Thursday, 25 October 2012

An Egg-Shaped Car

Someone has invited me to shop at the village. I go there and see a popular eating place. It's crowded and I make my way in to see what the fuss was all about. It is some cold noodles the proprietor is selling. The eatery is made of bamboo and with mats as walls like some waystation tea-stand in some Ancient China.

I see movement of people and follow them along a corridor. I make a few turns and end up in a room. A group of boys are trying to clean themselves up with water. I notice they are without shoes. I ask why they are muddy and they tell me they have been playing in a river further up.

They point out of a window and I follow their directions. I find the river and understands the fun the boys had. It reminds me of a trip I've made to Malaysia once.

Other folk walk by carrying prayer incense things. There are trees all round as if in a kampong and that a temple is somewhere ahead.

I get the feeling that my female friend is coming and return to the roadside by the eatery. I see her walking down towards me from a distance. When we up we go inside and have a meal.

After our makan, we say our goodbyes and I meet my army buddy Richard. I am soon at his house. I stay over and the next thing I know, I am awake in the morning and am. getting ready to leave.

For some reason Richard is busy in his room. His dad feels it is rude and calls him to come join me.

The phone rings and Richard's father picks it up. "It's your army camp," he says.

Richard talks into the phone and gets angry. It seems the camp is not willing to let him skip a training in-camp. Profanities are exchanged. He switches off the phone and throws it on the sofa.

I get dressed to leave. I notice I am dressed in a funny way. A loose sheer blouse, a very short pair of skin-tight shorts that is made of red and yellow shiny polyester and printed with images of people from ancient China. I think the scene is a snippet from that famous Song painting of a market on a river bridge that was recently turned into a kind of animated installation artwork. This pair of shorts is so short it's like a band. Stranger still is that lacy underwear is sneaking out from behind and after some comments made by Richard's mom, I try to tuck them back in.

I look as if I am wearing transvestite fashion but I don't feel it. Even the high heels I'm wearing don't engender that feeling.

Next, I am back at the eatery and bump into Allen, a secondary schoolmate and fellow badminton team member. We sit down somewhere for coffee and to chat. Once done, we head back to his 'car' that was parked in an alley. It has an unusual shape, almost like a luge machine with cover. Allen seems proud of it and suggests we go for a drive.

We remove the top cover, which is made of unvarnished fibreglass. It has the color and texture of polished shell like those commonly used by Filipinos to make lampshades, coasters and other stuff. The rest of the car seems to be made of canvas, wood and aluminium struts. Together they give the impression that the vehicle is egg-shaped and aerodynamic.

Allen gets in, followed by me. I ease myself carefully down on the seat (it's a tight fit) and proceed to lift my leg one at a time into a small place holder. As mentioned, this vehicle is more luge machine than car. Or some leftover contraption from an energy-efficient driving contest.

I need to sneak my leg between two pieces of wood planks and I succeed. Sitting with my legs clamped around the structure, we replace the cover and set off.

To move the machine, we have to shove-chuck two thin rods that run along the top edges of the vehicle. The faster we work, the faster the vehicle went. Allen and I have to be coordinated. So we time ourselves to left-right left-right rhythm. it works. Our action is no different from holding on to two overhead bars in a bus and shoving them along. Pretty soon, we speed along at a very good pace.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Thing Cat

I am in a quaint neighbourhood, the sort with low housing and 50s architecture. It's a little cul de sac and the neighbours are shop owners and apartment dwellers. There's an air of emptiness not unlike that of a movie set where few people walk by.

In view is a long apartment unit with a roundish end. A corridor runs the lenghth of the entire second level (not unlike HDB design). I am in a shop unit below. The proprietors seem to be dealing in hardware stuff. I am inside and talking to a lady, someone I recognise from my past. She used to sell weapons and was the only woman I ever knew who did that.

She is asking me to fix a remote trigger transmitter, the countless types we see in the movies: a small little black box with flip switch, a flashing red light and a retractable antenna at the end. Only in this case, the light is LED yellow-green and obviously wonky. It is sometimes on, sometimes off.

A cafe is next door and this friend and I decide to have cuppa. We order and sit back to relax. I look out a window, at the neighbourhood around. I seem to like the place a lot. It's middle class, lush with leafy, multi-coloured autumn trees and the folks are friendly. A young man and a woman dresed in '50s tennis gear walk by, making the scene even more reminiscent of a bygone era.

The cafe is almost full, with folks animated in conversation. I have an egg tart and a char siew so (a pastry filled with char siew meat).

After our coffees, we leave. A white cat is lying on a small round side table by the door, looking sleepy and content.

There is news, something about a war and unrest. We head to a hall, which is dim and showing a newsreel. At the end, folks in viewing balconies emerge and demands more freedom for the press. I suspect, like me, they are journalists. It gets rather vocal, with the wife of the prime minister joining in. For added emphasis, she grabs a gun (which looks like a Mauser C96) from her bodyguard and fires into the air. Three shots in rapid succession.

"Aye, aye, aye," she shouts and looks down on us below, her eyes smiling and yet a little wild. Is she serious or just joining a popular cause?

My friend and I look at each other unbelieving. That the prime minister's wife herself would call for greater press freedom.

After this, we head back to the cafe to discuss the issue some more. As I leave the second time round, I say hello to the cat and playfully pulls at its paw. It and everything else of the cat slips apart! Her arm, her torso, her head... as easy as some well-cooked bak kut teh meat on a bone. The heads drops clean off with no gash and no blood. It's was all rather odd. I remember thinking if there has to be some significance to this macabre incident. (There is. Before this dream a few nights ago, I was watching The Thing (2012). A scene in there is quite similar.)

Sunday, 7 October 2012

A Stream and a Tiger

I dreamt I was walking along a trunk road just outside a small Malaysian town. Beside me is a little forested area and I step in. A short walk later, I encounter Tony, my secondary school badminton coach. He invites me into his shop. It's a kind of wooden cabin and on its walls are hung all manner of sports equipment. From badminton racquets to mountain climbing gear. The best part is that his shop is cleft by a stream, right down the middle. To get over the other side, you'd have to step on rocks. The stream is bubbling and a-brooking and I find it all very enchanting and excellent for a shop engaged in the business of sports and adventure.

Tony and I chat and recount the good old days when we were but a ragtag bunch badminton players. Our school was small, only a single session, but we had quite a bit of talent. However, it was always just short of the very good playing schools. Still, dressed in our non-uniform gear - we didn't even have school jerseys - we did beat some fancy teams dressed in Yonex from head to toe, especially that memorable match against St Andrews. Like what some people say, looks can be deceiving.

In the next scene, I am in a factory warehouse office. It is open plan and I am working hard at my high stool desk on some handbook and it's already past 5pm. Set and MH, both colleagues from Thomson, are getting ready to leave. We make plans to meet at a pub.

I do meet them at a pub later but there's a commotion. A tiger seems to have gotten loose. We run to hide and get away.

I am in a room and perched on a window ledge. I look into the corridor to see if the tiger is there. Nothing. Then a stripey mat-like piece of raw paper slides down the hall way towards me. I sense that it is the tiger. For some reason it is invisible. the mat wobbles to beckon me to follow and so I do. 'We' arrive at a storeroom near the end of the corridor. Inside, there is a litter of pups; they seem hungry.

I go to the pub next door and get some raw steaks and feed it to them.

Later, when MH, Set and I are settled down for our beers, the tiger mom - looking emaciated - comes and thanks me. It doesn't say a word nor makes a sound... just gives me a grateful look. It then turns and returns to its pups.

MH and I wonder what a strange night it has been and continue to drink our beers.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Salt and an Airship

The beach has been broken up into different pieces like a biscuit cracked. At the far end is a restaurant. I am in there eating a steak, and the owner comes and speaks with me. We discuss how the simplest dish can be best tasting. The topic veers to salt as an essential condiment - how it draws flavors out. Or how perhaps we humans are conditioned to like its flavor. Can we live without it? Can there ever be a healthier substitute? I say sure, at the present moment, there's sea salt. It's both natural and healthy.

The owner tells me that Changi used to have a natural salt mine. He brings me out and shows me a spot. It is one side of a hill by the beach at a cul de sac. A slurry of salt still lies there. Goats in strange white fur loiter and graze. Their coat appears to be 'saltified'. Just like how snow changes the look of creatures in winter, this salt has done the same.

I am wary because goats can be aggressive. Just then, one turns and stares. Is it going to charge? The restaurant owner is nowhere to be seen. Oh, right, he's climbed to the top of the hill. He's safe.

I start to think how best to avoid this rattled goat but before I know it, it has started to charge at me.

In normal circumstances, I would pick up a branch and whack the attacking creature. But today, I decide to just treat it like play. Like how a matador might treat his bull. So I wait for it to charge and at the last critical moment, sidestep it to allow it to slip past. Only just. Ole.

The goat rushes by me; it tries to charge again. The same result. In the end, knowing that it cannot win, the goat stops and decides to graze instead. Still, it did not let its eyes wonder and looks at me one last time as if to say "This ain't over yet!" I climb the hill and rejoin the restaurant owner - exhausted but relieved.

An airship is arriving; it's no Hindenburg  No big fans at the sides. Instead, cowled engines like those on jumbo jets can be seen affixed to the sides of a large cabin. The cabin looks sleek and its windows have glass that's been treated to transition with the intensity of sunlight. When the airship passes under a cloud cover, the cabin windows visibly lighten. I can now see inside. A launch party is in progress. Someone who looks like Steve Jobs is hosting the party and holding up an iPhone. The guests inside gather round him to listen as he begins to speak. The iPhone he's holding appears much longer than previous models. It's like a wand. 'Steve Jobs' waves it about and laments, "Apple has lost its magic."

Just then, I hear a loud yawing sound - the same kind that tells me metal has been stressed and stretched. Beyond the airship, in the background, a range of mountains has slid down as if melted. The same phenomena is repeated all round like a domino effect. Haha, I laugh. So iOS6 Apple Maps is accurate after all! The landscape around looks like that Paris scene in Inception where streets have been warped and melded. Only this time, the slopes of mountains have been melted like stripy travertine caramel ice-cream gone soft.

My attention returns to the airship. It looks unlike anything I have seen. For one, it is not WWII bomb shaped; no finny things behind for balance and manoeuvring  Instead, the airship looks exactly like a ray fish, its leading edges rolled and folded in an aerodynamic way.

The restaurant owner, still standing beside me, explains that the airship design is new. Instead of using fans to control altitude, a compressed air ballast is deployed to control buoyancy. It works better this way, he says. There is no need to drop ropes and have workers pull the ship and secure it to a set of mooring towers. In this way, such an airship could travel and park anywhere.

Ingenious, I say.

I return to the restaurant with the owner and discuss some more how such an airship could be deployed to explore a place like the planet Mars. Certainly even if the air there is too thin, a self-contained airship with volumetric buoyancy control could launch itself airborne and explore the place even more. No more crawling around at snail's pace like NASA's Curiosity.

An order of food arrives. It is BBQed stingray in sambal belachan. Sweet! I remember thinking before tucking right into a bowl of white rice in hand.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Of Tennis, Toys and An Old Classmate

This dream I dreamt during a second phase of sleep, which is interesting because it was a short nap.

I am asked to play tennis by this tall chap who appears to be named Matt. He also seems to be a student of a design school at which I am teaching. We are in a tennis court and I am telling him, in response to a question, that tennis isn't a difficult game. "You just have to hold your racquet firm and let the ball bounce off it," I tell him. (Note to reader: I am actually a very good tennis player in waking life.)

We play and stroke for a while. Eventually time is up and we leave. But we want to play some more and walk around to look for a free court. We move through a dark gymnasium and lift a large canvas shade at the end. It reveals strong sunlight and young folks busy playing tennis on the other side.

Most of them are girls in colorful tees and shorts bobbing and whacking balls left, right and centre. No one seems to be in tennis white.

Each court is fenced in and as we stroll by looking through the metallic fence links, the girls look back. They are neither hostile nor friendly. Just curious.

Matt and I settle our things on a concrete bench (one of those old-style Chinese ones with a decorated curved back found in Chinatown or outside some hui guan (clan association)). The court is clay-red and green outside the tramlines and the fence at the back is covered with an aged canvas to prevent balls from squeezing through the chain-links.

We wonder how long we could play before we get chased off, seeing that we have not paid for the use of the court. Again we stroke the ball awhile and I noticed that we are at the last court of the tennis centre. Beside it is a playground with an obvious metal slide. Beyond this, the beach. I seem to have seen this scene before. But the game involved then was golf.

The next scene moves indoors and I am in an empty activity centre, the kind found in most community colleges in the U.S., the sort with glass paneled doors and colored metal frames. I am inside a room that has three trapezoid-shaped low tables - the conjoined sort ideal for group work. The tables are red and yellow and on them are toys in various stages of design and assemblage.

I ask a student there where Matt is. He says he has gone out to get something. I exit and enter into a darkened hall. At the end are some unused tables and chairs stacked against a wall. I continue to look for Matt.

Moving away from tennis, I am now in a block of old flats looking for my ex-primary school classmate Rambli. I come across two flats, each with their doors opened. Large families of Malay folks are gathered around tables enjoying good food. I pass one family and they ask if I am looking for Rambli. I say yes and they point me to the flat next door. A plumpish lady there excuses herself from a large feasting group of people and welcomes me. "Ah, Rambli's friend," she says. She adds that Rambli is not there and then ushers me to an exit on the left. It's a darkwood verandah eaved in the traditional Malay style. I walk down the few steps leading out.

I find myself standing in a sandy patch that's part road and part unused ground. In front of me is a towering indoor car park. The building reminds me of Sim Lim Tower, the same 12-15 stories high. According to the Malay lady, Rambli is in a village down the road behind this imposing building.

I start to walk but is hailed by a lady who is an ex-classmate as well. She asks if I have found Rambli. I say no and go sit with her on her swing. We chat and I remember wondering about that that car park building (which is just in front of us) all the time. That and the sandy patch that would be occasionally stirred by a passing breeze.

After a time, I get up and walk towards Rambli's village. I cross the sandy patch and come to the edge of a metal road. It slopes down and is shaded greatly on both sides by large trees. It looks cool. I move forward and side-step three metal dustbins in the way to begin my journey. It feels like something I will enjoy and relish and not look back.