Wong Loo was one of those persons who could not possible have lived anywhere else except in Singapore. He was from China, speaking only the Cantonese dialect, but gradually he acquired a few words of English. Those few words he used in a well-meaning sort of way, but with some nonchalance as he was not very bothered about what they exactly meant. If one of his sons were to remark that a pop song which he had just heard was very witty, Wong Loo understood at once in his own way. He took it to mean that the song was silly, loud and noisy, and perhaps, in a plebeian sort of way, amusing. He could never, not even in one moment of soul-searching, have imagined that this debased son-of-a-pig could have found meaningfulness and significance in it. Therefore, Wong Loo was an ignorant man.
It could hardly be said that Wong Loo ‘knew’ Singapore. He was one of those people who could uproot himself to travel over a few thousand miles of ocean and when he reached, he promptly cast down all his roots again and adhered quietly but stoutly to his little area of animation. At this juncture, one may also have fathered that Wong Loo did not have a dynamic personality. But Wong Loo could not have wanted to live anywhere else now, except in Singapore. In an unreasonable frame of mind, he always thought Singapore was a no-man’s land: his reasoning was most illogical – Singapore, a Malaysian state; he himself, originally a Chinese; every one speaks some English; and his unredeemable son hopped about to American pop songs. Sometimes, an odd French film is shown in one of those cinemas. But Wong Loo liked it all the same. As he very often pointed out, he had a basic approach to life; and his friends would say, yes, Wong Loo believes in tolerance. Wong Loo would nod assent. His basic philosophy of life was: don’t bother about things which you are not bothered with. For instance, sometimes he remembered that his grandmother used to tell him that the world was like one big, happy family. Wong Loo, of the unprogressive order, used to believe. But now, in tranquility, he thought that his grandmother had been rather morbid.
Wong Loo loved the Chinatown. He realized of course, that the Chinatown of twenty years ago had more ‘atmosphere’. But the die-hards were still around and he knew them, where to find them and for what he visits. He made a point to avoid the modernized shops, especially those that have plastic table-tops, plastic flowers and those infernal machines which jingle and jangle whenever a bill was paid. He loved the display of the sticky stalks of plum-flowers standing in bug jugs of brine, and which are available only at the New Year season. He also enjoyed most of the articles on display in the shops – the odd items of furniture, the brass joss-stick containers, the miniature trees, the lacquer and the bamboo chop-sticks. His great favourite was an intricately carved Buddha, displayed on a shelf behind the counter and hidden by some brass-ware. He had once gone in to enquire about the price, and the owner of the sop, who wasn’t Cantonese, managed to make him understand that it was made from a rare elephant’s tusk and which had been a greatly admired object of one of the emperors, but it had been lost and was never heard of. Until now. In between lugging it out, slugging it on the counter and vlowing at the dust, the shopkeeper had asked for two thousand dollars.
For some week after, Wong Loo used to stop in front of the door, peer in and admired the Buddha. He wondered whether he should buy it. Finally he made up his mind. He wasn’t going to care an elephant’s flea about it anymore.
At home, Wong Loo always sat comfortable in his chair as he read the newspapers. He subscribed to the local Chinese newspapers and always read them all from page to page. He had no strong political beliefs. He disliked Communism for one reason only: that it has greatly disturbed Chinese traditions and turned the social order topsy-turvy. And so for this reason, besides other reasons, he liked Singapore. But also I think he could have been happy in, say, the Chinatown of San Francisco. Wong Loo was just plan and simply tolerant, and that was perhaps his saving grace. Therefore, a lot of things, big and small, did not irk him at all.
By Arthur Yap