Friends who turn around and wave farewell are some of the people you will never meet again…
Back in 1986, when Amazon was still a river to Singaporeans, I started smoking my pipe on Saturday mornings at a café at Wheelock Place. Friends started dropping by, bringing their pipes and cigars, and the genesis of a “club” began. We continued to meet there until space for us became a problem and at least five years ago, (perhaps much earlier, I cannot remember exactly when), we moved to another one of the café’s many outlets, this time at Orchard Point.
During those years, the “club” expanded to include a motley bunch of “members”:
The dear friend from Germany who visits a few times yearly. Highly-opinionated, yet highly entertaining.
A self-proclaimed professor with an oversized ego who could not divulge the source of his professorship – anyway, he found us too lowbrow and left shortly after.
The Jesus-lookalike who showed up only if he knew someone was going to buy lunch that day. This doppelgänger of Christ considers Japanese single malts “dross.”
The PhD with sticky fingers – things would disappear into his bag, nothing is too small or too big a target for him, entire bottles of wine have made their way into his bag.
The ungrateful Italian who was the recipient of our immense generosity but for some unknown reason, turned his back on us and stopped coming. One excuse was he would like to spend whatever free time he has with his son, as if his son would drop dead any moment.
The “politician” who allegedly backstabbed his boss (with the help of our very own Grima Wormtongue) and asked to be removed from the group. His boss sprang back, ever stronger, and hired his elder brother. Yeah, what the fuck, right? The same character then hired one of us to work for him.
Some things in this world, I can never understand. Lesson: don’t burn bridges unless you’re the type you pray “May the bridges I burn light my way.”
The grumpy French woman who will condemn Singapore the moment she sits down till she leaves. Yet she’s been living here for years, and is married to a Singapore man. Yeah, what the fuck again, right?
The medical professional who is a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist all at the same time, who, whenever he shows up, tells blasphemous jokes about religion, laughs at Muslims who observe Ramadan, denounces the Singapore government and tells stories denigrating women. Talk about being politically incorrect! He was advised not to come anymore.
The irritant who got on everyone’s nerves. He, as well, was advised not to ever show up again.
The annoying dumbass with zero EQ, but with Parkinson-like symptoms (and whose IQ is smaller than his shoe size) who would regale the group with explicit tales of his supposed sexual conquests that happened 40 years ago, not that anyone has ever indicated interest. This blowhard king stopped dropping by when he was approached by one of us for a donation to a charitable cause.
The somewhat eccentric multimillionaire who owns factories, drives a BM 7 series, lives in a house whose smallest toilet is bigger than my maisonette and is generous to a fault but would park a mile away to save on parking.
The perfectionist of a lawyer, who seems to return every other pipe he has bought, because of some real or imagined flaw or other.
The ex-cop who is never without his baseball cap.
There were and are of course other memorable characters than those I mentioned:
The old foul-mouthed German who retired and has gone back to his homeland.
The very well-liked youngish Chinese American who returned to the US.
The somewhat youngish, not as well-liked Chinese Canadian, a big talker and happy camper who spouts lots of funny crap, who has suddenly metamorphosed into a cigar merchant, though I’ve not seen a single stick of his cigar.
The handsome Dutch fellow with the film star demeanor who was posted to Malaysia.
The Irish boy with a great sense of humor who was transferred to Hong Kong.
The Canadian, a cycling enthusiast, who has decided to settle down in Thailand.
The wealthy private banker who had to quit smoking cigars or his wife will divorce him.
(He quit but she divorced him anyway.)
The Aussie who quit the hobby altogether. But seeing that he re-married his ex-wife, who knows, he may come back to this hobby again one day.
The affable Peranakan, connoisseur of all of life’s good stuff who can never remember the name of the tobacco he’s smoking. “I don’t know, I don’t know. Don’t ask me,” is his usual refrain. The word “himbo” (inspired by “bimbo”) comes to mind.
The IT guy from India who gave up pipe smoking because he had “bad luck with lighters.” He now smokes cigars. (Hmm, what does he use to light them?)
The black bodybuilder and part time model who can no longer make it on Saturday mornings because that’s when all his clients want him.
The well-loved Texan who passed away suddenly, rather tragically.
The much-loved woman member who also passed away suddenly and tragically.
There are quite a few other regulars from that place that are forever etched onto our collective memory:
The old man who would walk pass every Saturday morning since God knows when and scrutinize us but only started to say “hi” late last year. Phew.
Another old man who would walk by and glare at us while muttering to himself and grinning away like an idiot.
The well-endowed gal whose mighty assets would make Dolly Parton blush.
Some China guy who would look into the trash bin, uses a mini torch to peer into it and then retrieves whatever he fancies.
The Japanese chef who never fails to wave and greet us cheerfully as he makes his way to his restaurant with bags of produce.
The handicapped fellow in that motorized bike who would stopped to beg for cigarettes. None of us are cigarette smokers and so we have none to offer him. That didn’t prevent him from trying though. Hats off to his persistence.
The kind fellow who always move to another table so that our group members could all sit together.
The former bartender from Mandarin, another elderly gentleman, who would saunter by and tell us bad jokes and who would refuse to go away.
The dark-complexioned guy who has completely lost it and would appear each time in one of his many schizophrenic personas.
Employees from stores in nearby Centrepoint who won’t buy anything but would plonk themselves in the seats of the café and smoke and drop their filthy cigarette ashes all over the floor despite ashtrays on the tables.
An old ang moh guy with white hair who has been there ever since we were there – the world’s unfriendliest son of a bitch who would show up with a scowl and stare at everyone through his sunglasses. Imagine meeting every Saturday year after year and not a smile. I am not a gambling man, but I bet you this with my last cent: the day he smiles, Singapore will snow.
A younger ang moh with much the same behavior and attitude – spying at everyone through his sunglasses while pretending to be busy with his iPad.
The grouchy, old, anorexic and terribly-wrinkled ang moh woman who behaves as if she would open fire with a machine gun anytime to mow everyone down. Hatred emanates from her eyes, she has only disdain for everyone but herself.
The bag lady who struts by with her entire belongings in a supermarket trolley and who curses at anyone smoking a pipe or cigar.
The cheerful café staff nicknamed “Miss Awesome” because she would preface every sentence she uttered with “Awesome!” and end every sentence with “Awesome!” too.
The retards working at the other café next door who do nothing to tell unsuspecting customers that they have walked into the wrong establishment.
Singapore, being what it is, people already come and go all the time anyway.
But now, we have to say goodbye not just to the people but also to the place.
The café, from April 1st, will no longer be a suitable place for our gatherings.
And we have started to search for a new home.
They say goodbyes can be sad.
Well, not always.
I’m quite excited about our new home, actually.
A place does not define the club, its members do, right?
“Dawn will come even when the rooster is strangled.” – Kim Young-sam, one-time president of South Korea.