Though I cringe at my juvenilia, sometimes, it has great value – to me. My memory is such a sieve that I wouldn’t have remembered much of anything otherwise. And some memories – however distorted or tinted or seemingly trivial – are worth keeping. For what are we but the things we remember and the things we choose to forget?
The following is combined from two journal entries and lightly edited.
And I want to yell again: ROD LOH!!!!!!
13-15 October, 2003
Driving with Private TC
One of my NS mates was an army driver who 1) was your typical hokkien peng but was kind enough to use Mandarin with me as my Hokkien isn’t too hot 2) spoke a weird mixture of simple and thoroughly broken English to non-Chinese superiors 3) blew his entire IPPT gold award monetary incentive on a bracelet for his wife (“for my girlfriend lah”) 4) introduced me to the delights of makan-ing at public food courts 5) dropped out from primary school, so his English isn’t too hot and he needed my help to spell “Bukit Gombak”.
Incidents 3 and 4 occurred when we were out of base delivering “URGENT BY HAND” letters – these urgent materials, by the way, were classified “Restricted” – over all the isle in a GP car without air-conditioning (definitely felt it), without a radio (he rigged one up so we had music in our ears and wind in our hair during those day-long excursions) and without suspension (our bums felt it).
This business of splashing 400 bucks on a bracelet stands out vividly in my mind because I tagged along on the shopping trip. We made an unscheduled and unauthorised stop at some neighbourhood center, parked the GP car anyhowly, and hopped into a jewellery shop. In the middle of a weekday. In our No. 3 and 4. I have never been so badass cool before. Or since then. We spent some time browsing through the glittering thingies and he asked for my inexpert opinion before coughing up the cash for some sort of heart-shaped bracelet or such. For his wife. They were expecting their first child. The fellow had to take on a second job after hours as the NS pay was, and still is, peanuts. Especially for someone with a permanent rank of private. (Take it from me. I know – I was/am a corporal and my pay was a perhaps a tenth of a peanut more.)
My driver was a sweet, friendly, good-natured and unassuming chap. I said it once and I will say it again – he went out of his way to talk to me in Mandarin, instead of mocking my lousy Hokkien. And he had immense patience with me, though I often malfunctioned and went into this clueless, tia boh mode and he had to repeat himself. Best of all, he got my sense of humour. Once, we were puttering along a winding road while I was trying to read a map. After a few sharp jerks, I snapped at him, “Hey! Stop turning so much!” He turned to look at me for perhaps three seconds before bursting into laughter.
The last time I met him was by chance, about a year after I ORD-ed. I bumped into him at the Tampines Library where he was doing some carpentry work. He recognised me first and came up to me. (People always recognise me first, maybe because I walk around with my head in the clouds.) Dude insisted on treating me to a drink at the kopitiam nearby where we caught up on our lives. He was happy to know I was doing fine in university. Showed me a picture of his cute year-old baby too. Should be 6 or 7 years old now, this baby.
Was it so long ago? I’ve never ran into him again since.
But, from my heart, I just want to say: Thank you, TC.