Friday, October 2, 2009

TOA Cadet: Day 23

bout of randomness

hey there, little fella.
aren't you a little too young to be rifling through daddy's biker wardrobe?


You know that something is wrong when you start disliking your parents because they can go to sleep while you keep the night company finishing assignments. It starts becoming especially annoying when they start with the whole, "You should sleep more and rest your body," and the only thing that stops you from going on a rant of "I want to but I can't!" (insert expletives wherever appropriate) are those set of values slapped into you in your younger years that dictates no backtalking to parents (unless they're sassing your choice in clothes).

Today I woke up late and practically ran to class where everyone else is already settled in their seats, composed and hopefully, not staring at the clumsy latecomer. I barely sat my arse down when Lieutenant General WC reminded me, "Your WACOM", which led me hopping out of my seat, nearly tripping over the straps of my bag, and rushing to get my equipment in front of class.

It was the return trip that was horrifying. After getting my equipment and signing my name in the folder, I rushed back to my seat, tripping over the projector along the way and causing the cream screen to go rolling back up to the ceiling in a sharp snap. I remained still, wide-eyed, hand clasped over my mouth for several Mississippi seconds until the lieutenant general and General LCK assured me that no damage had been done.

Then as I pushed my chair forward, Cadet Edwin next to me tapped my shoulder to ask if I could lift my foot off his bag. The list of mortifying events just keep on going (albeit less significant to those I just mentioned).

Light and Mood Study class is almost always enjoyable with several inserts of humiliating self-deprecation on my part. Occasionally, Cadet Tricia jumps in on the fun as we lament on how much our work for the day sucked. Today was different in the sense that while in previous lessons, we had about two hours to finish one piece, we now had to do two pieces with 45 minutes allocated for each. Needless to say, there wasn't much time to walk around and chat.

Again, the general and the lieutenant general had to stop by my station several times to give me tips on how to improve my work. At one point, the lieutenant general even asked why I didn't like using special effects like the Color Dodge, to which I coloured and muttered that I forgot about that function.

I bumped into Cadet Zenji after class. I managed to introduce him to Cadet Aaron and Cadet Tricia, who nodded with a knowing smile when I said that he was one of the new recruits. It was usually obvious by the way the new recruits liked to wear their IDs around their necks. The more seasoned cadets usually chuck it into their knapsacks and simply heave said luggage at the digital sensors. On the outside, it usually looked like they were trying to attack the door.

Down the stairs and I was about to execute said attack when the new general beeped the door for us as he walked in. It was obvious he was new because we have never seen him around before this semester and the fact that he was a Westerner made him stand out amongst the tall, scrawny Chinese bunch that usually made up the squadron of generals around TOA.

According to the rumours, this new general was in charge of Typography for batch AD88-1 and a few of us mourned the fact that we will never have him lead us because frankly, he is hot. Even Cadet Aaron with the roving eye, says so. The motion is seconded by Cadet Tricia, much to Cadet Thomas' dismay. 

I learned later, during lunch, that the fit general is called Gabriel. For some reason though, I prefer to call him Nathan; in the same way that I still prefer calling Azman, Gandhi. We had lunch at Wong Kok, where we ran into Lieutenant Jen Thing with his friends, General Bryan and General CK with their friends, and General LCK with his girlfriends and wondered if Wong Kok was a hotspot for the generals.

Subsequently, I wondered where General Nathan (yes, I'm calling him that!) usually dined. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

TOA Cadet: Day 22

When I saw Cadet Yi Lin and the Singaporean standing outside the classroom, waiting for me, I had thought that I had finally pushed the Singaporean too far and that she had enlisted the help of our resident black-belt wushu warrior to make sure I never call her Singaporean again. But I'd been thinking too much again. They had merely been wanting to invite me to a newly-formed Bible Study group at Alex's place starting Saturday. Oh, happy day! I'd given up the fortune of Christian fellowship in TOA a while back and am happy to be proven wrong! 
This is to be celebrated with "kopi!"

The woman who has been taking care of me for over a decade now looked at me blankly. Not because she was a Hokkien speaker but more of the suddenness of my outburst! "Go! Get me coffee!" I said with delirious flourish as she laughed and called me a kopi kia (coffee child).


Feeling tremendously ill all of a sudden. Have taken a headache pill, a paracetamol, and no dinner, which was probably a bad idea, but now that the dishes are clear, it's a bad decision regretted too late.

Old Shinsengumi Ficcie

Something I wrote  long time ago and never finished. Reading it again, I cringe at some parts and wonder what in the world I had been thinking when I wrote that. Oh well, if you can't laugh at old works, then what can you?


It was a gloomy morning, cold with winter chill. Snow blanketed the wooden rooftops and the dirty streets of Mibu. Everyone everywhere sought warmth under shelter and in front of a fire. In the middle of the worst morning in this year's winter a lone female figure collapsed onto the snowy road. 

The melting snow seeped into her white yukata, turning it translucent against her bruised pale skin. Tears trailed from her eyes in hopeless despair and from the biting cold.

I am going to die, she though. Like a dog in the street. She was going to leave this world, nameless and unmourned.


Life's greatest pleasure lie in the simplest of things. That was what Shirokawa Fumiyoshi believed. He took his time enjoying a stick of dango under a paper umbrella, that had been set out in front of a tea shop to shield guests from the scorching summer sun. Only, the sun was hiding behind the clouds and it was still not yet summer. 

Winter remained in the bones of the old Mibu village. Passers-by running daily errands looked awkwardly at this stranger - this foreigner - who was calmly enjoying his snacks outside, unfazed by the teeth-shattering winds. 

Fumiyoshi finished the last of his snack and downed his green tea, which had been left out for so long it had gone ice-cold. He paid the owner and thanked him for the information about the girl, who had been found unconscious several mornings ago. 

"Poor girl, being captured by the Miburo and all that," the owner of the tea shop commented with a sigh. "She'd be better off dead. Who knows what those wolves have done to her by now." The owner saw Fumiyoshi twitch and frowned. "Are you alright? I told you eating outside during winter is stupid but you youngsters never listen to a word from the elderly."

"I assure you, I'm fine." He picked up his walking stick and donned his rice-planter hat. "I shall take my leave now."

Winters were not kind in Mibu. Although the worst of this year's winter has passed, it was still common to catch death in the outdoor chill. Many Mibu villagers, out on their own business, turned to stare as Fumiyoshi walked the streets in only two layers of clothing: his underclothes and the peasant robes he travelled in. By normal standards, he was two layers of clothing too short. 

It was obvious that this foreigner was made of something else; made of Aizu winters and hailstorms too many to remember, to be exact. Winter was always the cruelest of seasons because there was no way to hide from it if you were poor.

Such was the case with our current protagonist, who - for the first time in his life - was venturing outside Aizu. Given the opportunity and the money, Fumiyoshi would have preferred to see the shores of Hokkaido or visit the shrines in Edo, rather than come out all the way to a place like Mibu, where the people spoke differently and the spirit of the revolution was high.

Alas, he was not in Mibu for sight-seeing. That was just an added bonus. This little trip was using up his entire life's savings, which wasn't much to begin with, and he was already starting to wonder if it was all worth it.

Fumiyoshi entered a small trinket store and picked up a wooden sculpture of Shisa, about the size of his hand. As he pretended to examine it, he looked out the window at the large compound on the other side of the street.

There were two men stationed at the main entrance into the spacious compound. Both of them wore similar stoic expressions, a traditional Japanese topknot and sky-blue haori patterned with white mountains at the hem of the wide sleeves. Hanging from their hips was a dangerous-looking katana, accompanied by a shorter wakizashi.

Although the weapons were eye-catching, it was the haori which drew attention. Most haori in this period were dark in colour; deeper and richer if they were expensive, and duller for the cheaper ones. For haori to have such bright colours - like sky-blue - was quite unheard of, which was why it was perfect as a trademark.

The group of samurais hired by the protector of Kyoto to enforce the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate were very well known for their bright-coloured haori. Around Japan, they were known as the Shinsengumi - Newly Selected Corps - but here in Mibu, they were better known as the Miburo. The wolves of Mibu. It was their headquarters that lie opposite Old Man Matsumoto's trinket shop.

Several villagers that had engaged in small talk with Fumiyoshi mentioned screams of pain coming from the compound. At the moment, the headquarters was relatively silently, save for the telltale thwack of a bokken (wooden sword) as members trained inside.

Fumiyoshi regarded the compound with a wary eye and a sigh. At seventeen years, Shirokawa Fumiyoshi was feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders. Early in his childhood, there was comfort and love. But they had been followed by ill fortune after his father's death, leaving him dirt poor and virtually alone. 

And now, the only remaining member of his immediate family had been taken captive by a hostile group of sword-wielding men. 

If it had been up to him, he would've gladly left his sister to the Shinsengumi. Of all their years together, he never had a single good memory of his older sister. She always played favourites and was never considerate. Their parents had often warned her that she would end up in trouble if she continued on like that. 

True enough, she was promised to a rich merchant, who was violent with her. It wasn't long after the marriage that the selfish girl rebelled and ran away. In retrospect, from her being married to Merchant Yamashi to being captured by the Shinsengumi, Kasumi's prospects haven't improved much.

Fumiyoshi paid for the wooden Shisa and left the trinket shop. Although there was no love lost between him and Kasumi, he had told his dead father he would take care of his sister. Fumiyoshi scoffed at the idea now. He shouldn't have promised that delirious, dying man anything.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

TOA Cadet: Day 21

There is an Indian bookseller who often sets up shop, right in front of headquarters, displaying his goods on a simple plastic table and keeping his stock in cardboard boxes, either on the floor or in the back of his van. This man is from Basheer, the go-to provider for art books or books about art. 

The Indian man is tall and skinny, and I only ever purchase something from him one out of the twenty times (approx.) I peruse his merchandise. That number is significantly less than the times I see him onsite, meet him eye, wave a smile and then to my fellow cadets, I say amiably, "Look Gandhi is here."

To which, Cadet Aaron is oft to reply, "Gandhi is dead, dear."

The man's name is not, in fact, Gandhi. I did not know his name and rather as refer him to the ignominiously impersonal and long title of 'Indian art bookseller', I nicknamed him Gandhi, for the same reason I nicknamed his Chinese predecessor 'Ah Cheong'.

Today, I saw Gandhi outside headquarters again. Though his books are on the table, he was not peddling his goods to the man he was speaking with. I seemed to be interrupting a rather lively conversation as I stepped up and the other man, upon noticing me, stood back, offered his hand, and said, "It was nice to meet you, Azman."

And so, after four semesters of having known him as Gandhi, I finally learned his real name, which is surprisingly plainer that I had thought it would be. 

Monday, September 28, 2009

TOA Cadet: Day 20

When Lieutenant Zhuo You announced the topic for the week's assignment, Master and Slave, images of leather-sporting women and bondage comes to mind unbidden.