Sunday, January 04, 2009

When we met

When northeast meets southwest, what spark could it create?

When east meets west, what spark could it create?

In the article ‘ 季候风’, Sufen described the opportunities generated by the northeast and southwest monsoons at this part of the world. Such changes in wind direction brought prosperity and wealth into Southeast Asia, including Singapore. In 1861, sailed from Hong Kong to Singapore took about 7 days.

Through technology advancement, the travelling time had been shortened. In 1949, my father took 5 days to reach Singapore.

In the article‘赤道北纬一度的一颗红点’, Moses elaborated the monsoon seasons brought in different people, culture, religion, political system to a common destination and developed a place called Singapore. The uniqueness of Singapore lies in its one degree north of equator. This geographical location is where northeast meets southwest and east meets west.

I still remember my first few geography lessons in Primary 5. Teacher said Singapore was only 85 miles away from the equator. I asked what an equator was, could I feel it and touch it. Teacher asked me to go to Clifford Pier and face the sea. I would see a red line in the horizon far away which labeled ‘equator’. My classmates were laughing.

Walking to Clifford Pier from home took me about 20 minutes. That evening, I walked to Clifford Pier, facing the sea as what Teacher had directed me to do. No matter how hard I looked, there wasn’t such a red line. I was rather confuse but dared not to challenge my teacher the next day.

Nowadays travelling time is much shortened. Once upon a time, a group of us took less than 24 hours from different parts of the globe to meet at a foreign land. We were still young men and women then. Apart from our few England friends such as John, Jonathan and Rose who were brought up in the various counties of England, the rest of us were rooted in different soils. Greg and Peter from Canada, Jose, Maria and Celso from Portugal, Melanie from South Africa and migrated to Canada, Salim from Malaysia. There were others who came from Greece, Spain, Italy and Korea. My immediate neighbours were Swedish and Nigerian. In the research labs, I met people from Iran, Pakistan, India, Brazil and China.

(Picture: our destiny)

On a particular evening, these pair of Swedish couple walked to Sainsbury with us. They said the toilet paper provided by the hostel was too rough. They suffered from buttock pain. Oops, that was interesting.

My Nigeria friend and I spent our summer evening outside the hostel cafeteria under the breeze. Nigeria was a poor and a crime nation. He was pursuing a master degree in humanities. He said he would like to go back to Nigeria immediately after the course despite that many of his friends had decided to stay in England instead. He wanted to contribute back to his nation and the unlucky folks. He wanted to change their lives.

(picture: our flat in Camden Town)

(picture: our shared garden behind our flat in Camden Town)

In this international gala, the greatest divide among us was soccer matches. Our Canadian friends had not demonstrated much interest. As for the rest of us, well, we switched our roles between friends and foes for every 90 minutes. This is like the stories written by 古龙, ‘没有永远的敌人,没有永远的朋友’.

On a particular evening, we gathered at Greg’s home at Ealing Broadway, the last Underground Central Line station. Travelling in London underground was a unique experience. During the rush hour there wasn’t any private space between us. We could hear each other’s breathing, and feel each other’s body smell. More fascinatingly was the 60 over international languages that could be found in one train.

This grand finale was the only gala (apart from soccer matches) that we celebrated together. The best recollection for me was the exchanges with Melanie. She had super memory. She could remember every single family members from all of us after the brief introduction. Later I found out that she was serving as a hotel front desk officer in Cape Town. She attracted many returned customers simply because she could address them by name after their first met. And she could still remember their preferences when they met again years later.

She was quite confused between Singapore and China. Wasn’t Singapore a city of China? What language did Singaporean speak? What were the differences between Chinese Singaporean and Chinese in China? Tons of questions. My night had never been bored.

Years passed. After all the promotion effort such as Formula One, Olympic and WTO conferences, I hope Singapore is no longer a strange name in the international stage, and is no longer perceived as a province of China or a small town in Malaysia. Of course we could not change the history that modern Singapore was rooted from the China migrants since 1800s and Singapore and Malaya were inseparable.

(picture: Greg, melanie, Eugenia and I)

Food was a common subject that interested us. I told Melanie the cruel way of eating monkey’s brain. The monkey should be kept alive while breaking its skull, digging its brain and sucking its brain juice. People also ate dog meat by boiling the dog alive. In my childhood day, I saw hawkers killing python and giant turtle in China Town (Terengganu Street). Live. During my two-and-a-half years in the Army, I witnessed another way of killing and skinning a python. 7 inches from the snake head, chopped. The head surged ahead like a power-charged rocket. All were over within seconds. I also tasted the cold blood as part of the jungle survival training. It was really cold. No body temperature.

Melanie said that were disgusting. She would never eat such animals. In Africa, She ate elephant, giraffe, lion, zebra and hippo. Wow!

The grand finale gala dinner ended with ice cream. It was the best international serving and satisfied the whole world without controversy.

How about the mess after the long night? Greg and Melanie took care. By the way, Greg and Melanie were husband and wife. They still live in Vancouver, Canada.

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