Monday, 24 June 2013

A little theatre called Kok Wah at 5th mile

THIS was a wooden theatre with zinc roof and no aircon, just ceiling fans. I still remember the facade (with the big billboard) was painted a pale blue.

It was our family's favourite theatre -- even better than Paramount which was nearer to our home in Serangoon Gardens. If you waited long enough, it even screened Saturday Night Fever.

But no, our favourite movies at this theatre were the Chinese costumed ones -- sob movies where the hero and heroine (collapsed on opposite sides of a table that had a jar of poisoned wine) struggled towards each other (after drinking the wine) so that they would die together.

Or, it would be a movie showing the undersea world where the princess (a mermaid of sorts) fell in love with a human, and persisted despite the fury of her father, the underwater king. This was actually a Chinese dance movie made in China. My father said the actress was a very famous dancer in China. Her body was certainly very supple and her dance moves simulating swimming underwater were wonderful to watch. She wanted to become a human so that she could be with her lover. But for that to happen, her lover had to pluck a fish scale off her.

Kok Wah theatre was a stone throw from the old Lim Tua Tow market (commonly known as the 5th mile market). It was located on a vast sandy patch where you can park your car (for free). Nearby, also located on this vast sandy patch, was a row of stalls selling food. Our favourite stall was the dessert stall (ice-kacang, cheng tng, etc). It was an established ritual to take a bowl of dessert at this stall after a show.

One of my greatest regrets was to let a Japanese ghost movie go. I had seen the poster and the trailers -- numerous times -- and mum had promised to take me to the show. The trailer showed a woman in white flying past rooftops. Then it hovered over one roof and seemed to be pounding a nail into it (or doing something... perhaps I mixed this bit up with a pontianak trailer).

Then it turned its face to the camera -- and it was blank -- no eyes, no nose, no features whatsoever. Ahhhh, I just had to watch this movie. But somehow when we went to catch the next movie at Kok Wah, this poster had been removed.

The show must have been screened without our knowing.

Kok Wah's "pre-show"

There was a sort of a trailer which the theatre showed, each time before the real show started. This was a cartoon (probably made in China) of an old woman whose home caught fire. In her panic, she grabbed a huge melon instead of her grand child before making her escape. It was only in safety that she discovered her very sad mistake. I think this was the saddest cartoon I have ever watched.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Nihongo with Michael and Carol

A pose after tutorial. Dr Nakamura is of course, the guy in front
 (centre). Can you see those famous moustache?
THIS post is dedicated to Michael Lee, Carol Wong, Andy Kwan and all the others who formed the inaugural cohort taking Japanese Studies at NUS FASS -- Class of 85. Michael Lee, Carol and Andy were responsible for making life so brilliantly interesting for me. We dominated the NUS pool with our laughter, and we dominated the buses with our chatter. We had student passes then and we delighted in taking "cracko" bus rides from one terminus to the other -- "laughing all the way" like "Jingle Bells".

Memorable lines from our Nihongo class:

Tsuki, tsuki, tsuki -- which means, "next, next, next" made famous by Dr Nakamura who went round pointing his moustache (sorry, I mean finger... but he has the most wonderful jet black moustache) at each of us in rapid succession for answers to his questions (in Japanese of course). If you so much as to utter "er, er, er" he would impatiently point to the next person. If the next person also went "er, er, er"... Tsuki!

Dr Nakamura speaks very good English -- and with an American accent. But being a very good Japanese language teacher, he refused to speak a single word in English. And if you needed to ask him questions, it better be in Japanese, or he would not answer. So by the time you had the question translated to Japanese in your head, the tutorial had ended.

The next most quotable line was made famous by me actually. It was during Japanese history lecture, taught by Dr Yung (from Hong Kong) in English. I was conscientiously taking down notes and I had one statement that went:

"The emperor was on the phone for a 100 years..."

My notes were borrowed and copied by five other students who also had "the emperor was on the phone for a 100 years..."

We had a very good laugh over this... to be on the throne for a 100 years is quite a feat, what more on the phone!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Memorable lines from the cartoons

SCOOBY Dooby Doo, where are you? I wish this cartoon would return. Also, Caspar, the Friendly Ghost. I quite like the Brady Bunch too. And all the Hanna Barbara characters. Oh ya, definitely The Flintstones.

But I think I do have enough of that smart alecky Bugs Bunny. I wonder why many of the cartoon heroes are always too big for their own shoes. Woody Wood Pecker for example, Tom & Jerry, Beep Beep the Road Runner, even the cute Tweety Bird -- they always win -- all the time. It's always the same formula, and their victims never failed to fall into their traps. They are too infallible for my liking.

However, I think the cutest line in cartoon remains "I tot I taw a puddy tat...." This line is so hilarious and it would be what a creature with a short bird tongue (and beak for lips) would say.

Other memorable lines from the cartoons... I'll try:

Ehh, wat's up, doc?

Hohohoheho, hohohoheho, hek, hek, hek, hek, hek....

Wilma, come and open the dooooooooooooooor!

Beep-beep, beep-beep....

Yubedy, yubedy, dat's all folks.

Can never live without TV

LET's walk down the street for memorable TV series. There was I Love Lucy. Not a favourite with mum and me though. We both found her somewhat irritating. Her hare brain proved too much for mum to bear. But we liked the longsuffering Mr Mooney. But I guess between Marry Tyler Moore and Lucy, we would still prefer to watch Lucy, whose unsophisticated ways could be quite funny. I remembered one episode where she tried to mend a leaking tap. It was quite hilarious.

We love Petticoat Junction and Green Acres. The wacky characters were just right to take us away from the real world. I remember it was shown around 7pm. Come to think of it, our favourite shows were usually around dinner time. Simply perfect.

First thing after throwing down our school bag was to pull open the doors of the TV set, and hit the button. I remember the brand of our TV set was Telefunken. Its two doors had to be drawn apart first to reveal the screen. Strange huh?

But before those great family sitcoms, there was always this series  for kids which started around six -- the characters were enacted by puppets. Actually, there were a few of such series. I can't for the life of me remember the titles... but they were the most boring shows I ever watched.. One was set in a submarine which made it even more boring for me (I fell asleep while reviewing Red October when I was with the newspaper. It was such an acclaimed movie, but submarines just bore me to death.) I think there was another set in space (which was just as boring as I didn't even like to watch Star Trek). If only we could fast forward the time to when our favourite series start!

But there was one series which started around six which we quite like, alternating with those animated puppet shows. This was Dr Who who time travels by entering a phone booth, to solve complex problems of different eras.

Then later in the night, actually I think quite late, around 11pm I think, there would be Marverick. We loved the hero, James Garner. My mum and I thought he was so funny, and yet so suave. Alternating with Marverick would be the other cowboy film -- Bat Masterson. But Gene Barry who played this lawman, tried too hard and couldn't quite achieve the charming devil may care attitude that James Garner had in Marverick.

Talking about westerns, we loved Bonanza. My favourite brother was the one acted by Pernell Roberts (the one who was always in black). He always looked serious and responsible. I also got to like Dan Blocker later in the show. He was the kind and understanding one. Little Joe (Michael Landon) was a favourite among my friends, but somehow, not for me. I preferred the more serious (deep thinking) guys then. And of course, we loved the theme song to bits.

Big Valley and Wild Wild West were must-watch too.

Moving away from cowboys... my other must-watch would have to be Twilight Zone, The Saint, Hawaii Five-O, Mission Impossible. And oh yes, Perry Mason, not because of the plots and how he always won his cases but because his secretary always dressed so smartly. And she was so pretty.

Lassie's ok -- shown on Saturday afternoons -- always great to watch the sheepdog bounding home when whistled. Even liked Rin Tin Tin. We were suckers for animal shows. If there were re-runs of these shows, I bet you, I will watch.

Somehow, the army series never quite made it to my hit list -- MASH and Combat were perfectly boring. My mum liked Combat though.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Unforgettable bits and pieces from the movies

SOME people can remember an entire movie -- almost line for line. For me, I can't even remember the plot without prodding, much less the lines. Like I enjoyed watching "Inception" -- but if you asked me what I remember about the movie, my answer would be "It's a puzzlement".

But there are some bits and pieces of a movie which I can remember for life -- even if I have long forgotten the cast or the titles. For me, the poignancy of the moment is what lingers.

Take "The Sixth Sense" for example (I happened to remember the lines this time), one of the characters asked her dead mother "Do I make you proud?" and the answer was "Everyday".

In "Dark Water", it was a tinge of sadness that lingered after the movie. In the last scene, the daughter met her mum (or rather the ghost of her mum) after some 18 years of separation and realised that they can never be together again.

Of course, a good twist at the end certainly makes a movie unforgettable. In "Drag Me to Hell", the most satisfying scene was that of Alison Lohman (as the banker), jamming the cursed button back into the mouth of the gypsy. But the twist at the end was great -- when the button makes a reappearance.

There twist to the ending of Sixth Sense was a grand one too. Simply fantastic.

There are other acclaimed movies, but sometimes all I remember of them are just some irrelevant parts. For example in "Volcano", even now, I could remember how the little terrier managed to  leap into the couple's car as they fled from the fiery lava. What a relief. I will never forgive the producer if the little terrier got left behind.

And for other movies, it is the theme song, like "Stand By Me".  And for some, it is the hairstyle -- like Lisa Minnelli's in Cabaret.

However, for the life of me, I cannot understand why some had to watch Sound of Music 10 times... Or Fiddler on the Roof X times, or even Doctor Zhivago (though I do like the song from this movie).

But I can understand why some people watched Exorcist more than once. I caught the rerun on TV some years ago... and it still sent the chill down my spine. None of the sequels could match up to the dark and foreboding mood of the first movie.

The other horror movie second to Exorcist would be The Omen where memorable scenes include the one where the priest was pierced by a rod that was struck by lightning... and the playback of the recording of the devil's voice.

For childhood horrors, I loved Dracula movies -- which always had scenes of dark carriages rocking hurriedly up winding paths towards the dark castle. These are my favourite Dracula scenes till today... They give you a sense of expectancy -- the thrills are about to unfold. Yummy!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Calling Mr Jack Neo... Or the Pang Brothers

MR Jack Neo... Or the Pang Brothers, where are you? I've got this book, a compilation of "true" ghost stories in Singapore, set in the 50s and 60s. I am sure some of the tales will make a good scary movie -- you know, one of those three-in-one ghost movies?  It has a lot of accounts from witnesses. Really delicious to read, with detailed descriptions of where, what, how and even why the "encounters" happened.

Please call me if you need someone to write the script ;)

My brother bought the book at the Indian stall at the mouth of the lane where we lived in Serangoon Gardens. It was old and tattered. Probably second or third-hand. Many years later, I came home from school to find it in our dustbin outside. (My brother must be packing his room.) I picked it up and it had stayed with me till now -- after I have moved house like three times!

[Picture of the book to come. I need to search for it in my cluttered flat first.]

A "finger" encounter by a taxi driver

THIS was told to me by my big brother who is as fond of ghost stories as I am.

Taxi drivers seem to have it worse than any other job holders (in terms of eerie encounters) -- though midnight toilet cleaners have a fair share too.

But come to think of it, even cleaners don't clean toilets in the night anymore (after closing). I think they do it in the mornings these days, and several times in the day... but guess not late nights. There used to be quite a bit of eerie encounters by toilet cleaners.... the sound of toilet flushing when no one is in the toilet... moans whose source could not be traced... toilet covers slamming onto seats on their own...

Anyway, back to this taxi driver who picked up a girl by the roadside just when he was about to call it a day. It was dark, and threatening to rain. Out of the kindness of his heart, he decided to make a last trip -- even if this girl was drunk and would probably puke in his cab.

The girl did seem to be a bit drunk. She was giggly and insisted on sitting in front. You smoke? She asked the taxi driver who shook his head.

"Mind if I do?" and without waiting for an answer, lowered the window and whisked out a stick. Soon, she was puffing merrily.

"Stop! Stop! Stop! I get down here!" she shouted suddenly just when the driver began to pick up speed at Lentor Avenue and started towards Yishun (where the girl had wanted to go).

 "Not Yishun yet!" the taxi driver exclaimed.

"Ya, ya, forgot, my friend said he will pick me up here.... you have been very kind. Here, keep this cigarette for payment. Forgot to bring purse la!" she said and burst into drunken giggles again.

"I don't smoke!" the taxi driver protested, peeved.

"You keep!" she said, and stuffed it into the man's shirt pocket. Then she was gone into the night, with surprising speed for someone drunk.

The taxi driver shook his head and made his way home. Just one of those crazy, drunk passengers. He was about to forget the whole episode when he remembered the cigarette in his pocket. He had better take it out before dumping the shirt into the laundry basket.

Just then, he felt his shirt front dampening -- a damp warmth spreading. Strange. He felt his shirt pocket and it was wet. He let out a tiny scream when he found that his hand, after patting the pocket, was bloodied. Was I stabbed, he wondered. But he felt no pain.

He screamed again, not in pain, but in fright, when he fished out the "cigarette" which happened to be a very bloody index finger. Not a cigarette at all.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Mind reader

THERE was a Sikh seated at a table on the void deck of my block. I had just reached home around 4pm after finishing work (was working as a sub then with The New Paper). He looked like he was expecting me.

"Come, let me read your future..." he said to me.

I shook my head and walked on. But he called after me. "Just think of six numbers, but don't tell me. It's ok, I am not asking you for money. If you wish, later, I can still tell you your fortune."

I couldn't resist this. So I sat myself down, next to him. Thought of a combination of numbers and nodded to him to signal him that I was done. He took out a pen and scribbled down the numbers.

Bingo! Only the two last numbers were not in sequence to the "thought" numbers in my head. The rest were correct. If there is maths behind this (some probability stuff), can someone tell me how this is done?

"These are your lucky numbers," he told me.

I kept the scrap of paper in my wallet, thanked him, told him no fortune-reading, and made a beeline for home just in case he could read my mind further.

I didn't buy 4-d with those numbers... too scared.

After some time, I threw away that scrap of paper too with all the numbers.

I never saw the Sikh again... Who could he be? This was some 10 years ago though.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Is there a dentist in the house -- another spooky tale

My impression of the uniform the "dentist" was wearing.
MY wisdom tooth has been at it again -- the whole night. So the next morning, right in the middle of an urgent piece of work, I did a frantic Google for the nearest dentist. A Q&M branch seemed to be pretty near. I called. Long queue forming. Out. Googled furiously again...Strange enough, all the dental clinics seemed to be very packed that morning.

Last ditched attempt, I decided to try a dental clinic in a rather "posh" district (which I shall call HG) but near to my working place. A man's voice answered. "So you want to make an appointment? The dentist will only be in at 11am," the voice said.

"Fine, I will be there!" I banged down the phone, gathered my handbag and hared off.

The dental clinic, according to the address I scribbled down from the Internet, was on the first floor of a shophouse. The row of shophouses had restaurants and boutiques on the ground floor, while some of the upper floors had hairdressers, frame makers and other shops selling knick knacks like cosmetic jewelry etc. As I looked up from the street level, I could not see any signboard that say "dental clinic".

But what the heck... I dashed up the stairs which has a tiny directory sign near the landing that gave the address of the place. Yup, it tallied with what I have scribbled down.

On entering the "clinic", I saw a very retro reception table -- with a quilted red vinyl front -- rather like those you find in an old fashioned bar. Very undentist like, I thought. There wasn't anyone at the reception table. There wasn't a single patient as well.  But there was a bell. So I pressed and it gave a hollow tinkle.

Through a parted curtain, a thin, old man appeared, dressed like an old-fashioned dentist, or a chef, or a bell captain -- you know, a white tunic (more or less double breasted with white buttons) with something like a Mandarin collar. He looked irritated.

Just my luck, I thought, to have a grouchy dentist but my wisdom tooth must go.

"Yes?" he said curtly.

"Er, I made an appointment for 11am," I said unsteadily, thinking maybe I should just run down the stairs instead.

"What appointment?" he barked.

"Dental appointment?" I mumbled. I really should flee now.

"No, no dental appointment here!"

"But I called earlier and they told me that I could come at 11am. Is XXXXXXX your phone number?" I said indignantly, despite my overwhelming desire to turn tail and run.

"Yes, this is our number. But there is nobody here. This is not a dental clinic."

"But didn't you answer the phone just now?"

"Nobody called," the old "dentist" looked at me steely and steadily in the eye.

"OK, OK, sorry! Wrong address!" I turned and ran down the stairs as fast as I could.

Did I just enter a time warp? Spooky, spooky, all my friends said.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Out with the old: A creepy tale of renovation

Bird silhouetted against a window. Not an introduction to Hitchcock movies, but a window of an old flat caked with dust, accumulated since the flat was built in the 1980s, thick with bird droppings. Time for a bit of renovation.

This is fiction, of course, but inspired by bits and pieces of memory:

"DO you do basic renovation?" the lady in blue asked. And that was how a spooky tale unfolded for Danny and Jane, a young couple running a renovation business.

It turned out that the basic renovation which the lady in blue had mentioned was not very basic. It was rather considerable. Besides the basics such as new cabinets, toilet bowls and lighting she had also wanted a wall hacked down so that the second bedroom would merge with the living room -- and form a much bigger living room. She also wanted her floor tiles changed to "something more modern".

Smiling widely but rather genuinely, Danny said, "Yes we do!" The smile got wider as the list of the lady's requirements got longer and longer -- so much so that he had a bit of problem keeping pace.

"We would need to take a look at your house," he finally said as he added the last full-stop with a bit of flourish, to the list.

Chapter 2
It was a bright and sunny day as Danny and Jane parked their car outside Blk 333, Ang Meng San Road. The lady in blue was already waiting for them at the HDB lift.

"Your timing is good!" she said as she led them to her flat.

The flat was indeed very run down. The window grills have started rusting so badly that they looked ready to fall off any moment. Curtains were just bed sheets clipped onto the grills with big clothes pegs. But they were very effective in keeping off the light.

There was a musty smell about the place as Danny and Jane entered the dark house. "Sorry," said the lady in blue (again... blue seemed to be her favourite colour). "The lights aren't working. So are the fans. Now you see why I really need renovation here!" she said, with a laugh.

The wirings were particularly bad. They were exposed and caked with dust and dirt. "You need rewiring," said Danny, tapping his finger on a stretch of exposed wires. And just as he was doing that, he felt a jolt, like a mild current running through his hand. "Yes, you definitely need rewiring," he said softly.

Chapter 3
"Set, here's the key to my house... I appreciate it that you are overseeing the whole renovation for me. I really can't take off from work," said the lady in blue (yet again... her favourite colour is indeed blue).

It was again a bright and sunny day when the renovation crew reached Blk 333. The door swung open easily as Danny slipped in the key. Again, the musty smell hit their nose. Compared to the brightness outside, the house was unusually dark... and there seemed to be a bit of a draft. Strange, as it's so sunny outside, Danny thought to himself.

The first thing to go were the kitchen cabinets, and the crew set to the task with their usual gusto -- knocking and hammering at the frayed pieces of wood and yanking them off the walls. The lady in blue apparently has done a good job of packing. Those which were not to be thrown away were put into crates. She specifically told Danny that those in crates were not to be thrown away with the old cabinets, the old sofa, and the old fridge (which she said was still working, just that she wanted to get a new one, one of those which doesn't need defrosting).

The place was strangely still and quiet. Usually, nosy neighbours would come around and poke their noses in to watch the progress of the renovation and to see what kind of newfangled stuffs were being installed. But none of that. Nobody outside along the corridor either -- the whole day.

The crew continued their labour in earnest.

Chapter 4  
Danny had the greatest surprise of his life the next day. As usual, he met his renovation crew at 10am at the lift to take them up the house. But the key didn't work this time round. It didn't even seem to fit. The door refused to budge. He called the lady in blue to see if she had suddenly gone off her rocker and changed the door lock. But the voice message said: "This is your M1 Service. The number you called is incorrect."

Danny felt a lurch in his heart. The lady in blue had not paid a deposit. She said she needed just a few days, and could they start work first. Despite a feeling of uneasiness, Danny had agreed. He pitied her... (yes, reno guys do have a heart) and also he needed the business -- and the job if completed, would rake in big bucks.

Just as he was wondering whether he should call the police, a Filipino maid opened the door. "Yes? Sir and Madam not in," she said in a frazzled voice.

Through the half open door, Danny saw a sight which startled him off his skin. The tiles on the floor were not the speckled green, black and white terrazzo of the 60s which they were supposed to hack off, but modern white tiles. There were certainly no uncovered wires running like veins round the ceiling and down the walls.

"Is your Madam, Ms Jenny Wong?" Danny asked the maid who by now, was joined by a white barking Spitz trying to snap at Danny's heels.

"No Jenny Wong, Sir..." and the door was slammed in his face.

Blk 333, unit 05, but where did the one with the musty smell and the 60's decor go?

Chapter 5
It was some six months down the road. Danny and Jane had more or less put the episode out of their mind. There are some things in this world which cannot be explained away. Life goes on.

The young couple has a liking for flea market as sometimes they can find something that would just fit perfectly into the interior design of a client. There was one going on outside Tanglin Mall that Sunday morning.

As Jane was going through some old clothes hung on a rack, a blue dress caught her eye. It looked familiar somehow. It was very retro, with an A-line skirt and scoop neckline. Simple, with bell-shaped sleeves that reach the elbows. It was going for $5.

"Where did you find this dress?" she asked the woman who was manning the stall.

"Frankly, I picked it up from an old HDB estate. Its unique blue caught my eye. I happened to like blue. The sleeve of the dress was hanging out from a crate that was left at a dumping corner," she said.

"The rest of the stuff in the box were useless junk though, like photo albums, broken crockery, rice cooker, etc... I kept one photograph actually because the girl in it was wearing the blue dress. See, this one here... I pinned it up here so that customers can see how the dress looks when worn."

Danny and Jane recognised the girl in the photograph, almost at once.