your sea cucumbers are making a 5x profit. How are you going to fill all those angpows that your nieces and nephew always eagerly await. And to annually shut up up those "dog-eyed" relatives of yours who usually "see people no up". 
Their CB mouths have been a-chatter since when they found out you had downgraded your BMW car to a Toyota Camry. 

A Camry and they still complain. What if it was a Toyota Altis? Would they have taken a full page ad in the local newspapers to disown you?

Clonk! A beer can drops right in front of you from above. You snap to a stop, unbelieving that killer litter still exists and look up, just in time to see a window shut.

Kenni na beh, you whisper hotly under your breath. It is not Japanese but Hokkien.

"Don't think I didn't see you," you shout, and remonstrate with a fist. But no one from the closed window responds. You count the floors to complain to pinpoint the culprit but a torrent of water rains down instead. Yelping, you jump aside.

"Tew na seng," you say, always reverting to your native dialect when truly agitated.

The rice water has just missed you just.

You look up...this time catching the disappearing ponytail of a maid at a window higher up. Must be a maid. Singaporean women these days don't wear ponytails anymore. The same reason you don't find samsui women logging hours at a construction site. If you do, it must be late at night and you better have joss paper to burn or else she might just follow you home.

"Ah zai, neh sow doh ngoh gei shun mo?" (Cantonese, son (adopted), did you receive my letter  or not?) "Ngoh ho siong fan oak kei..." (I wish dearly to come home.) 

"Oy! Oy!" you shout, half screaming. But you know it is useless. The maid is too high up to hear you. You try to recall all the foreign language curse words you can remember...but none in Indonesian, Fillipino or Burmese you know. The best you can do is "pukimat".

The word has something to do with a smelly CB, or so your Army buddies have told you. 

"Pukimat!" you shout, louder this time. The morning is turning out to be not pleasant at all.

A Malay woman who has been observing the commotion just a few floors up smiles. "Eh, you scolding me ah?"

You see her smile, so you know she's only joking. She must have seen the whole incident.

"Macik, you see that? How can people just buang water out like that!"

The macik laughs. "Eh, you lucky not baby shit lah!"

Then you notice some used diapers on the ground. Some spilling "green porridge" out with elan. (Elan may sound like kai lan but it is not vegetable at all!)

You decide not to chance it any more and step back into the car park space. Who knows what else will rain down the next time? A sanitary napkin?

In the distance foreground is a white strip stained red. Looks like a menstrudiscard or MSD, but is actually a roll of g cheong fun in red sauce. Nearby, its tapow white foam box also lay discarded.

Goddamnit, you say. This whole bloody block of residents seem to treat their backyard as a rubbish dump. Who to blame? A too efficient town council? A town council with a cleaning crew that cleans with no questions asked? Didn't Jack Neo make that observation in one of his movies starring Gurmit Singh?

You are still looking at the mess as you step back, not noticing a car that is reversing... An old VW Beetle.

Its low bumper strikes you in leg, sending you flying forward, back into that "rubbish dump".

You land face-first on the rice water which, besides rice grains, has also bits of fish parts in it. You feel a rush of disgust and try to stand back up as quickly as possible. But slip. 

Instinctively your hand reaches out to break your fall (which is a bad idea). It lands splat on some "green porridge" and cracks, not before sliding you full stretch sideways. You feel your back go pop. Shit, it's pulled and it is the second time in two months this has happened. Your ribs make hard contact with the floor. They crunch but do not break.

A person observing would say you whummed to the floor like a whale skydiving in the Arctic, but no one is there to confirm that. The VW Beetle hurriedly drives away giving you no time (and view angle) to note its licence plate. In any case, you are in too much pain to bother. You roll on your back, sending nothing but pain up and down your spine. Tears well in your eyes.

On your back, the high noon sun is now bright in your face, shining merrily through ten floors of bamboo poles and clothes set out to dry.  You lift to see your injured hand which is now gloved in icky, smelly baby poop. 

You move it to shield your eyes from the glare. A little poop drops onto your lips. Shit, wrong hand.

By now, you are too tired to care. In the morning your wife had threatened divorce wondering if you had spent all your money from keeping a mistress. And then your supplier absconded, probably to a competitor. 

Fuck, can this morning get worse? you wonder, and try to call for help with pursed lips.

The sun remains blazingly indifferent to your situation. You wish for an angel to appear amidst all that hopeful, colorful tear-tinted light. But what you see is a cupboard on its way down, cracking bamboo poles left and right along the way. Yes, it appears the morning can get really worse for you. Maybe even deadly.


The end. - by TC Lai



8) Dragon - Full To Smell

It's the morning back to work after the CNY holiday break. You are walking to your car and two girls in junior college uniform pass you by. They have long hair and slender necks. You smile but think nothing more about that. But, this time, the girls turn to look at you and giggle. They seem to think of you as sugar-daddy material judging from their coquettish behavior. Belatedly, you smile back and have a good laugh again inside your car. 

HA! Ha ha ha ha. HA! you go, with a mixture of irony and relief. "I still got it!" you think, believing yourself the manly man of Peter Stuyvesant past. Most times, young girls like them would just ignore you or call you "Uncle" with as much interest as addressing to a tree.

Dying your hair did improve matters... but only a fraction. 

You look at the young ladies and long for something.

A misspent youth? Unfulfilled romances?

Thinking back to your own JC years, you are reminded of the one girl that moved you. 

She was slim and had shouldered length hair. A kindly face with a studied look.

You wanted to profess your love to her but didn't have the courage to. That image of her forever walking pass you outside Lecture Theatre 1 sticks in your mind, stirring up pangs of regret and "what-could-have-beens" in your gut.

You wish that someone would hurry up and invent a time-machine but all they ever do is keep telling you that a quark can be in two places at once. It could even go back in time.

A lot of help that is. And then they tell you that your olfactory (smell) system works at a quantum level. Heck, you have known that like... forever. When you smell shit, invariably an image appears in your mind and at the very same time... also under your shoe. Quantum mechanics, quantum entanglement. It's not difficult to grasp what. So why are they taking so long at making a time machine that works???

Youth. Everybody tells you to treasure it but no one has ever given you explicit instructions. Not even that young uncle who liked getting you into scrapes (such as a fireworks fight one time) when you were young. You wing it and soon those days fly by like leaves on a windy autumn day.

You have been back to your JC college grounds numerous times and sat on that same study bench admiring that lithe girl with the kindly face across the yard. Much like how Charlie Brown fantasied about the Red Haired Girl in his school yard. But no matter how hard you concentrated, Groundhog Day never materialised. Never brought you back to that fateful day. That love note you had so wanted to pass her remains in your wallet to this day. A scrappy piece of foolscap paper folded neatly and flourished with the words: "Specially For You"

Inside, a poem:

Roses are red
Violets are blue
They are special
And so are you...

Yeah, it seems bleah now but it was all the rage in those days first picked up when you were in Sec 3 and when first-loves and exploratory couplings were endemic. 

Well, at least it was better than your dad's idea of romance. His birthday present for your mom was once a set of box wrenches with the note and single word "Tight". It confounded your mom and she discussed the matter with your aunts. "Maybe he wants you to go surgery," one said, along with a knowing smile and a finger pointed at the nether regions. "You already have six kids."

Your original poem had been less subtle. Well, a bit like that set of box wrenches.

"Can you be the cable to my cable car,
The coffee table to my sofa
The highlighter to my GP notes
The bookmarker in my Econs book?"

That last line was brilliant (or you thought) because you first noticed her during an Econs lecture in LT1.

As you lament how Zheng Tian Wen stole your lines, you begin to think about the two JC girls who had just smiled at you in the car park. 

Most women shop to make themselves happy; but then, what do guys do? You don't shop, you don't pub... The one thing you enjoy is being in the company of young people. They give you a buzz.

Young ladies especially, give you a special buzz. Their pheromones throw you into a woozy. It's an elixir, a Red Bull.

Since young, you have had a sensitive nose in this regard. You could tell with precision if the female of our species were sad, happy, pregnant or even menstruating.

That last bit wasn't very pleasant. It kept you up all night sometimes. You had been afraid of vampires (blame it on scary-looking Peter Cushing!) since watching Dracula and worried that menstruating women would draw them to you. In the next room, are where your three sisters and two aunts sleep.

For a long time you carried a string puppet with you whenever you went because it had a cross with it. Adults thought you were cute. Kids who only played marbles would want to snatch it from you.

Yes, young woman and their pheromones give you more than just a buzz. They give you the elixir of youth. Radiated from their long slender necks and whiffed through your nose (or that's how you imagine it.) Women with long slender necks have always made you weak in the knees.

Many a time, all you want is just an embrace and nothing more. To "drink" up their puberty essence; to reclaim a part of the youth that was denied you because you were oh - so shy. Perhaps you think that that one embrace can heal all that Uncle-hurt. Perhaps, you don't really age very well despite admitting to the contrary. Hearing that word "uncle" from strangers always produced a wince that you are unaware of. 

Back at the car park, you decide to give the two sweet girls a lift to their college. It's along your way, anyways.

The girls do not object. They giggle at the idea and jump in.

Once inside inside your car, you say: "I have a daughter your age" by way of introduction. Bad mistake. The girls both give a loud "Eww!" and jump back out. It's as if they had gotten into a taxi and then touched slime.

You sit there slightly bewildered. "What?" "Damn it!" as self-emasculatory curses ring through your head. You had let what could have been a "week's worth of Red Bull" slip. It would have sustained you for a few days at the office for sure.

You let out a sigh at the your own faux pas and try to drive on. But the car has died, along with any libido you had worked up till that very last minute.

Back at the office your secretary Molly is excited and rushes up to greet you. She is bursting at the seams to want to tell you something... her lovely emerald cheongsam looking full and ready to explode. She's ample, this one. You notice that her slender neck is red, flustered. Ah, it's always the ample ones that's full to smell, you note.

"Chairman Long is here, in your office," Molly says, breathless, relifting your libido up a few notches. She's dying to tell you something, but cannot. She's probably heard something BIG on the company's secretarial pool grapevine.

You lean in to say thank you, but in reality to get a whiff of her state of P (pheromones or SOP), as you like to call it. She's surely excited about something. Maybe creaming even. What could be causing all the excitement?

"Go, go," commanded Molly, besides herself. She is clasping her hands anxious for you to get the good news.

You enter your office to see Chairman Long seated at the small meeting table drinking tea. He turns to greet you.

"Ah, James. How was your Beijing trip?" he asks, without much preamble. Chairman Long has always been like that. It's one reason why you enjoy working with him, a dildo in clear packaging.

"Good," you say. "It is not bullshit after all."

You are referring to the active noise canceller that a Chinese company had touted. All you have to do is afix the device to a window pane and the outside noise would be attenuated to a negligible level. It was really quite impressive (the demonstration in Beijing) turning the naturally skeptical you into a believer.

"And it even works around a snoring partner," you add.

"Great! That would be good news for our partners in the hotel and MICE industries. Have you discussed a JV with them to produce and market the devices through our channels?"

"Yes. I've a good feeling with this guys, so an MOU was drafted," you say, not telling your chairman the secret weapon that is your nose.

"Well, James, you've always had a nose for these things. It's the reason why you rose to the ranks so quick!"

At that you pull something out from your travel bag. It is no bigger than a typical Bluetooth speaker and the size of a hot-dog bun.

"Watch."

You place the device on the small round meeting table and turn it on. It vibrates rather silently. Suddenly, the usual office chatter disappears as if dialed down. You and your chairman can now hear each other's breathing. Chairman Long notices this too and lets out a whoa.

"Whoa!" 

"That's impressive. How much better can it do?"

You pick up the device and stick it to the window pane. The street noise below becomes a whisper.

"Convinced, yet?" You laugh, knowing that a fuller suite of tests is needed to draft out a comprehensive marketing strategy. You also need to check if there's any IP clash. You don't want it to be a copy or device reworked from someone else's genius.

The Chinese smelled genuine. But they could also be victims in this.

"We'll pass it to Jay at Projects. He can bring it to our partner hotel at the airport. And maybe also recruit snorers in the company for a sound sleep test. Better yet, make it a staycation reward for our consistent performers." Saying this Chairman Long removes the device and turns it about to examine it closer.

You like Chairman Long. He's a hands-on chairperson who knows all the ins and outs of the company. You hope to be like him someday. Be truly at the helm and not just be some lame figurehead guy making only the big decisions. So far, the company culture has not allowed that to develop. Down the line, capability and leadership-by-example rank high.

"Sit down," Chairman Long motions for the two of you to go back to the cozy meeting table.

"The reason I'm here is I've got good news. The board has decided that you'll be the Vice Chairman... With the understanding that you will take over me when the next CEO is identified."

"I'm going to retire and do what I like." Chairman Long laughs after saying this. You know he is not the type to retire, you could smell it in that artificial cocoon space just now. You think he just wants to play angel investor without any corporate ties. A bit like Wozniak of Apple fame.

You smile at the promotion. But inside, you are over the moon about the the whole thing. It will make you the youngest chairperson this 106-year holding company has ever had.

Then you remember the lunch in Beijing where your host had asked if you were born in the year of the Dragon. When you replied in the affirmative, he had said "Hao, hao!" He then proceeded to say what an auspicious year it would be for you AND him. He was a dragon too. Then, removing the pork belly fat from your plate with his chopsticks, he said in all seriousness: "Dan shi, wo men yao zhu yi wo men de shen ti jian kang! Wo yao her ni yi qi fa fu!"  

We both have to watch our health. I want to prosper with you!

At the time, your pheromone sensitive nose told you that this man in Beijing could be trusted. You too looked forward to a prosperous relationship. Certainly with this promotion, there's greater reason to live long and prosper... Just as Dr Spock had said on Star Trek so many years ago.

But who needs logic when you've got a nose to lead the way?

The end. - by TC Lai 





9) Snake - A Wine, A Girl, A Saint

You are in a van. The sort of innocuous utility van seen in most spy movies that people do not pay attention to. "Oh, I think it is here to fix the street light or sewer or whatever" and walk right by.

And like in a spy movie, the inside of this van is lined with electronic eavesdropping equipment that is full of blinking lights and large, tunable knobs. The kind you lean close to listen to even though you have on a large pair of headphones.

But you are not a spy. Not really. In your day job, you are an e-tech with a big local telco, helping them to check on the progress of their newest LTE (long term evolution) or 5G network. It will allow for very high speeds and many more subscribers. A slow, crowded mobile phone network will be a thing of the past.

In your night job, you are a PI. A private investigator. It came about because here you are, equipped with the latest mobile phone tech, able to travel at will to any place, park anywhere with no questions asked. Even the car park aunty give you a wide berth for they know it is pointless to summon you.

All that is missing is a good camera with zoom lens. Even that you managed to convince your head of operations to buy you one. "Er, I need to snap pictures of the antenna towers. To show evidence that the antenna arrays are not damaged or crowded out. And if the local seahawks are making a nest up there."

Your boss then had nodded knowingly as if to acknowledge your brilliant observation and dedication to the job. And so, the very next day, you were given a Nikon P900 camera with zoom so awesome, you could take pictures of the surfaces of the moon with the camera. In other words, you could read the label off the swim suit of a bikini babe lying on a beach half a mile away. That and the curve of her butt.

The camera is that good.

And you seem to be the only one to enjoy overtime, making your co-workers like you even more. That you are a bachelor has made it easy for them to call on you to replace them even when it is their time to carry their shift. "Hey, my wedding anniversary lah, can you take over?" "Eh, Liverpool against Man U lah..." Most times, they would even pay you to keep your mouth shut and not tell the supe.

Little do they know that a large part of your personal PI work also happens at night and that you gladly drive around in your company's van to get that done. You work and slowly see your own bank account get fat. Operation cost to you: Basically zero .

More than that, it allows you to stop at will to have a beer or two at a nearby kopitiam. As a consequence, you have struck up friendships with a few beer-serving ladies or Tiger Girls as they are known. Of course you took care to date only the ladies from from different brands. One from Anchor, another from Tiger; one from Carlsberg, yet another from Tsingtao.... You are still on first base with that fab-babe from Heineken.

And you have also begun the habit of sending a few of them home after their shift at 11pm...not without a bit of lovely-dovey first at the back of the van, which now has a small but pull-out Ikea sofa. 

"Oh Gary, I'm sure you say that to all the girls," says Sabrina, still in her tight fitting Heineken uniform after her shift in Clementi.

"Well, it's true. If they held a Miss Singapore Beer Universe, you'll win hands down!"

Sabrina seems to genuinely blush from that compliment.

You note that the Tiger Girls are all a diverse lot. Many work just to pay the bills at home. Some even hold two jobs.

You are sympathetic to their causes. And being cooped in the van all day, you are grateful for the handful who share their company with you. Surprisingly, they are all rather proper, and took time to warm up to you. They may coax lots of old "ah peks" in their beer job at the kopitiams but they seldom tolerated any hanky panky.

Or maybe you just have the eye to pick the right ones. And you genuinely want to help them. After all, how much more money does one need? And the bribe monies from your colleagues are filling up a tip jar nicely; monies which you then transfer to the "tip jars" of the ladies (aka their waist pouch).

And the ladies seem a thrifty lot, not the $$$ digging ones at the hostess karaoke joints in, say, Tanjong Pagar. These you give a wide berth. A beer at the local kopitiam will do just fine, not some overpriced whiskey that cost $600 to cork and keep.

Who knows. Maybe one of these girls you are "dating" will eventually become your wife. The Tiger Girl at the People's Park kpt is particularly attractive. Petite, with good skin and almond-shaped face, and not too talkative. At the moment, Sabrina seems to be chatting a lot.

"What's that?" she asks, pointing at a piece of high-end RF equipment.

"Oh, that's a ZTE 5G spectrum analyser. A couple of these can buy you are small studio flat in Sembawang," you tell her.

"Wow. Oh, ZTE... Aren't they a handphone maker too?" she says, remembering a fellow beer lady with a China-made handphone.

"Yeah, they and Huawei make telecom equipment too, besides handphones," you quip, feeling a bit silly to be talking about hardware when you just want to party and chillax.

Your own "hardware" in your pants is making you aware that time's a-wasting. It doesn't always get its way, but tonight, you have Sabrina in the van and she is hot (aka attractive). Hoever, she seems intent to chat.

You remove a red wine cooler (box type) from an ice box and pour her some. 

"Try this. It is pretty good," you say, hoping she would drink more and be less uptight and not ask so many silly questions.

"So you went to the temple to pray for Chinese New Year?" Sabrina asks, switching the topic. She sips her wine and moves to make way for you as you sit down on the small sofa. 

"Yes, without fail," you lie, hoping to get on her good graces.

"That's good. One must give thanks and ask for blessings for a smooth New Year." She raises her glass as if to cheer and drinks.

You look at Sabrina and think. Yup, they all are rather traditional, these beer ladies. You won't find a Christian girl sellling beer. She would be selling Jesus to the poor. For free.

You bring out a small amulet to give to her.

"Here, a good luck 'saint' amulet from a fortune temple in  Sembawang," you say, surrepticiously digging it out from a box full of them. "It's the patron saint of gambling. Let me tell you his history..."

You begin to tell Sabrina the unusual story of a court official who had emigrated to Thailand as the Qing Dynasty fell in China, and how he subsequently helped the Thai king get rich by operating a casino and other business. A real enterprising chap, not so different from KL's Yap Ah Loy. What you don't understand is how a guy who runs a casino can end up to be the patron saint of gambling. Don't the house always wins?

"That's the funny part I don't get..." As you say this, you notice that Sabrina is getting visibly upset. Tears are beginning to well up in her eyes.

"What's the problem, darling," you say, even if Sabrina has yet to be your darling.

"Oh nothing," replies Sabrina, gently sobbing. "Sorry about this. I shouldn't spoil the mood." You notice her chest heaving.

Just then, voices crackle from a piece of listening device. You reach over and press a red button to record. And then a button to mute. You return your attention to Sabrina.

"Now, now... Don't fret. What is the problem. Let's see if Gary here can help."

"Oh... It's nothing. Your amulet saint here just reminds me of my gambler of a husband. Ex-husband. He died in China."

Oh no, a double whammy from your tale. China and gambling.

"Do you want to talk about it?" A chance now arises to put your arm around her shoulders. Sabrina does not object.

"It's why I'm doing second shift as a beer lady. I've got his debts to clear." 

Oh, you utter. Gambling and debts don't sit well with you. Gambling is the worst thing any person can get involved in. You rather money be spent on a good meal or drink. But never gambling. It just go into a hole that gets bigger and bigger.

You decide to be patient and listen more to Sabrina. When she is sad, it really tugs at your heartstrings. And you can never stand the sight of a crying lady.

"It's not much, just $20k. But it seems forever to pay off. Plus the loansharks are always pestering me. They say if I want to pay them off faster, I should stop serving beer and go serve "something" else." That something else you find out to be high-end social escorting (meaning some prostition on the side). Sabrina wouldn't stand for it. She is after all, not your average beer station lady. She works in HR in her day job and speaks well. Although since the first day, you already knew she was holding back, opting to speak in Mandarin and dialect instead. -The language of the ah peks, to fit in.

"Yeah, $20k doesn't seem like much," you say, which is true.

"Then, would you help me?" Sabrina asks, suddenly brightening up. Her hand on your knee.

You want to say let me think about it, but the word "Yes!" slips out instead. With an exclamation mark.

Sabrina hugs you, rocking the wine in her glass. It does not spill.

"Er, ok," you say, awkwardly and in defeat. You know there's no taking back on your word. She might cry again. Plus $20k really isn't that much. Together with what you already have in your "tip jar", you could easily recover with some more overtime. Plus now that Sabrina is hugging you, she is smelling real good. A mixture of kopitiam, zhichar and beer. All infused in some cheap perfume. You love women in cheap perfume. They are amenable to gifts like saint amulets.

"Oh Gary!" Sabrina coos again, grateful heat radiating from her body as she hugs you tighter. 

You return the favor and smile. Finally, a Heineken! You start to think which beer lady next.

The end. - by TC Lai





10) Horse - Mah Yan

You are standing at the full glass window of your hotel suite. You look down and notice a white van along a side street. It hasn't moved in a while. But now, it is rocking gently side to side. You wonder if the occupants inside are having a quickie in the midde of the day. You smile because you are known to indulge a a little of the same at midday too, just so to inject some extracurricular activity into your busy but predictable life.

Besides, Joanne from the other tower block is so near and willing. That girl has it bad for you and you know it. You feel a little guilty leading her on... But hey, you are a bachelor once more and feel entitled to have a 'sometimes' girlfriend. Some might call her a "f**k buddy" but you feel the term a bit derogatory. She is after all your insurance agent. She gets your commission, you get, well, we''ll see what you get in the end. 

You like Joanne but there's something about her that bugs you. You cannot settle into a firm relationship unless you have that "something" figured out and accepted. You don't think it is unreasonable; it is just a "guy thing". For example some women think most men like their GFs to have big boobs. But not in your experience. A guy can accept anything about their GFs or wives as long as there isn't that one thing. And there's no point in saying "That's just one thing. She has lots going for her. I think I'll marry her then." It'll never work because one day, he'll meet a girl who doesn't have that one thing and he'll fall in love or have an affair.

Guys are like that. Same thing with dogs holding on to a bone and never letting go. They are both feral like that.

Back at the window, you are still observing the van in the street below. In your hand is a small but powerful binocular. You note that the van licence plate is the same 7755. It is the third time this same van has appeared in your vicinity. Is your ex-wife spying on you? Given that she's a very jealous type, you are not surprised. And even though its been three years since the divorce, she still considers you "her property".

Ah, Hainanese women. They are so goddamn possessive and vengeful!

Isn't it enough that she has gotten a nice condo out from the divorce proceedings?

And ever since the divorce, your career has taken flight. Two major promotions in three years is very fortuitous. You credit it to not having to answer stupid jealousy questions from your then wife. The always "Why you so late today ah?" inquisition that has no real satisfactory answer. Not to her anyways.

Good riddance, you think, as you step back from the long glass window and put the binocular back in its place. This office view is better than the last one, you conclude, and wonder what the next office view will be like. That would the MD's office, which is just down the hall. It has the full sea-view. How to get that office, you wonder. Another promotion perhaps?

You smile. That would be asking too much, is it not? But according to Joanne's fengshui master (she uses him in her real estate business - a sideline of hers. Her industriousness is something that appeals to the workaholic you). You are beginning to realise that you get tired of women who depend on you. It's often their physical beauty that first gets your attention. But it also makes you vulnerable. Well, not anymore. A boy has to grow up some day, right? Hmm, maybe I should have dinner with Joanne tonight, you think. Bu then again, it's too soon after the last meet-up. You don't want to lead her on just yet.

Just then, the phone rings.

It's your stock broker telling you that the stock you have just bought has gone up by 20% and rising. Apparently Google has taken an interest in that small company and might even consider buying it.

Home automation is the next big thing, everybody says. With Siri and Cortana both working like a charm, it's a matter of time before they take over everything. And Google - with their fingers in so many connected pies - is the best company to bring it all together. Home automation, security, event planning...The works! Everything that your life revolves around with, Google will connect and make manageable.

Even the car you drive. It's scary. But nobody is making a hoohah of it being intrusive. Because anything in the name of convenience becomes necessary and sweet.

Dang, that's smart, you reason.

You end the call by telling your broker to look into another stock. You have a suspicion that Microsoft will want to buy that tech start-up some day. But you do not tell your broker that. No point spooking the market just yet.

You are not religious but you light a joss-stick to place in front of a "mah yan" - horse man. It's a statue of a Chinese general on horseback. Your mom calls it that and has given it to you the year you got a major promotion. It has moved office with you since. Your lucky charm. Besides, you were also born in the Year of the Horse. And being Capricorn, it is a double dose of good fortune.

You decide to send your mom a gift. Your cousin in Endau owns a bird-nest factory. He'll find you some very good quality ones. With the bird-nest industry so competitive these days, it is harder to find trustworthy suppliers. Why, just the other day, your cousin was showing you fake bird-nest from Vietnam. They looked like Indian beehoon crepe (putu mayam) shaped into a bird-nest-like shell. Imagine the gall of them trying to pass that off as the real stuff. Incredible!

The many towkays in Malaysia turning their storied properties into swallow bird nesting sites have also caused the market to crash. Bird-nests that used to command RM7000 a kilo now pull in only RM1500. Your cousin of course have cried foul many times. But you have advised him to just focus on quality and serve deserving customers. The strategy worked. Now the Japanese prefer to buy from him and overlook other competitors, esp those from China and Vietnam. And with the money earned, he has started a chain of pastry puff shops in China dealing in only durian flavours. 

The Chinese are going global and acquiring new tastes. Durian is one of them.

Lucky for him that Malaysia his home country is inundated with that spikey fruit. And at cheaper prices too. A win-win if there's ever one!

He has even asked you to be a director in the new business. You have yet to agree. One thing at a time, you feel. And you are also considering pulling in Joanne to the venture. It'll give you a reason to travel and sight-see with her.

Dang. Is that love blossoming? you wonder. 

Just then, your handphone buzzes. A message. It's from Joanne.

Miss me? it says, perioded with a cheeky emoji.

Always, you reply. And not without some aching truth. 

The end. - By TC Lai




11) Goat - The Cache Of My Heart

It is night and you have just gotten into bed to go beddy-bye. 

You are rested and think maybe a dream or two on such a night is a good bad idea. On tiring days, you rather just slumber and forget about REM sleep. You'll wake up fresh and rested.

You double up your pillow to facilitate the dream process, a trick your mom taught you, sort of. She would always say "Leh hooi sip go jum tau lum har!" (Cantonese, put your head on a raised pillow and think about it.) Usually meant as an admonishment to go ruminate about something so as to make amends. But as it turns out, it's a way to dream more too.

You have a scientific explanation for it: With your head raised, more blood goes to your feet, causing your head to be somewhat oxygen-deprived, hence the dreams and subconsciousness imagery and story-telling.

Looking at the ceiling, you try to remember a recnt dream or two to continue with, but only vague ideas come to mind. Lately, it has been like this: Vivid still at the moment of wakefulness but soon evaporating quickly like sidewalk drizzle on a hot day. All you are left with is a ghostly feeling that something has happened. But what?

Is it symptomatic of the onset of Alzheimer's, you wonder?

Maybe. But you are still young, you conclude. And dreaming is one luxury you can afford in these tough economic times. And dreams of old loves are always welcome.

You blame yourself for being such a shy person in this life. It is a sorry state of affairs.

You swear that if you are ever given a chance to live your life all over again, the one thing you will change is to be able tell the person you like/love exactly how you feel. To deny yourself that chance is akin to looking longingly at a tourism brochure and not pick up the phone and make a booking. That Mt Fuji will forever look like a million other photos on the internet, never recording your footprint on its earthly skin nor your caress over its time-worn rocks. It won't even have heard you call its name nor allow its clear spring water to nourish you.

It's what happened to that boy in primary school you had no courage to talk to, another in secondary, and yet one more in JC. That many schools, that many years of shy hurt and disappointment. Years later, you realise a hard knot forming inside you...where the sternum is. A knot that will pain you till you die. Well, that's what regret does.

Everybody knows that, you say. And try to make light of the situation. A good dream will make everything better, at least for now.

You decide to forget about Gerard, the IT guy in the office whom you have a crush on. You had finally written a note to tell him of your growing affection. In poem form no less.

"The server is down
The mood is sour
But then you come around
And everything is no longer dour

If you are an app
I will download you
If you are sweet data
I will quickly cache you

The cache that is my heart
With no notable limit
With no CLEAR button
Always with loving credit"

Of course, you had signed it with an anonymous 'A'. You cannot bear the rejection and the ruckus it would make should people in the office find out.

Initially you had wanted to sign off with the code '3464' as well (which is your employee number), but then decided it would be too close to the bone. Gerard would surely figure it out.

So, here you are, in bed waiting for the new day to begin so you can have more computer trouble so Gerard can come round to your cubicle to take a look.

You are sure he will soon suspect something. But then again, you are not the only one showering him with attention. Two other girls from Purchasing are also doing the same. plus, they have in their arsenal stuff their suppliers give them all the time. Things such as bakwa during CNY; chocolates during Valentine's Day; hotel mooncakes during Zhong Qiu Jie; etc., etc. These gifts they then transfer to Gerard free of charge with a demure smile and a coquettish look. Embellished with girly giggles at times.

"Ohhh Gerard..." they would coo. At that, you just want to throw up.

But then you reason: Smart IT guys don't go for dumb girls, right? But they often do. Nerds are so inexperienced at dating that they will take the first bait offered them. 

Never mind, you say. The night is quiet and my dreams are real. You have lost count the number of times you have wetted your nightie through your panties. Are all virgins the same? So "waterfally" when excited?

You relax your eyebrows (another trick) and soon drift off to sleep.

In your dream, you are at a 4-D outlet. It appears to be the popular one at Chong Pang, the "bao tiok" one not far from the "bao jiak" durian stalls.

You are asking the teller to check a ticket for you.

She slots it in. No immediate "terrrp" sound. You suspect that that's a good thing. Maybe you struck a prize?

Surely you did. $20,000 no less. You whoop for joy but decide to keep it silent. No point alerting everyone and get robbed on the way home. $20,000 from a $5 ticket! Not a bad return, you think.

Pocketing the money, you walk away leaving the outlet. Immediately you are standing outside a tour agency. It is a strange feeling because the tour agency in reality is in another part of Yishun, not Chong Pang. It is the one you have always wanted to step in but never do.

Money aside, you hate to travel alone. That's the ultimate loser thing to do.

Inside, seated on a stool and being served is Gerard. He is enquiring about a trip to Japan. "Will it cover Akihabara?" he asks. The salesgirl nods in the affirmative.

You greet Gerard, noting what a coincidence it is to bump into him at this tour agency. 

"Oh I just stay round the corner," he says, by way of explanation.

"Oh, me too!" you reply, although in truth, you were almost always there for the haebi hiam-rich laksa across the courtyard.

"Going to Japan?"

"Yes, company trip. Going there to help our sub migrate to the cloud."

"Oh, when?"

"Next week." 

"I'm thinking of going there too," you say, wondering if Gerard will accept you as a travel mate.

"Really?" he says, with a smile.

That's good. It shows he is not put off by the idea.

"Yeah, I won a free ticket and some spending cash.... Lucky, no?" You lie, but that's the only way you can think up so a guy will accept spending money from a girl.

"Wow, that's like kenna tiok 4-D," he says, not knowing the bulls-eye of truth he has hit.

"I can bring you around Tokyo," Gerard then offers. It's not the first time he has been there, the subsidiary being somewhere in Fukuhara.

"We can even share a room," he says, before adding, "If that's ok with you."

"Oh, it's ok, not a problem. The more money I save, the money we can spend!" you reply, trying hard not to sound too eager.

The next part of the dream jumps swiftly to Japan and travel and no small amount of sordid sex carried out in some AV channel fashion, or Fifty Shades of Grey - Asian Edition.

In the morning, you wake up wet as whistle as usual. But at least you have a name to it. Gerard!

And the number of the hotel room in your dream, 2-8-2-8. You buy it for lottery the next weekend and it comes out first prize; from that "bao tiok" 4-D outlet no less. You make a mental note to hang out at that laksa place and tour agency the next week in Yishun. Gerard will surely be there! Dreams do come true, don't they? 

The end. -TC Lai



12) Monkey - Beating Small People

It's the local annual marathon and you are milling with a dozen fellow runners waiting for the call to the starting line up.

You look at some of the lean and mean runners and wish that you have prepared better. But work has been tough... What with the lay-offs and poor global economic outlook. The gloom is made worse by the new U.S. president declaring the TPP null and void.

You know China will step in to fill the role but that would mean fresh rounds of negotiations, and trade talks. By the time the dust settles, you wonder if there's any trade for you smaller businessmen to partake in.

No one even knows which are the happening sectors of the Chinese economy anymore. The problem is Vietnam has been taking up their low-value chain slack. And not many advanced companies are farming out their work, preferring to keep the jobs back home to "seem to keep the locals employed". Protectionism has become the by-word with the Orange Face One in the White House.

You wish you were in bio-science or the food industry. At least their R&D is still innovating and attracting attention. But in the 3-D printing solutions business, you are facing competition not just from the country's neighbours but from the young start-ups as well. Start-ups that are headed by fresh graduates with a dream and a prayer but is actually muscled up by "first-look" angel investors with ties to their universities. Them or the folks at large at Kickstarter.

Hiaz. You limber up and shake yourself loose. No point thinking about all that. You are here to enjoy your run. Work and business can wait until tomorrow when the CNY enforced break ends. You cannot wait to get going.

You meet your running club members and together, you all edge to the front of the starting line-up; or as far as you can go given that the frontspace has been reserved for the professional runners.

And with over 500 participants, the starting line-up area is crowded with runners jostling for space - shoulders rubbing against shoulders, ankles smarting against ankles.

The starter horn blasts and off you all go, like a tidal wave slowly ebbing out. Pretty soon, everyone is spread out in their own little elbow bubble, jogging along at their own pace and being lost to music blaring from their earphones.

The professional runners are different, of course. The way they run is like a sprint to you. 

Never mind, you say. You will do your own little aerobic run and try not to stress out. Your goal this time is to finish, not score a record-breaking time. You are far too inexperienced for that.

At the 5km mark, you pass your uni campus in Clementi. You have always disliked the grounds for its 'factory' look and steep inclines. It is as if they are trying to tell the undergrads that their post-uni life would be a slog and uphill climb. Well, they have succeeded. 

You wish they have had more courage to build like the Spanish, who valued art and its relationship to human endeavour. It's the reason why their tertiary institutions are designed with  grounds that are open, naturally stoned, and yet inspiring. But instead, the powers that were chose to be enamoured with IM Pei and his ilk (at the time). Their buildings were nothing but block or tray-shaped monoliths helping to trap and serve up the human soul as nothing worth celebrating. A very poor consideration indeed.

In your mind, design-wise, it has all been very lazy in approach, much like what happened with the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Convention Centre. Three trestles and a boat on top. Any carpentering tradesman could have come up with that!

As you pound the tarmac road and ponder all that, you are reminded of Suntec City. There you have the classic case of a missed opportunity. A fountain that could have rallied the masses after work became a roundabout fixture. You have to go underground to watch water trickle on its grounds. What a moronic concept, you think. And it is. Compared with the Rome Trevi fountain and its opposite stairs where people could gather and relax, the Suntec Fortune Fountain is nothing but a gigantic waterspout fulfilling its role as the "gold coin in the Suntec palm". It's good Feng Shui but bad public fountain design. Passerby enjoyment be damned.

A few hundred meters more and your marathon route will take you out of your alma mater's campus and into the Kent Ridge horticultural area. Another hilly climb but at least the greens will be a welcome shade of natural color.

At the Henderson Waves bridge cum boardwalk, you pause to catch your breath. Now here's an ingenious idea on how to make a placid area look alive. Have a bridge that is more dynamic than the waters themselves suggest!

You try to apply the same thinking to your business. How to make boring 3-D printing more exciting? You know the dull process, the even duller time it takes to print an object out. The only thing that is exciting are the projects themselves. We  must take on difficult and sexy work. The displays will sell themselves. And with that, we can charge a premium!

You smile as you pick yourself up and pound down the Waves. The Southern Ridges is next along your route. One hour has passed so far. Still within your limits, you say, as other runners jostle up and pick up their stride.

You are about to do the same when you stumble and fall. somebody has tripped you from behind. Thankfully, you are not hurt as you are still on the wooden bridge; its planks have cushioned the fall. You turn round to see who was responsible and sees your boss. He is in his NBA singlet, headband and ill-fitting shorts. He knows he has tripped you and doesn't seem apologetic at all.

"Eh John, come on, buck up. You can take a little challenge right?" he says, in his typical sneering manner. Beside him a mean-looking, skinny middle-aged lady called Betty, who is known to everybody in the company as the Wicked Witch of Jurong West. She whispers something conniving into your boss' ear and he laughs, obviously both making a joke at your expense.

You want to get angry but it is not in your nature. The best you can do is narrow your eyes menacingly at the Witch and hope she gets the message. But she is busy brown-nosing your boss and cared less what you thought. Before you could get up, they were long gone and out of your sight.

I must cook up something for them to suffer in, you say, in your native Cantonese (it sounds more potent than in English).

You then put out a leg to get back in stride. In no time, you exit the Southern Ridges and head pass Telok Blangah housing estate. Just then you come across a small but old temple. You do not remember seeing it there before the many times you have driven along this road to get to Vivocity. Maybe the roadside shrubbery had hid it from view then. You decide to pause to do something. Time to beat "small people" to set things right!

The abbot of this temple is surprisingly young. But there is an air of mastery about him; maybe Shaolin trained. Maybe he came with the recent Shaolin Performing Monk Troupe at the Esplanade and decided to stay. A situation that happens very often with PRCs who has nothing but crowded public parks to look forward to back home. That and open-door public toilets. Who would want that!

The young abott is amused when he sees you pounding the temple steps and cursing the names of two certain individuals. 

"Sir, you seem very agitated," he says.

"Yes, I am," you say, getting into your stride. (Not the marathon one but the "beat small people" act.) You seem fed up of being bullied or slighted.

"It makes you feel better this way?" the young abbot asks.

Yes, again you reply and then add: "It not only feels good but is necessary."

"It's what my mom would tell me to do."

"Oh, then beat away. We must not disobey our mothers' wishes," he says, not without some mirth in his youthful eyes.

You pause, both amused and a little surprised at the answer you got.

"Ok, I'm done. I thought running the marathon will do me good. But this feels waaay better," you say, at the same time putting away your gavel shoe.

You then invite the young abbot to chill along on the temple steps. He sits down without missing a beat. It's all rather surreal, you feel. A young abbot in a mysterious temple that was never there. You feeling refreshed as if having drunk pure oxygen.

"I feel happy and a bit lightheaded actually," you say, giving the young abbot a silly smile.

He draws close, and you wonder if he is going to bless you. Instead he gives you a tight slap. Not once but three times.

"What the...."

Then it all becomes clear. You have collapsed three-quarters into the marathon and become delirious. A young medic with a crew cut has slapped you out of your delirium and put a mask over your face. He then pumps oxygen into it. Even with your mouth covered, you are still cursing the names of two people who appear to have backstabbed or hurt you in some serious way. The young medic does not understand your negativity and put it all down to stress and trying to overachieve. It has happened every marathon without fail. Young people believing they can achieve the impossible by reading a few Google pages and accomplishing even fewer training runs.

What will next year bring, the youthful medic wonders, as the ambulance bearing you and the licence plate 4-5-2-3 pulls away and to the nearby Alexandra hospital. 

The end. - by TC Lai