April 23, 2012

  • Floating Cloud - Chapter 5

    Several months later, I came straight home from school, something that I
    would not do normally. But the day had been especially tiring and I wanted
    to read in my room. I had in some way become used to Cao Ping not being
    around for me to study with and I needed some relief from the rut to which I
    had become accustomed. Xi Ghong was in the living room with a man, many
    years younger than himself, but fatter and balder. They were talking quietly
    when I walked in, and then they noticed me, and the talking stopped

    The visitor was very surprised to see a Caucasian walk into the place,
    unannounced and it was obvious that this was a business deal. Not only had I
    never seen the man before, but Xi Ghong had clearly also not told him
    anything about me. Most people in Chinatown in Singapore knew of me, and
    had grown used to seeing me walk the streets, with or without Cao Ping.
    For a moment I was unsure of what to do – should I make my apologies and
    walk out, pretending it had not happened or greet Xi Ghong? I decided that I
    would just say hello and go to my room. If that caused any ruffle then it was
    something I had to risk – after all, I needed to do my homework in my room.
    It is not customary in Chinese culture to introduce people and I was not
    expecting Xi Ghong to say anything to me at all – he merely acknowledged
    my presence and waited for me to leave to my room.

    Once in my room, I lit some incense and opened the window on to a dark,
    rainy Singapore afternoon. The cool air and the smells of Chinatown wafted
    into my room, mixing with the pungent incense. The sounds of the cars from
    nearby as well as the market vendors and their customers brought in some
    atmosphere. I wanted to listen to Xi Ghong and his conversation with the
    stranger but I tried to suppress my curiosity. There was no way I was going
    to get away with listening to their conversation, as they were still talking
    quietly, even more so with the knowledge that I was there, but then I heard
    Mei-Lee come home. I opened my door and went to help her with the
    groceries. It was Tuesday and Mei-Lee would always head down to the
    fisherman’s wharf to find some fresh seafood for dinner and usually she too
    would be late home, but not today.

    The look that Mei-Lee gave the stranger when she saw him was icy, although
    she put on a neutral face when talking with him and Xi Ghong. I washed the
    vegetables and chopped the garlic and ginger for Mei-Lee whilst she packed
    some other groceries away.
    Within a couple of minutes, the stranger was leaving, saying goodbye to Xi
    Ghong and Mei-Lee, but ignoring me on the way out. I guess I was used to

    Dinner that evening was a very quiet affair. Xi Ghong knew that he had been
    caught red-handed and had no way of wriggling out of it. He kept his eyes
    very firmly on the bowl of seafood noodles that Mei-Lee and I had prepared.
    Mei-Lee knew better than to talk about this kind of issue with me present and
    I knew that my curiosity would have a second chance to find out what the
    discussion had been about.

    I was not disappointed. As soon as Xi Ghong had finished, I got up to get his
    whisky. It had become so much like clockwork that I almost had no idea
    what to do when he said he was not drinking any tonight. I put the bottle
    down and said good night to the two of them, knowing my physical presence
    was no longer required.

    I closed my door, lit a couple of candles and burned some incense, leaning as
    close to the door as I could to listen in on the ongoing discussion. Mei-Lee
    was very upset at the fact that this man had visited her house and Xi Ghong
    was not going to get away with it.

    “Why did he come here?” Mei-Lee asked. “What did he want?”

    Xi Ghong knew better than to ignore the question and so opened up.

    “He needs a contact at the Singapore Bank of Trade and Commerce. You
    know that when we moved here from the mainland that we could not leave it
    behind, that we would have to pay for our safe passage here. The payments
    may never end Mei-Lee. We may have to return favours forever.
    You know that we had to move quickly to evade the Japanese when they
    invaded our homeland. Money alone was never going to be enough for those
    who offered us a safe route to Singapore.”

    “We gave them all our money, all our belongings. That’s enough Xi Ghong,"
    Mei-Lee told him icily. "We cannot go on forever – we have been out of the
    Mainland for a long time. This has to end. Tell them that this is the last
    payment. Tell them that we have given enough.”

    There was a long pause and I wondered if Xi Ghong had left. But there was
    no noise whatsoever. Still, I was not going to risk going out, not even under
    the pretence of needing some water, so I crawled into my bed and wondered
    what to make of what I had just heard. A contact at the Singapore Bank of
    Trade and Commerce? That was where Cao Ping’s father worked. I
    shuddered with nerves, a bad feeling creeping across my mind.

    The next morning, I got up early and went to the market to get some eggs
    so that I could make breakfast for Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee. For the first time
    ever, when I opened my door I saw Xi Ghong sleeping in his chair, the empty
    bottle of Chivas Regal on the table next to him with Mei-Lee nowhere to be
    seen. I looked around for her, but she was not in the apartment.

    I went up to take the bottle and Xi Ghong immediately woke up, taking me
    by surprise, and looked alert as if he had had a full night’s sleep.

    “Good morning Xi Ghong”, I said.

    He smiled and it was a warm smile. This
    surprised me even more, after the events of last night. I was confused as to
    what had happened – I had hazarded some guesses during the night and it
    was obviously an issue that went back many years, back on the mainland.
    I decided not to ask where Mei-Lee was – chances were that he had slept
    through her leaving and she was out buying eggs for our breakfast. But when
    the time arrived for me to leave and go to school, there was still no sign of
    her. Xi Ghong did not look worried, but I was certain he was at least a little

    At school, I found Cao Ping alone, sitting on the bench underneath some bare
    trees. I looked at her and although she was looking directly at me, it was
    obvious she did not see me, or recognise me.

    “Cao Ping. What is the matter?” I asked.

    She snapped out of her trance and was genuinely surprised to see me.
    “I did not sleep well,” she offered as an excuse. I smiled and asked her what
    was wrong. She also had problems at home and she told me that her parents
    were arguing more and more. Her father seemed to be spending more and
    more time in the office and her parents seemed to be drifting further apart.
    Suddenly I thought that the problems that Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee had to face
    were small in comparison and it was then that I saw a small bruise on her
    arm. I reached a conclusion that I did not like and felt anger inside me, which
    I had to try so hard to keep from bubbling over. I breathed deeply a couple
    of times and asked her how it had happened, fearing the worst.

    Cao Ping did not want to tell me – instead she looked towards the ground
    and kept her eyes away from mine. I gently took her hand and I saw a tear
    drop from her eye. At that point, I knew what heartbreak was. I was
    devastated and so many emotions flowed through my young body, that I felt
    almost as if I was an adult.

    “Your father?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.

    Cao Ping just nodded and cried some more. I decided the risk outweighed the
    consequences, so I took her in my arms and she cried on my shoulder, tears
    flowing so hard that I almost felt as though they would never stop.
    “It’s not your fault Cao Ping,” I told her softly.

    Our intimate moment was interrupted by the bell, telling us that school was
    to start. Cao Ping wiped her eyes and we both made our way in to the
    classroom. Teacher was already writing Chinese characters on the blackboard
    by the time we arrived, and when she had finished, she turned around to
    greet the class.

    “Good morning teacher,” we replied in unison. It was a ritual that had been
    drilled into us since our first day at school and had become a phrase that was
    chanted without passion and feeling by now.

    Whatever teacher said during the lesson, I did not hear it. So many thoughts
    were in my mind, and it raced. What was the history behind Xi Ghong and
    Mei-Lee’s arrival in Singapore? Where had Mei-Lee disappeared to? What was
    happening to Cao Ping’s family? But most of all, I pondered what on earth
    possessed a man to hit his child? Whatever frustration a man has from his
    life, he has no right to take it out on his child, especially not his daughter
    who is top of her class and gives her father every reason to be proud. I could
    not believe that her father would hit her, but the bruises told no lies. Cao
    Ping’s tears were real tears, the fabric of my shirt still damp from where her
    tears had fallen.

    I looked over at Cao Ping and could see also that she was far from able to
    concentrate. It was the first time that I had seen her this way and I had
    absolutely no idea how to react to this. Now, more than ever, I detested the
    way her father treated her, treated us. I had never done anything to him,
    except be a Caucasian. That had never been my choice, but my fate was

    That afternoon, I watched from the safe vantage point behind a tree as Cao
    Ping was picked up by her father. I felt nothing but contempt for the man as
    the rear door closed and Cao Ping vanished from my sight. As the car drove
    away, my anger subsided, but not enough for me to be able to go home and
    concentrate on my homework. I decided to go to a temple, and ask for
    guidance from Buddha and the spirits.

    The mid-afternoon brought some more rain showers, but I did not mind
    getting wet. It was all a part of life in equatorial Singapore. As suddenly as it
    had begun, the rain subsided and the peninsular was back to its usual sticky
    and humid self. By the time I had reached the temple in the Dragon Gardens,
    I had walked through three rain showers, but I did not feel wet, although I
    undoubtedly was.

    I took off my shoes, lit some incense and went inside. The dank smells of wet
    cloth mixed with the pungent incense smoke, all very familiar to me in truth.
    It was then that I saw her – a very attractive but alarmingly thin Chinese girl
    – about the same age as me – doing her bai bai in front of the large, gold
    statue of Buddha.

    Instead of continuing with my ritual, I sat down on the bench to meditate
    just a little, so as not to disturb her. She was very meticulous about her
    prayers and her accent sounded as though it came from somewhere other
    than Singapore - maybe Malaysia, I thought. She certainly did not dress like
    a Singaporean girl, nor did she talk like one even though she was chanting in

    When she had finished, she turned around and saw me, startled just a little
    to see a non-Chinese there, but she managed to compose herself and say
    “Ning hao”, very mainland talk.

    I smiled and returned the greeting in Singapore Mandarin and went back to
    my own prayers, concentrating on finding answers to all of my questions,
    hoping that there would be some guidance for me, some spiritual answer to
    help me find some happiness and peace for those I loved, Mei-Lee and Xi
    Ghong, Cao Ping and her family. And of course, guidance also for myself.
    When I had prayed as much and as hard as I could, I stepped out of the
    temple and the thin, pretty girl was sitting outside, in the dark. Curiosity
    overcame me and I went to her to ask what she was doing. It seemed very
    strange to me that a girl would be alone in the Dragon Gardens on her own
    in the dark and whereas Lion City, indeed the whole island of Singapore, is
    very safe, it was still an unusual sight.

    She told me her name was Li Ying, and that she came from Yunnan, a
    province in Mainland China. After she had overcome her surprise that a
    Caucasian could speak Mandarin, she opened up a lot and told me many
    stories about how she had left with her mother to come to Singapore. Her
    mother was now very ill, and their family could not afford to visit the doctor,
    they did not even have enough money for medicine.

    I asked her to take me to her mother, so that I could see for myself. I maybe
    did not know anything near as much as a doctor did, but I could still possibly
    see what was wrong. When we arrived at their shack, it was obvious why she
    was ill – all the food that they had was enough for one person only and that
    was Li Ying.

    Their shack was several blocks away from where I lived with Xi Ghong and
    Mei-Lee and it made us look as though we lived in the lap of luxury by
    comparison. I took Li Ying to the market and bought a chicken, the
    stallholder wringing its neck in front of us, as well as some vegetables, rice
    and some herbs and spices. We took the food together to the small, damp
    hut that was Li Ying’s home and got a small fire going. It was enough to
    make a soup with the food we had just bought, and Li Ying started to feed
    her mother.

    I had never heard of anyone starving in Singapore, yet here was hunger right
    on my doorstep. For me it was a complete shock. I knew that I was not rich,
    not like my biological father, but I never had felt true hunger. Memories of
    the Vietnamese in Hong Kong flooded back to me and I thought of Cao Ping.
    How I wanted to be with her, how I wanted her to help, because without her
    I felt lost.

    Li Ying and her mother were genuinely full of appreciation and when I left, Li
    Ying and I arranged to meet again a few days later. My impulsiveness would
    have taken me directly to Cao Ping to talk with her and share this important
    new part of my life, but I knew that I had to keep it to myself, at least for the
    evening. I decided it was time to go home and see if Mei-Lee had returned. I
    wondered about their conversation from the previous evening, the strange
    man from the mainland and what had happened to Mei-Lee this morning.
    There were so many questions floating around my head, but no answers.
    When I opened the door to our apartment, Mei-Lee was sitting, watching the
    Singapore news on the TV. She appeared calm, as if nothing had happened,
    but there was no sign of Xi Ghong. When she saw me, she smiled and
    welcomed me home. I boiled some water so that we could drink jasmine tea.
    It was getting close to the time that we would usually eat dinner, but there
    was no food prepared, so I asked if I should make something. Before she
    could answer, Xi Ghong walked in the door, looking almost ashamed.

    “Yes Fu Yun – that would be nice,” Mei-Lee said, ignoring Xi Ghong for the

    I checked what we had in the apartment, and decided to make a hot-sour
    soup and some Chinese sausage, rice and braised cabbage. Whilst I was
    preparing dinner, there was a chill in the room where Mei-Lee and Xi Ghong
    were. There was not a sound coming from them, but they needed no words.
    It was obviously embarrassing for Xi Ghong and I was glad to be out of their

    By the time I had the meal ready, Xi Ghong had left our home once more. He
    had said nothing upon leaving, but Mei-Lee and I ate, saying nothing, as if
    everything was normal. But I could sense she was fuming inside and
    although she was the calmest person I knew, I could tell she was close to
    losing her cool. She could tell I wanted to know what was going on and so
    after our dinner, when we were clearing up together, she told me the story of
    how they had arrived in Singapore.

    In 1937 the Japanese invaded mainland China, and took over most of the
    main cities there, including their home – and Capital for Chiang Kai-Shek’s
    KMT party – Shanghai. Although they were far from affluent, they did hold a
    fairly high post in the city’s administration and were among the first to be
    searched out by the invading Japanese forces.

    They had heard of the atrocities at Nanjing and wanted to get out of China to
    escape persecution and possible torture. Many thousands had been murdered
    and tortured in the “Rape of Nanjing” and Xi Ghong was very concerned for
    the welfare of his family.

    They had to find a safe passage out of China and were assisted by a group of
    resistance mercenaries, for a very high price of 20,000 Yuan. Xi Ghong did
    not have access to that full amount and so an alternative was negotiated. Xi
    Ghong ended up paying 12,000 Yuan and swore an oath to provide both
    information and favours where he settled.

    A series of contacts and passwords was organised and so they made the
    potentially deadly trek from Shanghai to the south of mainland China, across
    the border in to Vietnam and into hiding. They stayed for several months in
    Vietnam, moving house every few weeks to make sure that the Japanese
    would not find them, living in squalid conditions. They were made to stay
    indoors during daylight hours, “to be safe from spies” they were told and
    never stayed in the same town for more than three months.

    When the Japanese surrendered and their troops were withdrawn from
    Malaya and the peninsular of Singapore in 1945, it was deemed too risky at
    that time to take them directly back to Shanghai, and so Xi Ghong and Mei-
    Lee were led across the border from Vietnam in to Thailand, down through
    Malaya and in to Lion City. They were provided with papers and Xi Ghong
    was able to start work in one of the restaurants in Chinatown. He was told to
    keep a low profile for the next few years, due to the instability in the region.
    The end of the Second World War brought a return in Mainland China of the
    civil war, which had seen the two opposing sides unite temporarily against
    the forces of the invading Japanese forces. By 1949, the Communists had
    taken full control of Mainland China, with the Kuo Ming Tang party of Chiang
    Kai Shek forced into exile on the island of Taiwan.

    With no influence in Singapore and struggling to survive, Xi Ghong had no
    way to take his family to Formosa and so was frustrated at having lost his
    prestigious place in society and being alone in Singapore. He felt a lot of
    pressure at having to support his family, and within months slid in to a
    depression and became suicidal. That was when my father had found him
    and taken him under his wing.

    As a member of the wealthy and highly influential Mason household, Xi
    Ghong’s stature became almost legendary within the Chinese community in
    Singapore and after several years he once again found his status as one of
    the more prominent citizens. Xi Ghong was instrumental in bringing to an
    end some of the racial riots that occurred in Chinese Singaporean middle
    high schools in 1956. He had even played a minor role – as an advisor - in
    gaining Singapore’s independence from Malaya in 1965, just two years after
    having merged with its northern neighbour.

    So Xi Ghong had fallen from a position of status, and, with a hand from fate,
    had risen once more but with this new-found influence came voices from the
    past to haunt him. Those who had aided his escape from the Mainland now
    returned to collect on the promise of assistance.

    Not only was money exchanged, but minor political favours were also
    requested occasionally. Mei-Lee had accepted it all, but now they had been in
    Singapore for almost forty years and she felt that they had re-paid their debt
    in full. All she wanted now was quiet – she was getting old, she told me, and
    she craved a peaceful existence here.

    The man who had visited the household yesterday was a part of the
    organisation that had assisted Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee escape the Japanese,
    and eventually led them to Singapore.

    I was rapt by this whole story that Mei-Lee emotionally told me. It explained
    many things to me, and I had never known her so open. Maybe I had caught
    her at a vulnerable moment but I was not pushing her for information –
    although I had so many questions, I kept them all to myself. Mei-Lee’s voice
    was quiet - almost as if she was talking to herself, and I got the feeling that
    this had been building up inside her for many years. She needed to release
    it, and I was all too eager to lap it up.

    I was about to get doing my homework when Xi Ghong returned. Without
    saying a word, I went to my room, leaving Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee to sort out
    their issues. It had been instilled in me to know when my presence was not
    required, and anyway I had more than enough troubles keeping up with the
    pace at school.

    Over the course of the week Cao Ping and I managed to get some time
    alone, and in bits and pieces I told her Mei-Lee’s story. Cao Ping was -
    needless to say – totally astonished. She had also never heard of Mei-Lee
    being so forthcoming with information. We sat in silent thoughts for a while,
    slurping on our bowls of instant noodles over lunch. All of a sudden, Cao Ping
    just smiled at me and gave my hand a tender squeeze. Immediately my
    heart lifted and I could see Cao Ping was feeling better. Even though her
    father beat her fairly regularly, she knew that my own beatings were
    becoming less and less frequent. I still did not know what the recent problem
    with her father was all about and it was obvious to me that Cao Ping did not
    want to talk about it but she knew that I was always there for her, no matter
    what. We had an unconditional relationship, and there were things that never
    needed to be said – we just knew.

    Because of Mei-Lee’s revelations, I had completely forgotten about Li Ying by
    the end of the week, but on the Friday morning, I woke up with a start. I had
    not even told Cao Ping about this Mainland girl whose mother could not
    afford to feed her daughter. When I got to school, Cao Ping was already in
    the grounds, waiting for me to arrive. Her father had had to go to work early,
    and would not be able to pick her up after school, which meant that we
    would be able to ride the bus home together.

    I made the most of our time together and told Cao Ping about Li Ying and her
    mother. Cao Ping’s expression was one I had never seen on her before. I had
    thought she would also be interested in this young girl who did not have
    enough food to eat, but she was silent. When I asked her what was wrong,
    she said nothing.

    By lunchtime she had still not said anything to me, but when I went up to her
    to see if she wanted to head out to get something from the market, she gave
    me a smile.

    “I am sorry Fu Yun – I thought you…” She broke off.

    I was still confused by her behaviour, but suddenly it hit me – she was

    “No Cao Ping. Never.”

    We both smiled and held hands as we went to the market. Xi Ghong had
    given me some extra money in the morning so I bought Cao Ping some satay
    pork and rice. Since our return from Hong Kong, we had not had this kind of
    freedom to be together and as we were also out of eyesight of our teachers
    and other classmates we talked and smiled until we had to get back to

    Cao Ping could not get out of going home immediately after school, but with
    her jealousy subsided she gave me her blessing to help Li Ying and her
    mother. As we rode the bus back in to the heart of Chinatown together, we
    talked openly and smiled. It was as if we were both normal children – albeit
    temporarily – and we forgot our problems for the moment. For a few brief
    minutes, we were once again both children without a care in the world.
    We got off the bus together and walked through one of the many food
    markets towards Cao Ping’s home. Whereas I was not going to go too close
    to her apartment, I did want to maximise the amount of time we had
    together, so I went as far as I dared. From a distance I saw Xi Ghong and I
    knew he had seen me as well, but within the blink of an eye he had become
    engulfed in the wave of people in the bustling marketplace.

    After saying goodbye to Cao Ping, instead of feeling sad and alone as I
    usually did, I felt as happy as I had in a long time. I could see from the smile
    and from her eyes that Cao Ping felt the same way. My spirits were high as I
    went towards the temple in the Dragon Gardens, and despite getting caught
    out by an afternoon shower, I felt at ease by the time I arrived.

    Dusk was coming, the clouds were thick overhead, and it was going to be
    another warm, wet evening that Singapore is famed for. As I entered the
    temple, the pungent smell of incense overcame me and I knew that I would
    thank Buddha today for the happiness I felt. As I bowed before the golden
    statue of Buddha, incense sticks in my hand, I silently went through my
    ritual, a part of me wondering if I was showing my gratitude enough, another
    part of me knowing that this feeling would not last. But I was thankful for all
    of the times that Cao Ping and I could be together and I did my best to
    convey this to the effigy of Buddha in front of me.

    After I had finished my prayers, I turned around to leave, and was a little
    startled at seeing Li Ying there, looking at me and smiling. We greeted one
    another and I asked her how her mother was doing, and was very pleased to
    hear that she felt a little better. Li Ying also had more colour in her face, but
    was still visibly weaker than she should be.

    I was a little sad that I had not been able to visit once more, but Li Ying said
    she understood. I told her of my friend Cao Ping and talked probably more
    than I should have, but I didn’t think that Li Ying was a person I had to worry

    On the way back to Chinatown, I asked if Li Ying and her mother had food to
    eat. Although she said they had, her eyes told me they were hungry, so once
    again we went to the market and bought some fish, rice and vegetables. Li
    Ying’s gratitude was evident but I knew that I had to get back home, so I
    could not go with Li Ying to her home. I was glad that she could eat though.
    As I got home, Mei-Lee was finishing preparing our meal, with Xi Ghong
    sitting in his chair, acting as though nothing had happened. I smiled at him,
    but did not talk about our sighting – in case I said something wrong.

    Obviously Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee had cleared some of the air between them
    whilst I had been at school or at the temple, and the cold air that had been
    between them the previous day was replaced by the usual calm. Dinner that
    evening was spectacular, even by Mei-Lee’s standards, and I got the
    impression that Xi Ghong had given in to her demands – dinner was her way
    to thank him for acceding.

    As we were eating, Xi Ghong said to me: “Fu Yun – be careful with Cao Ping.
    Her father still does not like you two to be together.”

    I told him that I only went as far as I dared and that I would not get too
    close to her home. Xi Ghong replied that if he saw us together then it was
    also possible that Luo Xian Sheng could some time. He repeated the warning
    for me to be extremely cautious. Deep inside me I knew that he was right,
    and I felt sad in my heart to know that I could lose out on seeing Cao Ping
    once again.

    Within a few weeks I had introduced Cao Ping and Li Ying, and the two girls
    had become instant friends. I suggested to Cao Ping that Li Ying should come
    to school to study with us, but Cao Ping reminded me that Yishun was a little
    far out for her, and besides it would be difficult for her to be taken in by the
    school as it was a well respected school. I reluctantly accepted this, and Cao
    Ping and I fell into silence, both thinking the same things, both wondering
    what we could do.

    Some days the three of us would go to the market together and find
    something small to eat before going home, but mainly we would go to the
    Orchid Gardens and sit either on one of the banks or on the grass, talking
    about things. Very often, Li Ying got left out although we did our best to keep
    her involved in the conversation. But although she was undoubtedly
    intelligent, Li Ying did not go to school – and was instead out looking for food
    for her mother during the day. Hers was definitely a life so different to ours,
    but Cao Ping and I knew the importance of education – after all, it had been
    drilled in to us on many occasions!

    One afternoon, as we sheltered to avoid another rain shower, I asked Cao
    Ping if I should approach Xi Ghong about helping Li Ying. After all, he had
    influence in affairs in Chinatown, and might be able to find a school for her.
    Cao Ping thought this was a good idea, but also said that we needed to speak
    with Li Ying first. I felt embarrassed that I had not thought to talk it over
    with Li Ying myself, and scolded myself inwardly. Cao Ping smiled as she saw
    me, and suggested that she should ask her first, and if Li Ying said she
    wanted to go to school then I could approach Xi Ghong. I felt it was
    incredible that we could find solutions like that – it seemed at times like this
    that there was no problem we could not overcome together. My heart
    radiated warmth for Cao Ping and I felt very happy inside.

    A few weeks later, our class took a trip on a ferry from Singapore to the
    mainland of Malaysia, in to the southernmost city – Johor Baharu. Although
    there was a bus journey available, the teachers decided to give us a special
    treat and take us across the Johor Strait by boat. Taking in a trip around the
    town, we visited the impressive mosque as well as the blue-roofed museum,
    the British colonial influence plainly visible. The town was completely
    different to the hustle and bustle of Singapore and seemed a lot more
    relaxed. It was also visibly less developed than the world we were used to,
    and a lot dirtier. Living in Singapore means not throwing trash on the streets,
    not chewing gum and not smoking in public places, but this was not the case
    just one hour's drive from the Republic we lived in. It could have been a
    different planet for us.

    Memories of the conditions in Hong Kong flooded my mind and I could almost
    hear the voices of the Vietnamese children and smell the camps they were in.
    I did not want to get emotional, but could not help it, and I wondered if Cao
    Ping felt the same. She was with a group of her friends, and seemed to be
    enjoying herself. If she did notice, she certainly was no showing it.

    There was a museum in the central part of the town, the Royal Abu Bakar
    Museum, showing relics from the Sultan of Johor, and the small tour around
    took us just an hour, but it still seemed like an eternity. I was so wrapped in
    my own thoughts that I did not even realise that I had seen some of the
    most valuable artefacts from the pre-British colonial era.

    After leaving the museum, we visited the mosque dedicated to Abu Bakar
    that was built in 1900. We were split in to male and female groups, and
    given separate tours. All the girls had to cover themselves completely, and
    everyone had to take off their shoes. It was absolutely huge and we were
    told that over two thousand worshippers accumulate there for Friday prayers.
    Despite being in my own deep thoughts, I could not escape the vastness of
    the mosque, nor could I fail to be highly impressed by it.

    Lastly we went to the old Chinese Temple - Rou Fo Gu Miao. I was finally able
    to escape in to prayer to the gods, but there were many children who did not
    respect the silence. Teacher reprimanded the trouble-makers and the temple
    once again became calm. I wished I could have had more time there, but I
    was not able to as teacher started to tell us about the history of the temple
    and how it was one of the few buildings in the town to escape being bombed
    during the second World War. It did seem to have an aura that was all its
    own and I felt that the temple was protected by the gods. As I made my final
    bow with the incense, I asked the gods who had protected the temple to look
    after Cao Ping, Li Ying, Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee.

    As we ate at Pasar Malam I got to talk quickly with Cao Ping. Thankfully for
    us, a couple of the other children were taking advantage of being away from
    a school atmosphere, so teacher did not notice us sitting together at all. For
    once I was grateful for the other children being around.

    Cao Ping had been with her friends all day and had tried to glimpse over in
    my direction occasionally, and she reassured me with her smile. With that
    smile, all my worries dissipated. She told me that she had really enjoyed the
    trip over to Malaysia, and walking around the town of Johor Baharu. She had
    wanted to talk with me at the temple, but saw that I was in deep prayer and
    so did not want to disturb me. I was grateful for that as well. Even though I
    would always have time for Cao Ping, my prayer time was becoming ever
    more valuable to me.

    We started talking about Li Ying. Cao Ping had been doing some research and
    had found a school closer to our homes in Chinatown that would probably
    accept her. She wanted to talk with Li Ying to find out what level she would
    start at, but we were both worried about her mother. There was no way that
    Cao Ping’s parents would accept houseguests and we just did not have space.
    We did not know how to help but I said I would ask Xi Ghong. He would know
    for sure if there was something we could do. We laughed at the irony of
    Singapore being portrayed as an ordered society, but there were many
    cracks that were quite simply pasted over. But at least there were always
    solutions there – Malaysia was not so lucky in our opinion.

    As we rode in the bus back across the road bridge back in to Singapore I felt
    very lucky and blessed to live on the peninsular. Without doubt life was a lot
    easier there than across the border and despite all the problems that Cao
    Ping and I had to endure there was a lot more poverty so close to home. I
    wondered why Malaysia did not follow the same system as Singapore. It
    seemed strange to me, but my train of thought was not allowed to come to a
    conclusion as the bus arrived in Chinatown. Most parents were at the bus
    stop as we came to a halt, and Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee were both waiting for
    me. I was not expecting that and I looked at their faces for a sign of their
    mood. I did not see any unwelcome signs and thought that I was in the clear,
    although I could never be sure! Cao Ping’s parents were also there and I was
    relieved that she and I had not been sitting together on the bus. I realised
    why that was – teacher had been told to keep us apart and Cao Ping’s father
    was there to make sure that his demands were adhered to.

    For a moment Xi Ghong and Cao Pings father’s eyes met. Luo Xian Sheng
    was the first to break off that eye contact and I felt that a minor battle had
    been won. I thought perhaps Cao Ping would have it a little easier for a short
    while, but we had experienced more than enough times a change in attitude
    and temperament from Cao Ping’s father.

    As darkness fell quickly over the newly built skyscrapers of Singapore, Xi
    Ghong and I headed back to our home, walking through the night markets to
    get some vegetables and meat for supper. It seemed to me that Xi Ghong
    was trying to make up to Mei-Lee and the irony of that situation did not
    escape me for a minute.

    We entered the apartment and the pungent aroma of beef in black bean
    sauce surrounded us and my mouth began watering. Mei-Lee’s beef dishes
    were one of the delights of Singapore life, but she would rarely cook her beef
    and black bean sauce, with half-cloves of garlic and lots of onions. For many
    of the Chinese she made it too salty, but for me it was better than any dish I
    had ever found in any restaurant across Singapore. I got the feeling that
    perhaps sometimes I had more of a western taste than my Chinese family. It
    was yet another one of those small things that made me feel like I just did
    not fit in anywhere.

    Xi Ghong did not enjoy the food as salty as I did and I felt that Mei-Lee had
    made the meal that way more to annoy Xi Ghong than to make me happy. I
    did not know at the time what the two of them had agreed on, but the calm
    from the previous evening was not quite as prominent. The meal was eaten
    in relative silence, the only noise coming from our chopsticks clinking on the
    porcelain bowls.

    After a while, Mei-Lee asked me about the trip to Malaysia and so I told her
    all about the boat trip and the sights we had seen in Johor Baharu. I did not
    realise it until Xi Ghong spoke, but there was a sadness in my voice.
    Although I would usually talk through things with a passion, and although I
    did enjoy the day across the border, I did not talk with my usual verve.

    “What is troubling you Fu Yun?” Xi Ghong asked.

    I fell silent. This was a question I did not want to answer. I knew what the
    problem was as soon as he had asked me, but the memories of Hong Kong –
    I did not want to talk about them. But the thoughts continued going around
    my mind, as they would for many years to come.

    "I am fine Xi Ghong," I murmured.

    After school one day, when Cao Ping had been picked up by her father, I took
    a walk to see Li Ying and her mother. She had become healthier and her
    mother finally had some colour in her face. She was also gaining weight and
    had been eating well since the previous time I had seen her. I felt happy that
    their situation was improving and knew that Cao Ping would also be pleased
    to hear this news. I really wanted to find out if Li Ying wanted to go to
    school, to study, to learn. And I had had another idea – I thought that Xi
    Ghong could perhaps help her mother to get a job. With his influence in
    Singaporean society, I felt sure that he could find something.

    But I was fearful not to instil them with too much confidence and hope. I was
    not certain that I could actually get anywhere – so far, all I had was a
    handful of ideas. A potential plan was building up inside my mind, but had no
    guarantees. If they counted on me so soon and I let them down, then I
    would have that on my conscience. I started to say something, but stopped. I
    really did not know how to say what I wanted to. How I wished Cao Ping had
    been there to help – she was always so good in talking with people. Finally, I
    spoke to Li Ying’s mother.

    “Yang Tai Tai,” I said, “I have been thinking about Li Ying. Cao Ping and I are
    worried for her – we both go to school, we both learn, but Li Ying does not.
    I…we think that perhaps we can help to get her a place at school here.”
    Li Ying’s mother looked surprised.

    “I also will try to help you find a job, so that you can feed Li Ying.”

    I saw no other reaction from Li Ying’s mother, so I looked over to Li Ying
    herself for some support. If she did not help me, I thought I was going to

    “Mama,” she said. “I would like to go to school.”

    Li Ying’s mothers look softened. There was a look of compassion and love
    and understanding now in her old, wrinkled face. There was almost a sparkle
    in her eyes, and I got the feeling that this was something that had been
    missing for a long, long time.

    Li Ying looked at her mother in hope, and I felt that she was desperate to
    finally fit in to society. Perhaps a spark of jealousy flowed through my body
    at that time, but I was also very proud of her because she had grown and
    become stronger in the short time I had known her. I also knew that a small
    part of this was down to Cao Ping and me.

    Her mother, finally, said that she would think it all over. It was better than I
    had hoped for.

    Cao Ping and I made plans. Li Ying’s mother had not said no and that was
    the start we needed. If we could put some ideas to her, with a clear direction
    of what could happen if Li Ying went to school, and especially if we could find
    a way for Yang Tai Tai to make a living, then perhaps we could get ideas
    flowing inside Li Ying’s mother. Back at school, whenever we could, Cao Ping
    and I would discuss how we could best solve this problem, but I knew that I
    needed to talk with Xi Ghong. However, I had some doubts as to whether or
    not this was the right time to talk it over with him, especially after recent
    events. I did not want to cause any further rifts between him and Mei-Lee.
    Once again, I felt the need to talk with Cao Ping about everything. I hated to
    rock the boat inside my family and although I knew perfectly well that I had
    to involve Xi Ghong, if we were going to be able to help Li Ying’s family, I
    also needed Cao Ping’s support and reassurance that I was doing the right
    thing. In many ways, I felt insecure about my life, and Cao Ping’s opinion
    always mattered to me. However, there was also a desire inside me to tell
    Cao Ping everything that ever happened in my life – after all, she was the
    only one who really cared about me, and I was not going to let that change –
    not if I could help it anyway.

    It was several days before Cao Ping and I could actually find time to be
    together alone. There were many tests going on and I was spending as much
    time as I could in studying for them. My schoolwork was suffering a little
    without Cao Ping’s constant assistance, and Cao Ping also was having
    difficulties in concentrating. Her family life, I could see, was disintegrating,
    and her father’s moods were becoming more and more unpredictable. She
    could never tell from one day to the next how he would react to a certain
    piece of news. Cao Ping told me that on some days he seemed to be
    completely oblivious to what anyone ever said inside the Luo household. She
    also told me that it looked as though her father was going to be spending
    more time in Hong Kong and perhaps also in Mainland China. Her mother did
    not seem to be taking this news well – she was used to the family being close
    together all the time, and did not like the idea of her husband being away for
    long periods.

    The additional pressure of her home life was difficult for Cao Ping, and there
    were many times when she seemed distant, her thoughts making her
    isolated, as if she were in a different time and space. Everything seemed to
    be difficult for her – and made my own issues seem irrelevant in comparison.
    I spent most of my time wondering how she coped and would regularly be
    found after school in the temples, offering prayers for her, lighting incense
    and trying my hardest to get good spirits to look over her.

    Despite me being with Li Ying more often, Cao Ping was never out of my
    thoughts, and her current family issues were a source of pressure and stress
    for her. I never spoke with Li Ying in the same way as I would with Cao Ping,
    and it was difficult to speak with Xi Ghong or Mei-Lee about her situation. I
    knew what Xi Ghong would say, and Mei-Lee would always suggest I speak
    with Xi Ghong, although her recent revelations to me were an interesting
    development. Perhaps she was getting closer to me as I grew older, but also
    perhaps this was just her venting her anger and frustration. I did not want to
    find out which one was correct, so I had no choice but to look inside myself
    and via prayer to Buddha for the answers, which seemed to be locked away
    from me.

    Patience had never been one of my strong points, but I felt that I had been
    very patient with the gods and spirits in the temples. Everything in my short
    life had been fought for, although I did not realise at that age that life had
    been short. I did not understand what I had done to deserve it all. I saw so
    many other children whose parents were very rich and would spoil all their
    children with presents, or shower them with affection, and just about
    everyone fitted in and was accepted. There was such a lack of patience inside
    me, a lot of anger and a great deal of jealousy as well. I just did not
    understand why someone like Cao Ping – a girl who was truly special in
    everything she did – could not have the love and appreciation from her
    natural parents. I realised that Xi Ghong and Mei-Lee were not my biological
    parents and they had explained to me my family background, so whereas I
    did not understand everything they had told me, I did comprehend the
    differences between my situation and that of Cao Ping. Why two people
    would not love and cherish a daughter who excelled intellectually, who did
    everything they ever asked for – with the one exception; being my friend –
    and who would make any other family proud, I could not comprehend.
    I would always go to the temples and try to ask the spirits why they had
    chosen such a life for Cao Ping, praying to them to show both forgiveness
    and compassion to her. During the monsoon season I would be drenched
    running from school to the temple in the warm, hard rain, yet I would hardly
    notice it. I often reflected that Xi Ghong had taken me to the temples many
    times and had instilled this ritual inside me. Occasionally I would wonder
    about Buddhism as a religion – because I never felt that I was being heard
    by the spirits. I sometimes even felt that the spirits were rejecting me as
    well. I knew instinctively that I had to fight this feeling of the world being
    against me, but there were moments of weakness where opposing the
    depressive state was practically impossible.

    I knew that I had to fight the depression and anger that was inside me, and
    that the frustration was another hurdle for me to overcome if Cao Ping and I
    were going to be able to be close friends. It was a difficult task for a child,
    but Xi Ghong had taught me well and I understood the ways of the world a
    lot more than perhaps most of my classmates.

March 12, 2012

  • One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster

    Having been to the City of Angels many times, this was no new territory for me. The place seems to be back to normal after the flooding which devastated the country last year, and the people of Bangkok seem to be going about their business as usual.


    I flew in, took the sky train from the airport and then found a cab to take me to the hotel. It would have been quicker to walk, I found out quickly.


    Straight in to the meeting, then a quick thai curry for lunch before heading out in a taxi to the 2nd meeting of the day.


    After that, it was back to the hotel where I met my brother man Hunkyu, who had flown in as well to take part in the first meeting. One of my prospective clients is looking for both my and Hunkyu’s products, so we did an all in one event.


    I hit the 7-Eleven, and tried to buy a beer.


    “Sorry sir – I can’t sell this to you.”


    Yea, I look under 18. I know.


    Apparently during the week they can only sell beer after 5. So I waited until 5, headed back, bought a couple of tinnies of Tiger, then went back and drank them with my good friend from Korea.


    A little later we had dinner, some decent pad thai and curry, washed down with some more Tiger, across the road from the hotel, a decent enough place, although I get the feeling the wife would love it given all the seafood temptations there.


    Hunkyu then left for the airport, I headed back to the room, resisting any temptations of a massage, as well as all the guys offering me girls. Instead, I played some Football Manager on the laptop, and set the alarm for 7:45 the next morning. Saturday morning meetings suck, but these are the sacrifices we make for the company.


    So I woke up early and headed down to the lobby where I was supposed to meet the guy. Then I realized that Bangkok is an hour behind Taiwan, and noticed it was merely 7. Carp. A couple of games on FM later and it was 8. Sweet.


    The meeting was short but very successful, and it was time for breakfast. Terrible brekkie for veggies, but this is normal.


    As there was time to kill before the flight to Sri Lanka, I decided to walk to the Victory Monument. Yay. It was far from exciting. On the way back there were a few malls so I took a look inside, trying to find something that Joanne would like. Nothing at all, not even remotely interesting.


    So I hit the Starcraps instead, got a caramel latte, and sat outside, breathing in the nice polluted Bangkok air in the hazy sunshine. A kitten decided she liked the look of me, which I can totally understand, of course, and came for a cuddle. Made me miss my 2 cats too. Of course, this kitten was tiny, but very playful and extremely affectionate.


    Having killed enough time, I headed back to the hotel, picked up my bags, and walked back to the sky train station. Interestingly enough, a western man who was on the train the previous day from the airport, also boarded in the same compartment as me once more. If he’s under cover and following me, then he’s done a carp job.


    At the airport I saw a Sri Lanka dude loading up 4 Samsung LED TV’s in his luggage. I secretly hoped they would break in transit, but decided to have a word in his shell like during the trip.


    At security, some middle eastern guy, who has obviously never traveled by air in his life, tried to take 3 litres of mineral water through. Nob. Seriously mucker, where have you been the last 10 years?


    As the sun set, it was time to board, my one day in Bangkok at an end. My first ever trip to Sri Lanka about to begin.


    And most importantly, a few days in one place, where I can hopefully relax and regain some energy before the final hectic push through India, Vietnam, Singapore and HK.



February 14, 2012

  • Road Trip

    Day 1: Manila.


    Christ the place is a mess. It’s been a few years since I was there, but it hasn’t changed one bit. Hot, dirty and truly disorganized, it’s a place I still enjoy going to. It was an early morning call, flying via HK to Manila, got picked up by the Philippine rep who is a great guy, one meeting, and then off to Jakarta.


    I wasn’t too upset at that. Apart from the flight to Jakarta being late – but that’s what you get for flying Cebu Pacific. Late, cramped, and really 4 hours for a flight that should take no longer than 3.


    Thankfully the hotel in Jakarta was expecting me, and was most comfortable.


    Day 2: Jakarta.


    Breakfast in the hotel was nice. I was upgraded thanks to a corporate account that our Indonesian guys have, so I had a nice quiet and secluded brekkie where I met our Indonesian rep.


    The morning meeting never got confirmed, so I stayed chatting with our rep, before we got in to a taxi to the meeting. Got there late because Jakarta traffic is crazier than crazy. It has to be the most disorganized city in the universe. It would have been quicker to walk, had there actually been any gap between the cars for you to walk between.


    Another interesting meeting – very nice guy – then in to another taxi for the trip to the airport.


    I couldn’t use my old bank notes, so I didn’t have enough Indonesia Rupiah to pay the exit tax, so they took my Euro instead, at a 1:1 for the US$ rate. Seemed like not a very fair deal to me but I had no choice. They would not accept Pesos, or Taiwan $.


    Through security, in to the new airport terminal which, despite having all the lights on, seemed in a permanent state of darkness. I agree that we should conserve energy but this takes it to a brand new level.


    After a most confusing boarding announcement, where the destination was not called, and the flight number was intelligible, everyone finally got crammed in to the plane, Air Asia not liking to leave any space whatsoever, holding a world record for the amount of people they can get in to a 737.


    Day 3: Kuala Lumpur


    Interesting place, it has to be said.


    You get to KL airport, through customs, and go look for a taxi. You get to the front of the queue, and they ask where your ticket is. What fugging ticket? Oh – you need a taxi ticket. You have to go back in to international arrivals, find the pre-paid taxi line, and grab your ticket. There are no metered taxis from the airport. What kind of place have I arrived in?


    A good one. Because there is an Indian vegetarian deli serving awesome food at not terrible prices on the way to the taxi rank. Inside I go, get a take-away, and drool as I contemplate my dinner which will be consumed in just a short while when I get to the hotel.


    Back to the taxi rank to find out it’s almost an hour’s drive to the hotel. Dinner will have to wait.


    I was outside the CBD so didn’t get to see the Petronas towers, but the meeting in the morning was fine, as was the afternoon one. The guy from the morning was so impressed with what he saw, he set me up with a 2nd meeting in Bangkok for the Friday. Nice one


    The hotel room was a little smelly, and the carpet was worn. But it was comfortable enough. Breakfast was boring but I managed to sneak in a coffee after my first meeting.


    After the hustle and bustle of Manila and Jakarta, KL was surprisingly well ordered, despite the traffic, and everyone got to their destination without too much trouble.


    KL was hot, and after the second meeting I had to hang around and wait for other guys from the company to discuss the strategy in Malaysia, everyone suddenly rushing in to the idea of how good our products are. So sitting down, a refreshing fruit juice in hand, we had a very friendly discussion before tonking off to find an Indian vegetarian restaurant for dinner. Now that’s more like it.


    Day 4: Penang


    An early morning wake up with a taxi ride to the airport where I took the Malaysian Airlines flight to Penang. It was a short flight upp north, and I arrived on time. To the pre-paid taxi place (hahaha – you don’t get me on that one twice Malaysia!) and in to the city.


    Lunch at a Chinese vegetarian place, after the meeting, which made Taiwanese veggie buffets look short on choice. Absolutely amazing food, and then in to the hotel which was stunning, overlooking the ocean.


    After relaxing, writing meeting minutes and stuff, I headed out for a walk, finding a shopping mall – one of many springing up all over Malaysia – and picking up some gifts for the noodle.


    In to the 7-Eleven, buying some water for the evening, and then back to the hotel. After some more work, I was getting hungry and decided to hit the veggie buffet again. I got downstairs only to be immediately greeted as I turned the corner by the irresistible smell of Indian food.


    “Can you do anything vegetarian?” I asked.


    “Oh yes sir.”


    Veggie buffet? What veggie buffet?


    As the moon rose over the ocean, I tucked in to my Indian takeaway, not in the least getting bored with Indian food, and with the knowledge of a trip to Sri Lanka and India coming after my one night in Bangkok, there was plenty more to look forward to.


    Day 5: Bangkok


    Another crazy wake up call, another early morning flight to Thailand. I took the sky train in to Phaya Tai Station, and took a cab. Damn, I should have walked. Not only did the driver have absolutely no idea where the hotel was, it was also a mere 10 minute walk from the station.


    I got to the hotel where the meeting was already taking place. I met my brother man Hunkyu from Korea talking with my friend Ratcha from Thailand, and we talked business for a while seeing how we could potentially all work together.


    A quick bite at the hotel restaurant, with 69 Baht special lunches on offer, and then I jumped in to a taxi to head out towards the old airport for a 2nd meeting. That one went amazingly…


    Back to the hotel, I stopped at the 7-Eleven once more to pick up a couple of celebratory beers for me and Hunkyu, and was told they could not sell me beer until 5. I checked the clock, and saw I had another 90 minutes before I could pick them up. Weirdest rule of all time.


    5 came around, and beers were in hand.


    Hunkyu and I went out for dinner, some not so awesome street food across from the hotel, and then he headed to the airport for the midnight flight back to Seoul.


    Day 6: Bangkok - Colombo


    For some crazy reason, I had an 8 AM meeting at the hotel. I got up, waited downstairs at 8 before realizing Bangkok is 1 hour behind Taiwan, and it was only 7. Carp. Back up to the room for 50 minutes, before returning to the lobby.


    The meeting was fine once more, and then I had time to kill. I packed my stuff, checked out, left the luggage at the front desk, and went for a walk to the Victory Monument which commemorates Thailand’s victory over the French colonialists in 1941. It was actually quite boring.


    Then back up to a couple of crap shopping malls, looking for a gift for Joanne, but finding absolutely nothing even remotely interesting.


    Off to Starcraps for coffee, back to the hotel and I figured I may as well head to the airport. Sure there was plenty of time, but I knew I could find a power socket in the coffee area at the airport and play some FM.


    So that’s what I did until the flight boarded.


    The only interesting thing that happened at the airport was watching some guy pack up 4 Samsung LED TV’s in to his check in luggage. Must have cost a lot in excess baggage, I reckon.


    In to the sky, sitting next to some mainland Chinese guy, I regretted not wearing my Free Tibet shirt. If only I had known the flight originates from Shanghai I would have had it on for sure.

December 14, 2011

  • The Eye of the Tiger

    With the weather turning wet and cold for the winter, and with an ever increasing family, I decided it was time to invest in a big umbrella so that when we head out together, pushing the Noodle in his push-chair (assuming he actually decides to stay in it of course) we can do so in the rain, with all of us keeping dry at the same time. There is a golf shop on the way to work, but of course in the morning it is not open, and in the evenings I am not going to stop there, because I want to go home.


    Thankfully though, last weekend we headed up to Joanne's sister's place to drop off some stuff, and as we were leaving, stuck at the traffic light, there was another branch of the golf shop, so I pulled up outside, jumped out and - 2 minutes later - got back in to the car, complete with my cool purchase. A massive TW golf umbrella.


    I told Joanne it was a Tiger Woods one, with TW on it. She suggested that it mst be a Taiwan umbrella. I said anyone who knows golf will understand it is that adulterer Tiger who is being referred to. She responded that anyone in Taiwan will think TW stands for Taiwan, and will therefore be well pleased to see me, as a non-Taiwanese, carrying it.


    Now whether or not people look at it as a Tiger or Taiwan brolly, the end result is the same. I and my family keeps dry, the rest matters not a fig.


    But it also got me thinking. There was a huge amount of publicity surrounding Tiger's infidelity, and he was cricified several times by the press for what he did. He was - of course - the role model for many people, living what seemed to be the perfect existence. He had a wife, children, a Buick Rendezvous (if you believe the adverts anyway) a nice house, and damn if he wasn't the most amazing golfer of his generation.


    However then, to use a phrase from the movie Ronin, he bollocksed it up. Obviously stardom got the better of the man, and he began to think that he could do anything, to anyone, at any time, and not need to bear any consequences. Affairs here and there were had, and as long as he didn't get caught, it was all fine.


    What he didn't count on though was getting caught, and everything coming out in to the open. And not the British Open. Oh no. In to the most public domain, where he would lose his wife and family, his credibility and his golfing form. And quite rightly he suffered for what he did. A couple of years of very poor form, no tournament wins, loss of sponsorship revenue as corporate accounts did everything in their power to distance themselves from the man who was - up until recent times - so squeaky clean, he could have been a mouse just exiting the mouse disinfecting station.


    And then all these women came to the fore, claiming they had slept with Tiger. Women who knew he was married, and had children, yet still decided they had no self esteem, or wanted to claim that they had had an affair with a golfing legend. Women with no morals whatsoever, who were as guilty as Tiger himself for the breakup of his family, yet who still managed to come through the thing with rather a lot of wonga for selling their stories to the tabloid press, who ate it all up like a hungry child who has just been given a small bowl of gruel after eating nothing for days. And, just like that child, the press was hungry for more.


    Tiger, it has been duly noted, lost a lot from these affairs. But those women he slept with, they all seem to have gained a lot. The guilt and blame lies evenly between Tiger and any and each of those women, yet it seems to me that there are some who have managed to come out of this whole media hyperbowl relatively unscathed.



November 22, 2011

  • Boy Racers

    The football was postponed due to rain at the weekend, the launch of the new BML season delayed for the second time. Without having kicked a ball yet, the new season looks like it will go in to April, instead of March which was originally scheduled.


    So as the rains stopped and Sunday morning brought northern Taiwan stunning, clear blue skies, this fat old body of mine needed some exercise, so the mountain bike was checked, the wife and noodle kissed, and off I went.


    As usual, I did not know where I was going to go, which route I would take. Recently I have taken the hard route up the mountain several times, but I wanted to go for a little more distance, then head  up the climb, so I took the river route, headed out to Sanchong along the bike route that has been constructed in by the Hsin Bei government, then back along another river that heads south towards Sanxia and Tucheng. I had a favourable wind, and was adding up those km as I got to the Shulin/Banchao border, so I figured I would head over the embankment and make my way towards Hsinchuang and then back to the mountain and begin my ascent.


    200 metres after rejoining the main road, I noticed I didn’t have control of the thing, and stopped, seeing that my rear tyre had a massive rip in the side. Carp. So I walked along for a while, hoping to find a main street with a bike shop. Down towards Shulin, I find a market street, so I turn down it, and whereas there were loads of veggie places for me, there was no sign of a bike shop.


    After maybe 20 or 30 minutes of walking, I found a major road, but there was no sign of a bike shoip along it, so instead of turning off my chosen route, I went across the road and kept going in the direction of Linkou and Taishan. After all, that was the road that would take me to the mountain, so I carried on. Shortly after that I saw that I was close to the Hsinchuang stadium, and I thought I remembered there was a bike place on the left. There was. And it was open. Cool.


    15 minutes later, new inner tube and tyre had been fitted, my wallet was a tad lighter, and off I continued. I headed up across another major intersection where there are loads of cars for sale, resisting the temptation of having a look for a new motor, and carried on in to Taishan. From there it was a nice flat road across to Wugu before the climb up the mountain.


    Making it to 150 metres with no problem, then the serious climb began, and it was fairly slow pedalling, the effects of the longer ride along the river taking its toll on my already low stamina levels, but I was enjoying it, and I am not going to turn back on this sort of climb. A couple of assholes decided that this is a good road to race their cars, so they tonked past me, their tyres screeching as they went round the corners, obviously having a fine time. I just thought they were complete morons, but there’s no shortage of those inside Taiwan’s cars.


    The very mild November has brought many flowers in to bloom, and there were some beautiful purples and whites along the side of the road, spiders also taking advantage of the fine weather, waiting up in their webs for an unsuspecting insect to fly in, hoping for one last meal before the winter hibernation.


    Behind me I could hear people talking, obviously other bikers, and not long after, one of them raced past me, got a ferw metres in front of me, then turned to look back. He then turned back, went down the slope, and five minutes later, all three of them raced past me once more. As soon as they had overtaken me, they stopped for a rest.


    I continued up this fine slope, not feeling too bad, the legs pumping away, whilst I was enjoying the exercise, the fresh air and the view of the Taipei basin. Finally I reached the summit, and it was downhill all the way to Bali Wharf. On one segment of the road, if you’re lucky, you can get up to some mega speeds, but as I was tonking down, there was a car blocking my way, and whereas I managed to overtake it, I had had to slow down beforehand, so there was no chance of breaking my record. Thank goodness though that the bike has ceramic brakes!


    Finally, at the bottom of the slope I turned right along the river for the final few kilometres to the apartment, where there were smiles from the wife and Noodle waiting for me. After such a nice, three hour trek (excluding the puncture break) that is the sort of welcome home that any man will love.

November 17, 2011

  • Occupied Flaws

    Yes I know that these protesters are all acting against the uber-capitalism of this world, against the bankers who seem to be making money for themselves even when the corporations are making a loss, needing bail outs from the government which means higher taxes (poor Americans, not used to higher tax!) and more loans putting even more pressure on an already fragile economy, but isn't it slightly ironic that in this time when the country that brought the world capitalism is heading towards a more socialist phase, one of the most traditionally communist/socialist countries of the world is embracing capitalism with open arms? 


    And now, all these people who have been protesting about the over-commercialism of the world, are out on the streets, with their iPhones, their Nike shoes and their Starbucks coffees. And they see absolutely no double standards there. They are the very 99% of the world's people who have been fueling this fire, yet they need a scapegoat, someone to blame. And why not? Our has become a generation of shifting blame. It's never my fault. 


    Living in a country where there is so much selfishness, it is a far cry to the world I grew up in, where my parents taught me to share (even though I never liked it, it did become appreciated) and think not just about myself, but other people. In Taiwan, parents take their children to school or kindergarten and expect the teacher to instill all these ideals on them, but the child is influenced more by what he/she sees from the parents. It is not solely the teacher's responsibility to show the children right from wrong, that falls on the parent.


    Parents today seem to have become lazy - they ask the child what sort of punishment would befit the crime. They are not even taking responsibility for the actions of their own child, and that is not here in Asia, but around the world. As a parent myself, it is my job, it is my responsibility, it is my duty to be a good example for my son. If he is going to learn to be compassionate towards other people then it is me who has to instill that in to him. Not a teacher at kindergarten or school later. He is no plaything - he is not a toy. He is my son, and if he is good then he needs to be rewarded, if he is bad then he needs to be punished, and learn that being bad has consequences.


    Otherwise he will end up like the Manager of the Beijing Airport project who did not know that helping his friends (whilst at the same time taking kick backs) was illegal. This is embracing capitalism to the max.


    But those people in the Occupy movement need to focus their attention on the real matter at hand. Which is the bankers. Yes this is sometimes the message coming out of the camps, but it is not really the sole message, and when you send mixed messages, sooner or later you will alienate the people who initially support you. Banks who offer you an investment deal, then bet money on that very investment deal failing, thus making more money than they would have done had it succeeded, are the ones to blame. The very same banks who pay their execs and managers massive bonuses after failing miserably, those are the ones to blame. And correct me if I am wrong, but are they not exactly the same banks which were bailed out with public money not 2 years ago? 


    Paid for by public money. Well the public money was borrowed, but someone, some time, has to pay it back. It's slightly strange too that in an era where the African continent has been discovered for its riches in natural resources, and where all African debt was essentially written off my the colonial superpowers, it is those very superpowers who now find themselves deep in debt. The problem though is that in American politics, those who would have the balls to stand up to all of this would have to put the US in to a major depression before the country could recover. And the world economy relies so much on the US spending money. Especially China. 


    It's a huge political nightmare, and it seems to me that no one knows where to begin in resolving all these issues.


    But thankfully, that is not my problem.

November 2, 2011

  • Call of Nature

    The pressure of the job was taking its toll – the old boss had taken some of his own pressure out on me, and was giving me a hard time for something that, in all truth, I personally had no control over. Having returned from the cold confines that Europe has to offer during the early months of the year, to the cool and rather uncomfortable climate that is Taiwan before spring brings the sunshine and warmth back, I decided to take a sickie.


    Joanne, in the final days of her pregnancy, decided that was a great idea and also took a day off work. With Taipei’s Flora Expo in the final few weeks, we decided not to go to the mainstream exhibition area, but instead head out to the mountains where Joanne thought she knew there would be blossoms.


    It just so happened that it was close to Shenkung, so we headed in for some food, especially my favourite and staple ma la cho tofu, before jumping back in to the Nissan and heading up the mountain a tad.


    My navigator was not completely sure that she knew the way, but I was ok with that. We were relaxing, which was what I needed. It was not raining, but there was a lot of moisture in the air, which made it quite a foggy drive, despite the low altitude. After a relatively short climb, we saw some white blossoms, and then further on some more, mixed in with pinks. We continued driving, Joanne believing that there was more further up the mountain. There wasn’t.


    So we turned back, and parked the car where there were several others, some people getting back in to their cars, others just arriving. The air was filled with a light scent of flowers, although Joanne’s sense of smell was perhaps not as keen as mine, as she did not notice.


    We took a walk through the low hanging trees, enjoying the beauty of the blooming and colourful flowers, knowing that very soon Lyndon would be arriving. The excitement of being parents added to the pleasure and relaxation we were feeling from this very short sojourn in the bosom of mother nature.


    As we drove back down the mountain, and started our way home once more, we smiled. We had seen one of the lesser visited Flora Expo sites, away from the throngs and masses that were happier to visit the all too convenient locations inside Taipei City itself. Somehow the pressure and frustration of the office had been left behind, albeit for a little while.


    And the pressure of parenthood was just a couple of weeks away.

October 24, 2011

  • Phone call a l'Asiatique

    The phone rings...


    "Hi - this is Rob."




    "Yes I'm here."




    "Yes I'm here."


    "Oh........" big pause... "Wei?"


    "Yes I'm here. Can you hear me?"


    "Yes..." Now it's a sudden realisation that I am a foreigner. "Can you understand me?"


    "Yes I can," I reply.





October 5, 2011

  • Talking Chicken

    Being the fine specimen of a husband that I am, I stopped off after football training to get my woman some fried chicken. One thing I have learnt in my many years of marriage experience is that when your woman wants chicken, get her chicken. Thankfully close to home there is a place that does chicken, fried the way my wife likes it - so there I stopped.


    I place my order, and wait. As I am waiting, a little girl - 5 years old - looks at me.


    "Do you want that spicy?" she asks.


    "Just a little spicy."


    "Where do you live?"


    "Just down the road, that way," I pointed. "One minute drive in the car."


    "What's that?" she asked, pointing at an injury on my elbow.


    "I did that playing football."


    "Does it hurt?"


    "No," I replied.


    "What's that?" she asked, pointing at my shin guards. I was lazy - did not get changed after football, just climbed in the car and headed home. Well... to the chicken place.


    "Those protect my legs," I said. "When I play football, if someone kicks me then it doesn't hurt."




    There was now a small pause, but her parents - who run the fried chicken stand - were smiling at the foreigner who could speak enough Chinese to talk with their daughter.


    "Your nose is big."


    That's very nice of you to notice, I thought.


    "Yes it is."


    "Do you have a sister?"


    "Yes, I have a younger sister."


    "Is her nose big too?"


    "Not as big as mine," I replied. "I also have a big belly."


    I patted my stomach to emphasise my point.


    "Yes you do. My stomach is small," said the little girl, flattening her shirt against her belly to prove her point. 


    "At the moment," I replied with a smile. "When you're old like me, maybe you will also have a big belly."


    "Yes... maybe"


    She then ran off to meet her little brother who had arrived, and then headed in to her home, the fat foreigner with the big nose immediately forgotten.


    But the chicken - according to the wife - was good.

September 16, 2011

  • The Pre-Noodle Era

    Before he came to the planet, I took one of my floating days holiday off work for some pre-year-end R&R. Joanne had never before been to Sun Moon Lake, a place I have been to several times, and without doubt one of the most beautiful places in Taiwan. So it seemed like the ideal time to go - and our last opportunity as a couple to do so. So we jumped in to the Nissan just after lunch, drove down the coast, which took a lot longer than the freeway would, but we were in no hurry.


    Past Hsinchu, and down towards Miaoli, where we headed inland, and crossed under the freeway, and then up the mountains to the east of Fengyuan. We stopped off at the McDonalds, Joanne needing some food, me in the mood for a chocolate sundae. Then came the fun part of the drive, along the winding roads that take you through Aboriginal country, and then in to Puli before the final climb to Sun Moon Lake. Through the small tunnel and then choosing  right hand turn to the small town, the hotel I wanted to stay in though, which was where the olds and I had stayed a couple of years previously, was full. So we found a different one, on the lake front, which was in our price range, then headed out for dinner.


    It was quite cold so Joanne wrapped up warm, not wanting to get ill in the final few weeks of pregnancy. I was still wearing shorts not feeling the cold quite so much, as we tucked in to some of the local food, a mix of Taiwanese and Aboriginal specialities, tofu, bin lang flower, fried noodles. Satisfied, we went for a short walk along the edge of the lake before heading back to the hotel. On the way we were greeted by a special offer for a boat trip the following morning. We wanted to do that anyway, so we took them up on the offer, which would give us the opportunity to head to all the boat stations around the lake.


    The next morning greeted us with fine weather, so we headed down for breakfast. For me there was nothing that looked even remotely decent, but Joanne had a little nibble, but also was not exactly satisfied. We got to the boat stations, conveniently located next to the hotel, and waited for the boat. The throngs of Chinese tourists, who have been allowed in to the country for a preview of the land they are hoping one day to annex, like they did illegally 60 years ago with Tibet, made us realise how lucky we are to be in Taiwan, and not in China. They are loud, rude, obnoxious, and - essentially the same way as they believe the Americans to be - rather unlikable.


    Our boat arrived, we were invited to get on board, and so off we went for the first leg of the journey. The station at the other side of the lake welcomed us with lots of people eating hard boiled eggs, cooked the traditional Taiwanese way, in hot spring water, so Joanne wanted one, and I ate most of it. Very nice it was too. So much for cutting down the cholesterol levels though. We took a short walk and then returned to the boat station for the 2nd leg.


    That then took us to an Aboriginal village - I believe of the Thao tribe - where we had a quick drink, and a walk around, not falling in to any of the tourist traps, and decided that this was the village where we wanted to spend the next evening, so we asked a couple of hotels about prices, and figured we would return after lunch to make our decision. 


    The boat then took us back to the original station, where we had some french fries and a drink, before checking out of the hotel and loading the car up with our stuff - i.e. put our small bag on to the back seat.


    We then drove round the lake, taking it nice an easy, stopping off at the big temple where we got some more snacks - and I believe another egg - before making it back to the Thao village, where we had a quick drive around, found a hotel we liked, but where they took so long in looking after us, we decided to leave. We then found another place which was perfect - out of the way a little, but still right on the lake, with a stunning view. he room was gorgeous, and the price totally acceptable and within budget, so that was it - done deal.


    We took in a local Aboriginal show, which was obviously done for the tourists more than to keep the Thao culture alive, and then went out to explore the village, finding the place where we would have dinner that evening. Back to the hotel so Joanne could have an afternoon nap, and then - as darkness fell  a walk back to the village where we had an enjoyable evening meal. 


    The next morning, we packed the car up once more with the small bag, headed to Starcraps for some coffee (for me!) and then took the faster way home - down the new freeway which shortens the travel time from Taichung to Puli and Sun Moon Lake by probably an hour. We had something else to do in Taipei - register our marriage in Joanne's parents town. 


    And that was it - a wonderful couple of free days, our last together away as a married couple without children, and officially married in Taiwan. And some beautiful memories of one of the most magical places in Taiwan which - thanks to the throngs of Chinese - has just lost a little bit of its charm. But only a bit.