Thursday 6 January 2022



When I was an assistant to a Taoist priest, one of the things I hated holding was a pair of scissors. The one in question was a very old pair and as you can imagine it has gone through a lot. It is one of those short Chinese ones with the vinyl wraps at the oval-shaped handles. In the past, it was all the hawkers in Sg would use, from cutting g cheong fun to big/small intestines in kway chap. When my sister got married, she was given a pair. It's tradition, my eldest sister said, laughing before adding: In case your new hubby gets too rough with you on wedding night, you can cut off his GGJ. Oh, said my wide eyed innocent sister, examining the scissors like the CSI intern she was looking for blood stains.

Granted, the scissors is not often seen as part of the Taoist priest's Dharma set, but there are also other implements unknown to outsiders not in the trade. A bell, a roll of string, an inking pad, are some examples. And a colander. Yes, a colander. Although this has more to do with keeping burning joss paper from being lifted away by swirly winds than sieving out undesirable karma (haha). 

You use what is convenient... Or is simply necessary.

And it is not just symbolic. The scissor is a great metaphor for severing ties, but it is also a tool for divining. We often threw the scissors at a half log to see if it would stick. One blade, or both blades. Each portends a different outcome. The log is painted red its rounded underside written with runes from an ancient time. Divining runes that are not too dissimilar from those used by fortune-tellers in Chinatown in days of yore. Only certain temples in Sg issued them. Best is to get one handed down. One that works, of course.

When I hold this log, the first sensation is that of cussing; then pain. "WTF!" it'd seem to mouth off. I get it: I would be aggrieved too if I get "stabbed" each time some dimwit wanted his fortune or future told. It is said this half-log had to be harvested from a special tree and a special place. Its wood was not so soft as to splinter easily and not too hard as to deflect the impaling bi-leg. On most days, it is cool to the touch. One day, I asked my sifu where he got it from. His answer was merely two words: My sifu. Nabeh, who donch know, I whispered under my breath. But my sifu he did elaborate further afterwards. This is what he told me: "In China, there are many old villages as well as old tales. Old villages that have been blessed with their own deities. How so, you may ask? Well, in their long history, folks who have hailed from their very village and done great deeds are usually revered and honored. Even well-respected emperors who had rested at a certain spot could be turned into a deity worthy of being worshipped and sought blessings from. In fact there is this ancient tea-shop location in China where an emperor had rested during one of his hunting trips. He had sat under a nearby tree and it had become a a place for pilgrimage for centuries, even till today...."

I was mesmerized when I heard my sifu tell this. It reminded me of Guan Yu, that general-deity regarded by many to stand for values such as honor, loyalty, and bravery. And a long-handled blade that could cut heads off with an easy Nike-swoosh. Be wary if your boss has one in his office. Heads will roll.  

My sifu had chosen me as his assistant because he had held my hand and saw things. Usually it is the other way around. I would hold things and see stuff. Or feel them. It depends, on the material and its age and the circumstance. Plastic, I dislike even if they could last many lifetimes. It is a material with no soul. No past, ever present, and an annoying future.   

The other thing I hated holding was a parking ticket. More than a parking violation it spoke much of mischief, disregard and just plain meanness. The last piece of paper on a toilet roll has more empathy and contrition. 

So yes, a pair of scissors is in our ritual arsenal. It is often used to sever ties between a stillborn and its intended family, else this kind of grief lingers on and can affect future familial joy. Never leave such a devastating event unresolved for long. Just don't.

After such a ritual ceremony, I would refuse to touch the scissors and let my sifu handle. He seemed to have some kind of immunity to such influence. He could turn this ability on and off. I guess that's why he's the sifu and I the tudi. That is, until he bought me a pair of rubber gloves peppered with talcum powder inside. These gave off a pleasant feeling but left me looking like a plumber's assistant rather than a Taoist one. Nabeh.

As I got older, the "feeling-ness" of my touch has waned. I touch a fork and spoon and see only hygiene issues, not the happy face of someone gloating over food. This is especially so at the kopitiam near my place. Even if the fork and spoon is clean it is left with an invisible film of detergent. Don't believe me, next time you use a pair of utensils, wash them under tap beforehand. The casual way in which PFCs get into our food is alarming.

Although my extrasensory sense has waned, the memories have not. There was this unforgettable case of an incessantly crying baby who simply refused any kind of pacification - its wah-wah-wah cries fraying the nerves of Ah Mah and neighbors for days on end. It turned out that a pair of Chinese scissors the father had bought at a nostalgia flea market was a piece of nasty history and that he had left it "open" in the drawer. Leaving a pair of scissors open is never a good thing. By themselves, scissors are menacing items. Leaving them open is just screaming for it to invite fierce and unsettled spirits in or bring out its past sad history cut through epochs of its long existence. And believe me, a pair of Chinese scissors can last a long, long time, often beaten into existence by hand in a village somewhere. A village more often than not blessed with a sordid history than one saintly. So, be very careful what you leave open in a drawer.

The end - by TC Lai, 6 Jan 2022

Sunday 18 July 2021

The AB Factor

The Oh-lor-lah Boh-lah-lis (or the AB Factor)

When Poh, my chaser friend (see other story) learned that I was going to Finland, he got upset. "Why the hell you want to go there?" His strong reaction was quite different from the other folks who mostly went: "The Au..aulola Bohralis, is it? Nice. And oh, have you been there?" No.

"Of course they deny lah," said Poh. "People can go mad  experiencing that. And who wants to recall those tragic moments?"

Go mad? Tragic moments? What the hell is Poh on about???

"Many people don't know what the... ohlorlah bolis can do to them until they get there. It looks nice in the photos, but the mysterious nature of the thing should be a warning sign."

I agree. The bohlorlah...ok, AB... is damn mysterious. Its diaphanous nature lending an air of impermanence and other-worldliness to the phenom. I almost always expect a spaceship to time-jump out of it.

Why, I asked Poh, do people go mad under the thing.

"Because it reminds you of all the souls you have had in your past-lives, including this one. Especially the unpleasant moments of it."

Huh, only unpleasant moments?

"Don't ask me why. It's like asking me why you today stepped on dog shit." Poh winced and pointed at my offending shoe.

Shit, double shit! I cursed.

I then excused myself to the grass patch outside the kopitiam and returned with a somewhat cleaned but scuffed shoe. Nabeh to the neighbourhood dog owners who don't pick up after their canine pets. CB, really.

"Ok, now tell me. Why do people go mad again with that AB thing?" I said, after settling myself down and having a sip of my teh-c orleng (siew dai, gau, c jiok).

"Think about it. Do you really want to visit your past lives?" Poh intoned, flashing an eye to a new kpt auntie who is actually a young Thai hired to clear the tables. She's pretty in an unadorned way.

"Well...." I tried to say. If I was a movie star in a previous life, why not? Then I remembered that quite a few HK actresses took their lives in the 60s. Famous ones even, and all were female. 

"Wait, does that mean I will recall my female past lives as well?"

"Abuten?" Poh said, sounding incredulous that I would ask such a stupid question.

"But why would I be a woman!" I said or rather blurted out, my man-ego rather hurt. I couldn't imagine being a woman in a past life. I love having a d*** too much. I could never visit a KTV lounge without one and get a rise out of it. Covid virus not withstanding.

"Eh, why you so chaboh about it," Poh answered, adding salt to an already opened wound. "Didn't you once said you enjoyed sewing and ironing? Or throwing your haversacks and old stuff toys into the washer? Eh, aren't those very chaboh activities?"

"Oy, ironing is very therapeutic... and zen, ok? Ironing clothes is the best time to clear one's mind and think," I said, rather defensively. "And sewing... I told you once before, we - both boys and girls, had to learn in primary school. Cannot siam. Not only sewing but knitting, crocheting and even embroidery as well. Don't ask why the curriculum was such back then. But it was damn useful, especially when later when we did NS.  We could mend buttons, make attachments and so on." I was about to list off the many advantages of being able to sew when Poh cut me off.

"TC, don't go. It won't be pleasant even if you are one strong-minded SOAGun."

I seldom saw Poh so serious before. His caution made me pause.

"Have you met people who had returned mad before?"

"Only two kinds return. One, those who have returned and deny  ever seeing anything, even the AB. This is quite normal. Not everyone who goes there get to see those sky lights. A lot depends on timing and luck. Second, there are those who "disappear" go mad for about six months or so. They always claim they went backpacking or some excuse like that. Usually they are very evasive about where they've been. And guess what? They carry a sad look in their eyes for the rest of their lives."

Wow. Double wow.

"Poh, are you making all this up?" I looked at Poh and tried to discern a prank.

"Wtf TC. Have I ever fucked around with such matters?"\

I almost felt sheepish to have doubted this good friend. 

Poh continued. "Look, we all hope to die peacefully or in our sleep. But that is rarely the case. What if you have had a traumatic death? Crushed like a tin can on the highway and leaking blood before you die half an hour later. Or being burned alive by some racist mob? Or worse, being experimented on by, say, a unit like the Japanese 731 in Manchuria. Do you want to relieve that? Or worse, relive somebody else's horrible death."

"Wait," I said, alarmed. "Does that happen?"

"I dunno. I only heard about it on the grapevine. Either ways, why chance it?"

Then Poh reached out for my hand. He studied my palm and declared, "Look, you have had an an eventful life up till now. See these marks, they indicate a mixed bag of stuff from your past lives."

Wait a minute! Is Poh telling me my palm could see into the future, present and even the past??? What the....

"And you think I was a woman in my past life?" I was still buay song..

"Definitely," Poh said. "Isn't that why you enjoy the company of women much better than guys? I believe you were not just a woman. You were a dike as well. Your breath stinks!"


- the end (by TC Lai, 18th July 2021)

Thursday 20 May 2021

A Night at the White House


The White House hotel in Kluang

A Night at the White House

I once spent a night at the White House and came away with a ghost story.

I know what you are thinking: The White House? Sure, since it is an old building there has to be an odd story here and there. Persons too significant to fade into the night, events too important to not replay. What did you say? You heard soldiers marching in the courtyard in the dead of night? A painting that keeps hanging itself askew as if to make a point? Always a wet patch on the carpet as if to indicate something buried beneath?

The White House is a veritable icon, more so because it stands out quite prominently at the cross junction of a busy junction. There in bold white letters on a red board, White House. Not red, not blue, but WHITE HOUSE.

In Chinese, it reads bai gong. Yes, from time to time you see PRC tourists about. But that was before the pandemic hit and the Movement Control Order kicked in.

What? MCO also have over there? 

Yes lah, because Kluang is in Malaysia mah, and the White House is a very prominent traveler's motel there. Tired of being on the road? Just check in and have a lay down. Get a decent breakfast the next day and continue on with your journey, wherever that might be.

Had a lover's spat and by the time you made up, it is too late and past midnight? The White House looms large, ahead. Bill Clinton and Monica, you both think. But more likely, it is make-up sex that is on both your minds. You squeeze each other's hands and giggle unabashedly at being so in-sync with one another, like soul mates should be. The same idea, the same thought. 


We are so compatible! You both concur with smiling eyes.

How did we quarrel in the first place? That's history!!

You park, check in and make glorious love. In the morning the car is gone, carjacked. In your haste last night you had forgotten to apply the steering wheel-lock, a must when driving in Malaysia. You two quarrel over it, oblivious to the wet hair both of you still spot from the shower together moments ago.

People gather and whisper, "Hiaz, young people these days. Little bit thing also quarrel. And stand in the street with towel on. Really no shame one!"


As you can imagine, the White House in Kluang must have seen its fair share of residents. Some on legitimate business, others maybe not. Some loitered on a temporary stay, others a week or more. A refuge perhaps for husbands kicked out of bed. A place of solace for that bar girl who had had enough of lecherous man and just want to be alone to think of her next steps.


I was once like many folks out there clueless of Kluang, much less that it had a White House over there.

But a good friend hailed from that place and we would drive in once a month to play golf. Kluang had a small country club in town, a nine-holer. It was more a place for old-timers to putt a few and catch up with friends over coffee or beer. The country club is so small, your primary school is probably larger in comparison.

A serious golfer in Kluang would head over to PAMOL, a palm oil plantation that curiously had a creational hall and a nine-hole golf course built smack in the middle of all money-making trees.

Although a nine holer on paper, this PAMOL golf course was much larger than most 18-hole ones. Such an anomaly could only come from a distant past and it was. The PAMOL golf course was a leftover from Malaysia's colonial days when real estate was carved out with little regard. Especially when it had to do with leisure, the Brits would OK it without a second thought.

Any bit of leisure and comfort to make up for the "blasted humidity" that the tropics bore on them.

And thus, PAMOL golf course was born. And as with any backyard recreation, foremost on top of the hill beside the course was plantation manager's bungalow. 

It was a magnificent setup. 

Playing at PAMOL, we always fantasized about owning that bungalow. How sweet is that if at the end of a day, we could just strut onto the golf course and play some holes.

Or just spend the rest of the hot afternoon relaxing at the recreational hall nearby to play some pool with a cold beer in hand. 

And eat a gorgeous plate of nasi rendang (the caretaker's wife cooked a mean one served with rice dumplings or ketupat - very Malaccan style). Afterwards retiring to the bungalow once more to see the evening out with a Cuban cigar and Scottish whiskey (single malt, no less). The next day, start the cycle again and repeat.

Wah, what a life that would be!

However, if you can forgo a weekend of golf and simply explore Kluang, you will find that it is a nice town with a few satellite neighborhoods. Kind of like a North Bridge Road do if, within a short distance, it is linked to a very much downsized Siglap, Sin Ming, Chai Chee or Boon Lay, you know, quieter places that you head to to get other other things done. In town, you might visit the Chinese medical hall or babyware shop. But at an outlying neighborhood, you could get your car fixed, your body massaged, that sort of thing.

In our case, we'd head out to get a haircut, as well as buy a bottle of Kluang's superb black sweet sauce. Malaysia's famous Black Hokkien Mee would not be the same without this splendid Kluang concoction.

On food, Kluang had plenty to offer, from Hakka style beef noodles to a turquoise-colored thunder tea rice.  

From curry noodles to kaya and toast and softboil eggs - a set of which had been served since 1938 at the coffeeshop at Kluang's very intimate railway station.

If you fancied a very good wanton mee, you could get it on the way to the PAMOL golf course. It was served from a roadside shack that doubled as a home as well. Eat wanton mee and watch a shabby baby crawl in its own playpen.

Kluang was of course not the first Malaysia small town I had fallen in love with. There were others. 

I love driving into Malaysia to visit them because they have all given me a kind of comfort missing from living in Singapore for so long. The old Singapore ambience that is long gone and swallowed up by ever more concrete and glass and that something called "progress".

When the old National Library was torn down, I think a bit of my soul went with it too.  I had spent a bit of time there to improve myself, explore other worlds. It being torn was just as if someone had thrown away a pair of my fave shoes without telling me. The shared memories, the journeys we had together. 

The same with the mom and pop shops in North Bridge Road/South Bridge Road. Without them, without the families to add life to the area, the shops and their attached upstairs units simply became just economic barter for higher profit. Familial real estate to be traded for more expensive office space.

I tried to relate to a present-day shop selling industrial pumps once. It wasn't very successful. I didn't even know how to begin to say hi, ask how's your day, your children.

Will they one day will grow up big and strong and pump out world-changing sludge? CB.

Of course, with everything good, one must "jio" others to enjoy.

Of Kluang, this is what I told a girlfriend:

"If you sit at the kopitiam, a lady will bring you a platter of kueh. You know, those Chinese kuehs we love so much that is now being sold at Bengawan Solo? Same same. After you have had your coffee...and mind you, Kluang coffee is one of the best in Malaysia. Even Penang and that Mark Lee one cannot fight. You pay for whatever kueh you had eaten. How sweet is that? They just leave it there for you to pick and choose!"

"You mean they would just bring it on a big plate?"

"Yes, you know the enamel metal ones your Ah Ma use for prayer outside to the Sky god? The one-size-fit-all kind that's usually pink with some rose flower motif?"


"Yes, that kind. And do you remember the family sized dum briyani we had at Upper Changi Road? That Pakistani one where they scooped a huge portion onto this rose patterned enamel plate where Tom, Dick and the two of us just used our hands to dig in? Yes, that kind of platter. But slightly smaller."

"I see."

I could see my GF being intrigued. She had a mole on her upper lip and as was often the case, a mark of someone regarded as very "tam chiak".

In fact, friends call her Ms Tam Chiak, more in affection than "eh, don't touch my food in the pantry."

The next Friday night, we decided to set off. I often drove into Malaysia at night. It's cooling and the traffic jams, much less. Or even non-existent.

As usual, the drive there took about 1.5 hours. Once you reach Sungei Renggam, you would know Kluang is not far ahead.

We hit upon the White House soon after entering the township and crossing under the arch that read, "Selamat Datang di Kluang".

In my previous trips, I would bunk at my friend's house. He had a spare room that came in 70s decor as well as no small amount of mosquitoes nostalgic for Sgren blood.

I didn't think my GF could stand for that. She would complain to no end and demand I do something about it.

I also did not want to bring her there knowing that my friend's sister was interested in me. Best not to cause hurt when there's no reason to. Plus, I still like to feel welcomed at my friend's home. His mom cooked a mean Hakka meal.

Until I know that this sister has not mastered any of these timeless dishes, I would then be more forthright about my feelings for her. At the moment, best to keep the one bird in hand and the other singing happy in the bush. I think there's one saying to that effect.

Or, Don't cut off your exit route, that sort of Sun Tzu wisdom.

Although we arrived late, there was someone to check us in. But before we made any commitment, I asked if we could check out out the accommodations first... knowing how finicky Sg girls could be about hotel rooms. I felt it was best to get her approval first.

The room turned out to be quite decent. Clean and not too cramp. 

There wasn't a private bath but since it was a step or two away, we didn't mind. It was clean, the heater was working and the water flow rate better than a child's pee.

"Sure you don't mind the bathroom being out there?" I asked my GF just to be double sure.

"No, it's fine. Not like we need to use it tonight. Besides, I've got plenty of wet wipes," she winked as she said that.

That got me aroused a little.

The check-in clerk than proceeded to turn on the air-condition. It was one of those old fangled window units that rattled to start but afterwards gave off a mighty blast of cold air.

Wonderful, and it was pretty quiet. Says a lot about the maintenance effort this hotel must be putting in.

"Do you want to see the other rooms?" the clerk asked, a bit superfluous I felt, as he had already turned our room's air-con on.

"Er, no need," I said, and added, "But are these rooms empty as well?"


Great, I thought in my mind. Peace and quiet throughout the night.

So me and GF unpacked the essentials from our luggage and fell into bed soon fast asleep. The wet wipes untouched.

In the middle of the night, I was awakened by my GF who seemed a little concerned.

"TC, wake up, I hear voices!"

"Whaat... where?" I was pretty much getting into REM sleep and felt groggy having been woken up so unceremoniously.

"A couple talking!"

True enough, I could hear the muffled conversation of a couple deep in earnest. But at this time of night?

"Maybe the walls here are thin," I suggested.

"But didn't they say the room beside ours is empty?"

"Yeah, but..."

I could see now that my GF's eyes were wide open and very alert. I didn't think I could sleep again if something was not done.

"Look, just ignore it. Maybe they have just checked in."

"Cannot be," my GF reasoned. "I was awake the whole time and nobody came up to check them in. No key turning in the lock, no doors opening, etc., etc."

At that moment, the voices suddenly stopped. Not a single word.

"See see, it just goes away. Where got people talk like that one?"

I thought about what my GF said and found it funny. I laughed.

She quickly gave me a smack on the shoulder.

"Eh, serious leh, is this place haunted?" Once more her eyes were wide open and very very curious.

Just then water in the bathroom ran.

My GF gripped my arm harder. "Hear that? People in the bathroom. Where got people bathe at this hour one?"

"Er, people with dirty dreams?" I ventured.

Once more a smack on the shoulder.

I've seen ghosts before as a child and since then, had always wanted to see more just to affirm that in this world, we are not alone. I mean for some people, want to see ghost also kang kor. Don't say once. Many times, never.

So I opened the door to our room and peeped out. 

The outside toilet/bathroom was still the same. Door ajar, lights off. Just as how it was when we first checked in. Only the incandescent bulb outside shedding some thin light in. You could assume nobody was using it.

But that's the cruncher. I could hear someone splashing water inside as if taking a bath. Yet no water flowed out into the drain hole that was clearly visible by the door.

I closed our room door and calmly assured my GF that somebody new had checked in.


"Really." I said, clearly stating a lie.

In another part of the same night, the conversations started up again. But by then my GF had fallen asleep.

I stared at the half-opened wet wipes on the side table and thought hard.

Truly, who the heck is up at this time of night. And who would once again bathe?

I didn't get any answers that night, nor could I make out what that conversation was all about. It was just something earnest between a man and a woman. It almost sounded the same, as if recorded and replayed again.

Before dawn arrived, I too fell asleep.

The next day, my GF was adamant that the place was haunted and refused to stay another night. No need.

Kluang wasn't so big as to bother with another night unless you go hiking at two of their popular recreational hillsides and streams. 

Well, with this GF and her fear of mosquitoes, that's definitely out of the question. I enjoyed her fair skin too so keeping her out of the sun was fine by me. I've climbed enough mountains and beachcombed enough seasides for the two of us. But hey, what about golf? PAMOL was such a sweet sweet place.

- the end (by TC Lai, 2nd May 2021)

Next story: Ghost Girl; precious story: One Balmy Night  

Friday 8 June 2012

Timeless Adventures in Space

The much anticipated Ridley Scotts' prequel to his Alien franchise opened to cinemas in Singapore yesterday. I will watch it next week and buy the DVD when it comes out too. That will complete my Alien many-logy box-set. In any case, I hope you enjoy my little humorous effort in combining the 1950s covers of Super Sci-fi Magazine with that of the Prometheus movie poster, showing once again, and after all these years, that horrors and unspeakable creatures still exist in space and in our imagination. And oh, RIP Mr Ray Bradbury. Your Illustrated Man was one of my first sci-fi books and I loved the humanity and compassion in your stories. They also informed me for the very first time that even as we dream of an Utopian time when space travel is universal, the sad truth is that space travel, if it happens, will only be afforded by the very rich and privileged. But that doesn't mean we have to stop dreaming or inventing new spaceships. RIP, Mr Magician.

Kudos to this website for the SSF pics:

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Alphabet For Raising 'Fantasy' Girls

Well, this list has turned out pleasantly long. I've kept it to fantasy and not horror. And urban fantasy is included. Watch out also for new names in the coming 'New' or 'Genre' list.

Note: To view the charts clearer, right click over them and choose "Open link in new window." That will allow you to zoom in as well.

Alphabet For Raising 'Fantasy' Boys

Doing this list was quite challenging because it kept growing longer and longer. Also, quite a few good authors have emerged in the last 10 years or so. Should they then be considered here or in a 'New' list? Should the fella who writes heroic fantasy be lumped in that list for 'Genres'?

In any case, the guidelines are the same. If they are popular, have been well peer reviewed and commended and have a strong fan base, then they are in. Many authors who have made it to this list I notice not only write as a profession but they actually persevere at it. An author's success speaks of good prose as well as dedicated output. And fantasy books tend to come in serial form (a trilogy is a piece of cake!), sometimes very long like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time.

Note: To view the charts clearer, right click over them and choose "Open link in new window." That will allow you to zoom in as well.

Monday 7 November 2011

Alphabet For Raising 'Sci-Fi' Girls

As mentioned in the previous post, there are many excellent female sci-fi authors out there - even those who dabble in Hard SF. Some, like Doris Lessing, mixes fantasy with sci-fi, like what Heinlein did. And she, like some of the others, besides ideas, have wonderful prose.

I am glad I did this list. Hopefully, more of them will be mentioned in the same breath when people talk about female authors in sci-fi. And I do hope this list encourages more girls and women to read and write sci-fi.

Note: To view the charts clearer, right click over them and choose "Open link in new window." That will allow you to zoom in as well.