I am bewildered, befuddled, baffled and bemused. Yes, after a protracted period away I have returned to Singapore and I am once again immersed into the madness of the island.
In the last couple of days the Christmas season has descended suddenly and bizarrely upon the island in a cacophony of colour and confusion.
I am unsurprised.
Despite the tinsel and baubles that now adorn every surface there is however a feeling of familiarity and comfort in my return to Singapore. I felt this as I rode my bicycle to Starbucks in Novena for my ritualistic Sunday breakfast of toast and vegemite washed down with a double-shot vanilla latte. When I rode back to my apartment one of the two Rajs who are the Security guards of my complex greeted me. He snapped to a splendid salute as I approached and he was beaming.
“At ease Raj” I commanded.
“Gidday and be goodness of morning Mr. Peter cobbler sir” he chirped.
“We are being missing you and Yo ho ho,” he added.
“That is cobber not cobbler Raj” I smiled.
“And I have missed you guys too”
At that point another resident – a Singaporean - walked into the complex and he nodded a curt hello to both Raj and I.
“Yo ho ho” Raj beamed at him.
The Resident looked alarmed.
“What is this Yo ho hoing that you are doing Raj?”
“It is being the Christmas spirits that Mr. Tan has being told us to say to everyone who is coming and going Mr. Peter”
“Jaysus” I replied
“Yo ho ho is what pirates say Raj”
For reasons that are completely inexplicable to me this triggered an instant salute from Raj.
“At ease Raj”
Mrs. Chu from apartment 430 then walked past the guardhouse on her way out and I jumped a little as Raj once again boomed a ‘Yo ho ho’. Mrs. Chu cast both Raj and I a look of contempt and she snarled something in Hokkien that I can only assume was derogatory.
“Where is the other Raj, Raj?” I enquired.
“He is being putting up the decorations for the Christmases with Mr. Tan Mr. Peter sir”
“Christmas decorations? It is only November”
Raj returned a gentle wobble of his head in affirmation.
“I am going to go and have a swim Raj and then sit by the pool. Please tell Mr. Tan to come and see me when he has a moment”
This request prompted another salute from Raj – as I knew it would – and I could do nothing but command him once again to stand at ease.
As I wheeled my bicycle up the driveway I noticed that a large Christmas moose had been erected in the foyer of my condominium complex. I have encountered the Christmas moose before on the Island. I am unsure whether this creature is actually a moose and I suspect that it might be a warped Singaporean take on a reindeer. Irrespective it is a frightening beast that greatly disturbs me. The creature is more than two metres tall. It stands erect and is unsmiling.
It is an abomination.
I caught the lift up to my apartment and changed into my swimming attire then retreated to my swimming pool. As I was laying out my towel the klaxon air raid siren on my mobile phone went off – alerting me that my mother was calling.
A klaxon is not a wart-faced enemy of the Star Ship Enterprise. That is a Klingon. A klaxon is a loud electric horn that is most commonly used as a warning of something ominous. It is named thus after it’s American manufacturer.
I lit a cigarette and cracked open a can of coke before answering the phone.
“Is that you Peter?”
“Yes Mum. Who else would it be?”
“It could be your brother Richard. You both sound alike”
“But you rang me Mum”
“Don’t take that tone with me young man”
“I am not that young anymore Mum and there is no tone”
“Your father is worried that you might still be smoking and are not eating properly Peter. He hopes that you are not drinking coca cola anymore too”
My dad has no such concerns. My mother tends to use my Dad to express her own concerns to me.
I don’t know why.
“Tell Dad I am not smoking anymore nor am I drinking coke Mum,” I replied as I took a deep drag of my cigarette then a cheeky swig of my coke.
“Are you sure Peter?”
I know that it is sinful to lie to your mother but mine is as mad as a cut snake and I have found that it is best to portray myself in a manner that she would like - lest she drives me insane.
“I hope that you are changing your underpants every day Peter”
“For fuck sake Mum”
“Language Peter! Fresh underpants are important. Particularly in the tropics”
“I have found that if I turn them inside out I can actually get two days wear out of them Mum”
“That’s not funny Richard”
“I am Peter Mum”
“Your father wants to know whether you are eating enough vegetables and fruit too”
“Everyday Mum” I lied.
“Why don’t you put Dad on the line so he can ask me all these questions himself?” I challenged.
This request was conveniently ignored.
“He wants to know if you are coming home for Christmas too”
“Of course I am Mum. When have I not?”
My mother then began to reel off all the occasions I had not returned home for Christmas. Whilst she was doing this Mr. Tan and the other Raj appeared on the pool deck and they walked towards me. Mr. Tan looked anxious – as he normally does – and Raj looked somewhat ridiculous in an oversized Santa hat that was pulled down over his turban.
When they arrived at my spot by the pool the Raj stood at attention saluting me whilst Mr. Tan hopped about a bit wringing his hands.
I interrupted my Mother’s diatribe and said, “I have got to go Mum. Mr. Tan and Raj are here and they are waiting to talk to me”
“That isn’t that ghastly Swedish man is it Peter?”
“No that is Jens Mum and he is Danish not Swedish”
“Your father doesn’t want you associating with axe murderers and criminals Peter. We raised you better than that”
“Jens is not a criminal Mum he is just a crazy fucker - and I don’t know any axe murderers either. I think you are referring to the Russian Vlad who used to occasionally stab people in the eye with an icepick. But that was a KGB thing done on purely political grounds”
“I don’t know why you feel you must associate with such dreadful people nor why you persist in swearing so much Peter – it upsets your father”
“Shit - sorry Mum. But those people aren’t at all dreadful and each of us have our foibles. Please tell Dad that there is no need for concern. I really have to go now too otherwise Raj won’t stop saluting at me”
“Alright Richard goodbye then. Please put on clean underpants every day and let us know when you are coming home”
Then I hung up.
A foible is not a disgusting piece of muck that is coughed up by a cat - that is a fur-ball. A foible is a flaw in one’s character or personality. We all have them.
I have quite a few.
“At ease Raj and good morning. Good morning to you to Mr. Tan”
“Good morning Mr. Peter” Mr. Tan responded in a dulcet and impassive tone.
“Yo ho ho and the merriment of Christmases to you” Raj beamed at me.
“Please take a seat in the shade guys and explain this yo ho hoing that is going on”
Mr. Tan pulled up a chair next to mine whilst Raj remained standing. To my great relief he was no longer saluting but I was alert to the fact that one could be triggered at any given moment.
“It is the Christmas spirit Mr. Peter” Mr. Tan said.
“We have decided that we will bring Christmas joy to the condominium this year”
“Joy Mr. Tan?”
“Yes joy Mr. Peter”
“Are you aware Mr. Tan that ‘Yo ho ho’ is what pirates say?”
“Pirates Mr. Peter?”
“Yes pirates Mr. Tan. Santa Claus says ‘ho ho ho’ not ‘yo ho ho’”
The phrase ‘Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’ was coined by the writer Robert Louis Stevenson and was penned in his work ‘Treasure Island’. It is a sea shanty that was sung my marauding pirates. The full chorus is:
‘Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Drink and the devil had done for the rest
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum’
The ‘Dead Mans Chest’ referred to in the shanty is not a trunk or box as many would think. It is in fact a small atoll that is a part of the British Virgin Islands in the Pacific Ocean. Legend has it that a Pirate named Edward Teach – who was better known as Blackbeard – once punished a mutinous crew of fourty men by banishing them to the atoll for thirty days. Dead Mans Chest was a barren rock that was only 250 yards square in size and was devoid of any water or vegetation. Blackbeard marooned the men with only the clothes on their back, their swords and a bottle of rum each and he fully expected them to either kill each other or die of starvation. When he returned though after 30 days he found that fifteen men had survived. They were all ‘yo ho hoing’.
I explained all of this to Mr. Tan and Raj and whilst Raj looked his normal jovial self Mr. Tan looked even more anxious than normal.
“So no ‘yo’ Mr. Peter”
“No ‘yo’ Mr. Tan”
“You will desist with the ‘yo’ immediately” he barked at Raj - which of course triggered an immediate salute.
“At ease Raj” I sighed.
Raj immediately unclipped the two-way radio from his belt and he spoke into it in rapid Hindi. I assume that he was speaking to the other Raj at the guardhouse for whilst I could not understand most of what he was saying I picked up a number of ‘yo’s’ and ‘ho’s’ in his conversation.
Some words are not translatable.
Whilst Raj was conversing with the other Raj I once again addressed the Building Manager of my complex.
“I have grave concerns about the Christmas creature that has been erected in the foyer of the condominium Mr. Tan”
“The creature Mr. Peter?”
“The creature Mr. Tan. It is a disturbing and terrifying animal that I believe will frighten all of the children who reside here”
“I see” he replied.
“Exactly what sort of animal is it Mr. Tan? It somewhat resembles a moose but I cannot for the life of me understand the association of a moose with Christmas. Is this a Singaporean thing?”
“I believe that it is a reindeer Mr. Peter” Mr. Tan replied
“I am being thinking that it is a cow Mr. Peter” Raj chipped in.
Mr. Tan again gave the Sikh security guard a withering glance - which of course triggered another snap to attention and salute.
“At ease Raj. That is definitely not a reindeer Mr. Tan”
“For the sake of the children who live here Mr. Tan I would suggest that we remove the beast immediately. Can?”
Mr. Tan looked despondent.
“Cannot Mr. Peter”
“Cannot Mr. Tan?”
“It is beyond my authority”
“I must insist then that we convene an emergency session of the Owners and Tenants Committee to discuss this matter”
Mr. Tan’s faced brightened a little at this. All Singaporeans love a Committee meeting.
“I shall make the necessary arrangements for an Emergency Session of the Committee immediately then Mr. Peter” the Building Manager announced as he rose to his feet.
“Excellent Mr. Tan. Thank you” I replied.
I then waved goodbye to them and dived into the cool clear waters of the pool.
An Emergency session of the Owners and Tenants Committee - where the sole subject will be a discussion on the identity and merits of the removal of the Christmas moose - will indeed be excellent.
I can’t wait.