Mrs Choa and the Airshow / Luan Qi Ba Zao

(NoBlogLove post #1: Tuesday 3 July, sometime in the morning, nostalgic)

I was all ready to dive into reading and not surface till Tuesday when I came back from the library yesterday, but then Luke called, and I went to the beach for dinner with him and Song Ching. The waterfront area’s changed quite drastically since last year – lots of new restaurants with a central alfresco promenade, but it was peaceful, and breezy, and I still got that old laid back East Coast vibe, which was good.

The only change I didn’t like was that they took away the Viking. It was one of those generic fairground rides you find around the world, a much less frilled version of Pirates Of The Caribbean, which had been there since as far back as I can remember. For a nine-year-old in 1989 Singapore (where proper fairground/theme park type rides didn’t exist apart from ferris wheels and carousels), living in the East, the Viking was pretty much the scariest ride around. I’d arrange my place in the queue so that I got a place in the highest deck, so as to maximise that thrilling stomachless moment right at the peak of the ship’s swing, when I’d wave my hands madly and stand up in my seat as far as the bar allowed so that it’d feel even more like I was falling down towards the people on the other side.

When I was fourteen, there was an airshow at the beach one day. It was a school day, but the principal had said that classes could go to the airshow (the beach is walking distance from the school) if accompanied by two teachers. Our form teacher that year was Mrs Choa, who was in her late fifties, crochety, horrendously pernickety about all things English, and generally not a high scorer on wannabecool fourteen-year-olds’ teacher wishlist.

We’d started the year hating her, but there’d been improvements along the way. She mentioned at a camp that she had no problems with single dating for girls our age, and gained a little street cred. We started to understand that her fussiness and mini-rants were because she expected high standards of everything from us, and from the world.

So we went to look for her, filled with hope and trepidation. She asked if we’d managed to find another teacher to make up the two teachers. We hadn’t – other teachers were already taking their own classes, or had been snapped up by other classes. She considered this fact silently for a moment. We stood there, already crestfallen.

I remember her waving airily to the principal as we trooped out of the gates.

After the airshow, other classes went straight back to school. I think it was time for her lesson on our timetable. Demanding fourteen-year-olds that we were, we decided to see if we could push our luck and asked if we could go to McDonalds. She said yes. Amidst fry-munching and Coke-slurping, we then asked if we could go on the Viking. Amazed when she said yes, we asked, wouldn’t she get in trouble?

Her answer: “If you’re going to get hanged for stealing a lamb, you might as well get hanged for stealing a sheep.”

That afternoon at the beach was a watershed (no pun intended) for the relationship between my class and Mrs Choa. After that we started realizing that the challenge was to do things so well as to satisfy even her. At the end of the year, more prefects were chosen from my class than from any other. We were runners-up in the swimming carnival, despite having only one trained swimmer in the class. We organized a schoolwide food’n’fun fair that raised $5000 for the school building fund. She remains the most influential and memorable teacher I’ve ever had.

All that was left of the Viking conquests, as far as a mob of laughing, screaming, blue-pinafored schoolgirls knew, was that aging fairground ride with peeling gilt paint. The conquest Mrs Choa made that day, and that year, lives on.

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(NoBlogLove post #2: Thursday 5 July, in sheepish afternoon aftermath)

I haven’t quite figured out how I came to be dancing to I Should Be So Lucky on the platform at Zouk last night, but I’m sure grievous lapses in judgment were involved.

Temporary aberration. Temporary aberration.

In other news, I spent the two days before this debacle in a less embarassing fashion. Tuesday was another excursion with Pei Ee – we scoured Bedok for cheap shoes and she introduced me to the joys of the McFlurry with Oreos. Wednesday was lunch with Luke and Mrs Goh at a rather good Vietnamese noodle place in Holland Village, plus terrarium searching for her daughter’s science project, then beloved Ghim Moh hawker centre for Luan Qi Ba Zao, which deserves a little elucidation.

Luan Qi Ba Zao is the Ghim Moh hawker centre’s special creation for its numerous Rafflesian patrons (our college was across the road, and there’s nothing like a sugar’n’ice overload to make the heat, dust and undone tutorials of the day go away). Loosely translated, its name is a Chinese idiom which means “everything crazily everywhere” (er, very loosely translated), although in the stall’s English menu it is inexplicably referred to as Get Down. Go figure.

Anyway, it’s a wild concoction of condensed milk, ice, fruit cocktail, peaches, longans and chunks of almond jelly, which may appear strange cupfellows (hence “everything crazily everywhere”) but work together wonderfully well once slurped.

Rafflesians first learn about Luan Qi Ba Zao in the orientation booklet the student council produces. On first reading about it, I asked Luke (former student council hack) if it was for real, or if it was just part of a cruel joke played on unsuspecting JC1s – I’m not quite sure how to explain this to non-Chinese speakers, but going up and asking for a Luan Qi Ba Zao if no such dish actually existed on the menu would be something like going to a NYC hotdog vendor and asking for a Whimmy Whammy Ding Dong Phlugelwhip.

Luke’s reply: It’s real, but if they tell you to try the Ta Ma De (it’s a Chinese swear phrase), think twice.

Luan-Zi-Ba-Zaoness was then mitigated by the structure and logic of debating, or rather, watching the new team debate, and then being hypercritical of their flaws in a rather merciless debrief.

Then full speed ahead to Orchard Road for dinner with assorted CAPers (alumni of the Creative Arts Programme) and thwarted Memento viewing attempt, finally ending up in the arcade, where my stagger into temporary aberration probably began with Dance Dance Revolution.

I should have realized at that point that I was inexorably destined for cheese.