5:37am. The house is quiet and I can sleep no more. I want to wrap my Christmas presents before anyone noses around my luggage, so I tiptoe downstairs to where Mum keeps the recycled Christmas wrappers and tiptoe up to my room again. The Muslim prayers come on at ten to six. This means I beat the imam out of bed this morning. The whole neighbourhood is treated to his public scripture-reading, five times a day. Sometimes when I’m in Manchester, I actually do miss it.
Grandfather is the only one awake at this ungodly hour. I watch him potter around, sweep the back porch, cigar in mouth. He watches me have Nescafé with milk from a carton and cream crackers, and he pities me. There is no way he is going to watch me eat that for breakfast. He offers to buy me hokkien mee (prawn noodles). I say yes because I don’t want to offend him. I would never have hokkien mee for breakfast. But he gets on his motorbike and gets ready to go into town, and it’s too late to say no. He is home 30 minutes later, and I tell him I will eat it in a while. I microwave them, and they don’t taste too bad at all.
Milk in Malaysia; ruins my morning cup of Nescafé
but FRESH! it says on the carton
Rat runs through the Dragon
It’s ten past five, and I’m shopping at Queensbay. I am so jetlagged I cannot decide which facial products I want. Mum and Sis take me to Dragon-i, one of the best Shanghainese cuisine in the country. I will always remember Dragon-i as the restaurant which ruined my flatmate’s engagement proposal, rather than its famous xiao long bao (pork dumplings) or dan dan mian (Szechuan noodles). D was about to propose to my flatmate when a rat came scurrying underneath their table, ruining the moment. A waitress comes out and tells all the customers there is no matter. D had to propose elsewhere in the end, but I maintain Dragon-i is still the best Shanghainese cuisine in the whole of the country, rat or no rat.
Chefs at Dragon-i making dan dan noodles
M for Monkey
But my dinner is swiftly interrupted by M, a childhood friend who appears suddenly and sits himself next to me on the table. M had arranged with Sis to come and surprise me. How sweet! Except, M is an archenemy from primary school. M is a childhood bully from the neighbourhood. He lives on the street behind me, and we took the same bus to school for years. Him and his mates called me Pink Panther and wantan mee (wonton noodles), and they wouldn’t let me sit throughout the journey home. I would run home and cry to Grandfather everyday after school. A bullying victim at age seven, here I am, face to face with my perpetrator. This is the final showdown and I am out to get one last revenge.
He calls me Pinky, I call him Monkey. But M no longer looks the part. His pale skin and chiselled face reminds me of Edward Furlong from Terminator 2. He looks happy to be here, but I know he is tired from work. Monkey is smartly dressed, his hair combed back, now a manager at an international logistics company, and about twice his weight since I last remembered.
“Haven’t you been stressed at work?” I ask, assuming it leads to weight loss.
“Yes,” he says. “That’s how I put on the weight.”
M has always been full of ambition, climbing his way up the corporate ladder since leaving high school, at a time when I couldn’t even get pass O Levels. I think about M a lot and wonder if he has any remorse for what he did to me, shattering my self-confidence as a child and making me hate boys up until we were reacquainted in high school.
We met again by accident in a chat room on mIRC. I was 12 and he was 14. M was by then a motorcycle-riding helmet-wielding teenager, in with the most popular boys in a popular mixed school. I was still attending a Convent, just about to come off my dark blue pinafore. Despite the reacquaintance, our relationship was hindered by the bitterness of childhood bullying. M is the epitome of a love-hate relationship for anyone, but I think the former trumps, because I am now a Christian.
We talk about our sisters, going clubbing and his current job. M and Sis are laughing about how much I want to go to BJ and how I don’t remember Cyberjacks. Which planet do you come from, he is thinking. “It’s like saying you want to go to GAMA!” he spits. We laugh so much it is impossible to finish my mango sago pudding in an orderly fashion.
He tells me how much he hates New Moon. “A group of girls in the row behind me were screaming when Jacob took off his shirt,” he recounts. He is not a fan of giggly teenage girls. “Worse, they were kicking my chair.” He is disgusted. “I had to turn around and tell them to stop,” he finishes. I dare not tell him I’m in love with Robert Pattinson. Luckily, he changes the subject.
“Where’s your British accent?” he asks.
“Oh,” I do my best Queen’s impression, complete with a royal wave. “I haven’t got one.”
“Bloody hell,” he says. “My friends come back from Australia after six months and they’ve got an Aussie twang. I’m like, please stop it, man.” I laugh even harder because he’s just too funny.
He gets up to leave because he’s watching 2012 with his mates.
“Haven’t you seen it yet?” Sis asks him.
“Round two,” he replies. “I don’t mind, it’s a good film.”
He says we’ll do something next weekend. I’ll insist I want to watch New Moon.