I was wandering round City Plaza and spotted this shop.
I normally keep random camphone shots like this for my own amusement and don’t bother to post them here, but since I only just discovered last week that you can play Super Mario Brothers and about a million other old console games online without having to do the whole emulator thing, I figured spotting the shop might have been a karmic directive from the cosmos to share the link. Just to make sure all your lives get ruined too, you understand.
While Alec was cooking up a scarily elaborate Chinese feast for my family on Sunday, I decided not to get in his sweating, cursing way, and started cleaning up the guest room for Russ. Since my sister and I used to share the room, a fair amount of our stuff is still in the cupboards so I was going through them to clear space for Russ to hang his clothes.
The thing about cleaning my old flat is that no matter how much I remember about my childhood, there’s always something I’ve completely forgotten, until it resurfaces, that brings me some delight amidst the dust. Sunday’s treasure trove was a box of old card games, some well-known like Old Maid and Go Fish, and others I couldn’t remember for the life of me.
I have no idea what card game these were from, but they’re amusing throwbacks to a time when Mind Your Language was my favourite comedy and I’d never heard of the word “stereotype”.
Two little Injuns
Man, even then people were mean to the Welsh
People are always surprised I don’t keep my boyfriend’s photo in my wallet. Think I’ll start showing them this instead.
After my family had left and we’d finished cleaning up, we sat out on the balcony for a well-deserved rest. I drank my coffee, and Alec smoked his pipe. We were the very picture of yuppie sophistication – apart from the Top Trumps. My sailing ships totally kicked his sailing ships’ asses. Next time we’re playing combat aircraft, and after that, racing bikes.
Dude, where’s my lower half?
Each pack came with some teaser cards for other Exciting! packs you could own in the Top Trumps series. This is where I realized that my childhood, and indeed my life so far, has been woefully incomplete.
Coolest. Top Trump pack. Ever. I want this so bad.
I guess there’s just no pleasing some people.
For weeks I griped and complained about the fact that my boxes hadn’t arrived from England yet. And now they’re here, I wish they weren’t.
I never thought I would be quoting lyrics from The Tennessee Waltz in this blog, but while I was unpacking, one particular line kept playing in my head, louder and more insistently than the Fugazi on the speakers. Going flagrantly against the optimistic conclusion I forced myself to draw here in a previous entry, that line was: “Now I know just how much I have lost.”
I always intended, apart from living a proper goodbye to London (which I think I did), to sit down and write something about it, but in the pressures surrounding my departure I never got time to. Call it solipsism or exhibitionism if you will, but somehow it feels inadequate just sitting here alone with my memories, I want to tell everybody about what this city, these people, this time, meant to me.
Typical Michellian Disclaimer: What follows may not mean a great deal to people who either don’t know me or don’t know London, but if you’ve ever been madly in love with any other city, that’s all you’ll need to understand. And of course I don’t think London or England are perfect, and of course there are serious problems with them which I was just lucky enough to never really encounter personally, and of course there are things I like and respect about Singapore. It’s just that on balance I swing West rather than East. My attempts at translating jumbled ecstatic memories into dry electronic scribblings may therefore give but a rippled reflection of reality, either through my inadequacies with prose or my tendency towards sentimentality, but here is my goodbye. I pray it wasn’t a farewell.
Boxes and dust have been the order of the day, or rather, the order of the early morning hours between midnight and six, which is when I do the most of anything useful.
My family moved house while I was in London, and I’ve been going through the boxes from the old house bit by bit. I’m doing books first, deciding which ones actually get to live on shelves in the new room, and which ones get consigned to a box high up in a cupboard. It’s not always easy. Dealing with stuff at home is always immensely more complicated than in England, because here I have to make decisions about the accumulated sentimental junk of twenty years rather than four.
Childhood books are an issue. Some books get Shelf Status with little or no agonizing involved: the Narnian Chronicles, which I really must reread now adulthood informs me that Aslan’s meant to represent more than just a really noble lion; the Borribles books, certainly the darkest and bloodiest children’s books I’ve ever read, but also the most gripping and imaginative by far. But what about the Roald Dahls? Do I concede that I only reread them once every couple of years, and box them up, or do I grant them a precious place just because we go waaaaay back? And if I let the Roald Dahls onto the Shelves, how can I then deny space to the Dick King-Smiths, the Joan Aikens, the Enid Blytons, the E. Nesbits, the Colin Danns, the Judy Blumes, the Nancy Drews? How can I, with a clear conscience, banish I Am David and Malgudi Days and The Secret Garden and My Side Of The Mountain and White Fang and Grimble to the Box of the Unloved and Abandoned?
Faced with difficult decisions like these the other night, I dealt with the situation like an adult. I piled the books back in the boxes, found my old collection of Asterix comics, and read them till 6 AM, at which point my mother woke up for work, saw the light under my door, came in horrified, and nagged me into bed.
Of my many plebian pleasures karaoke must surely rank among the most intense. On Sunday at Kaka’s house we bawled happily for hours. While his collection obviously couldn’t match a proper karaoke lounge’s for sheer quantity, I was happy enough with Downtown, a Sounds Of Silence duet with Shoop and a couple of lines of Yellow Bird attempting a really dodgy Carribbean accent.
Then we switched to Chinese and the fun really started. The list of Chinese songs I can claim even vague familiarity with is miniscule. In fact, the list of Chinese words I can claim vague familiarity with is almost as miniscule, and the fact that they use fan2 ti3 zi4 (old-style written Chinese, a million times more complicated) for karaoke lyrics doesn’t help either. But I let none of this stop me.
In secondary school there was a Chinese inter-class singing competition, and I got involved in my class item because the chosen song featured a violin interlude, which I was to be playing. In the process I got to know the song fairly well, and till today it retains its sentimental value for me (we won the competition). So I was ecstatic when Shoop found Zhi Ji on one of the laser discs, and we decided we’d sing it. My aforementioned difficulties with the Chinese language meant that most of my participation in the singing ended up like “xi huan ni de ren, drrrrmrmmrrrrrrraaargh CHENG KEN! hrrrrwrrruang de xiao RONG, mmmmmmrrrrrrgnnnnnnn EN!”
That was the song I knew best. Later we found Min Tian Wo Yao Jia Gai Ni Le (I’ll Be Marrying You Tomorrow), where my knowledge of the song ended at the very words Min Tian Wo Yao Jia Gai Ni Le, so I sang that line extra loudly to make up for my other inadequacies.
I love Chinese karaoke.
[Related question: Can anyone in the know tell me who sang Zhi Ji? I think it’s from the early 90s. I’m obviously hard-pressed to give any complete lyrical lines, but I think one, at the end of the chorus, is “dang wo yong you ni, wo de xin zai ye bu xia xue.”]
[Off the top of my head, here’s The Complete List of Chinese Songs Michelle Kind Of Knows, translated to the best of my abilities (in addition to those mentioned above):
- Wo Shi Nian Qing De Wei Guo Jun (I Am A Young Soldier-Protector Of Our Nation!)
- Jin Ye Ni Hui Bu Hui Lai? (Tonight Will You Come Or Not Come?)
- Shi Shang Zhi You Ma Ma Hao (In The World There Is None So Good As Mummy)
- Ai Xiang Shui (???)
- Ai Bu Pa (???)
- Nan Ren Bu Gai Rang Nu Ren Liu Lei (Men Shouldn’t Make Women Cry)
- Something I can’t remember the Chinese name of, but I think it was called Cupid Love in English
- Probably one or two Teresa Teng classics
That’s pretty much it.]
I’m really losing the battle to keep up with writing about everything I want to write about.
Raffles Junior College (I keep wanting to refer to this as RJ the way most of my peers do, but am aware that the world outside Singapore doesn’t converse in acronyms) Dramafest finals last Friday, the now annual pilgrimage (written about last year, and fundamentally the same in terms of group composition and general good feeling) to good food in Ghim Moh hawker centre, bad plays in LT1 and debauched supper in Holland Village. Tragically, the Hainanese chicken rice stall manned by the skinny balding moustachioed man seems to have closed down, but at least there was still Luan Qi Ba Zao (scroll down to NoBlogLove post#2). We suppered in Coffee Club, which was altogether too civilized a place for D’s (names initialized to protect the filthy) very excited shouts about Natalie Portman’s nipples. (Most quotes from the evening are unprintable at best, and potentially libellous at worst.)
Debate finals were on Saturday, where for the second year running I was the youngest and strangest-haired judge on the panel. I don’t think this adversely affected my ability to judge, given that I ended up comfortably in the middle of a majority decision, but it was something I was more than passingly aware of nonetheless. Having to travel to the other side of the island (stop laughing, people from big countries, it’s at least one and a half hours’ journey!) for a scholarship gathering afterwards was a bit of a bitch, but worth the trip in the end – I’m always pleasantly shocked by just how much I actually enjoy the company of these people. Working with them, if it happens, might actually be fun.
Monday’s romantic candlelight dinner with May at Chijmes started auspiciously with our agreed meeting point in the Mango store at Raffles City. Practical given that she was parking there, and also for the fact that if either of us was late, the other wouldn’t have to be bored while waiting. Impractical given that we ended up eating about two hours later than we’d originally planned on due to grappling with important shopping decisions, such as whether the unique colour of trousers was an acceptable tradeoff for their ass-ballooning potential.
On Sunday my uncle organized a big family lunch in honour of my graduation. This was sweet. One does wonder why he chose Geylang (brothel capital of Singapore) for this joyous occasion, but gift horse, mouth, blah.
The Singapore Youth Orchestra concert I attended later with mum was an evening of many flashbacks. Before I joined the orchestra at the age of 13 my mother used to take me to its concerts. I was so small I’d have to perch on the edge of my seat in the circle and peer over the balcony railing to see the players. On Sunday there were alumni violinists in the orchestra I hadn’t seen since I watched them as a child – I couldn’t recognize their faces, but I knew them by their playing styles.
Then I joined the orchestra, and was lazy and never practised and sight-read everything and was, accordingly, a crap first violinist. Neither this nor the fact that I found it socially deadening apart from the very few people I found interesting (and who hopefully know who they are) should be obscured by surges of nostalgia. But when I think back, I remember how it felt to be part of a swell of sound, and that really does outweigh the nitty gritty.
On Saturday I felt old and retrospectively stupid.
The semi-final debates were on the motion This House Believes That The IMF and World Bank Have Done More Harm Than Good. If I had had to take this on, when I was 17, with an hour to prepare, I would have curled up in a fetal position in the corner and cried for my mother. The teams I judged took it on bravely and far more competently than I would have done 5 years ago, and while I was able, in judge mode, to make many criticisms of their efforts, that really doesn’t detract from the fact that they’d have kicked my 17-year-old ass to Washington (is that where the IMF and WB headquarters are?) and back.
The seven-generational Raffles Debaters party (affectionately christened the Gangbang by Jolene) afterwards had the magnificent cacophony you would expect from an event where you put a lot of debaters in a room but don’t actually have rules of debating in place to control all of them. Party games included obscene charades where people had to act out stuff like Octopussy and Dr Strangelove (the guy doing this mimed wanking a very big dick, and someone guessed it just from that. Go figure), Polar Bear (too complicated to explain, but I am told all the young people play it these days) and Dance Dance Revolution.
As I said, old and retrospectively stupid. But in a good way.
Another of those Real Life weekends, I’m afraid. I really must get my priorities in order.
The Katong Convent (my primary and secondary school) class reunion on Friday wasn’t as manic as others have been. Being unable to attend due to her being in Afghanistan volunteering, our form teacher was unable to offend the family at the next table by loudly recounting stories about her lesbian friends. Since Shoop wasn’t meeting her boyfriend afterwards, the class didn’t have the chance to charge headlong after her and hammer on the windows of the taxi demanding to meet him while she tried to explain, within, that she didn’t actually know any of these mad girls at all.
Debating and my other various pretensions draw me back to Rafflesian soil more often than to KC, but all the sappy reminiscing in the world would still be inadequate to convey what KC was, and still is to me. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about choices, and evaluating most of those I’ve made with the benefit of hindsight, I continue to be amazed at how few I regret, even the ones that were fairly risky at the time. I am glad I chose not to go into the Gifted stream (this would have meant leaving KC) or to a school higher up on the rankings. Both those forks in the road continued to generate their fair share of angst years after they’d been taken but these days I’ve been thinking Robert Frost was right.
Saturday was Rafflesian, the morning spent judging quarter-final debates, the afternoon at the Creative Writing Club’s annual Afternoon of Poetry and Music, which I’ve attended for the past seven years or so.
APM had its usual mixed bag of poetry – some I didn’t get or didn’t like, some that could have been good if their authors hadn’t delivered them so badly, some I wished I was a good enough poet to have written, many I knew I would never be a good enough poet to write. Poems by young strangers and old friends. Lee Tzu Pheng’s beautiful and elegiac Falling Into Timelessness, which I must find and read many times more. Alfian Sa’at’s Autobiography, from that second collection I haven’t read nearly as many times as One Fierce Hour and really should sit down with soon. Musical performances which gave me varying degrees of enjoyment depending on the novelty of their repertoire and the skill of the performers. Handel’s The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba arranged for saxophone quartet, well worth watching. Ploddingly and badly played Pachelbel’s Canon, a real waste of time.
Crepes (quality good, quantity bad) at Raffles City (continuity unintended) with Terence, Yi-Sheng, Cheryl and Miss Ho. Wandering, talking, coffeeing later on, conversation that can’t really be alluded to because of the reasonably private nature of most of it, but I suppose the main point here is that I went home from the day happy and remembering why, according to the Myers-Briggs test, I am apparently an extrovert.