#21: Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah: Reloaded

Once upon a time long before renowned physicist Richard Feynman first discussed the concepts of what later became nanotechnology in 1959,[1] there lived two sisters in a remote village.

The elder sister was named Bawang Putih, Malay for garlic, and the younger sister was named Bawang Merah, which is Malay for shallot.

Every day, they would help their mum at the…

Oh, never mind.

The readers should really just read ‘Cinderella’ and be done with it, because it’s basically the same story but with a better name for its main character.

The End (of this book).

[1] ‘There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom’ (1959). Feynman described the possibility of synthesis via direct manipulation of atoms. Apparently.

#21: Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah: Reloaded

#20: Raja Bersiong: Reloaded

Long before the fall of Berlin Wall,[1] there lived a king who became famous for his penchant for fine dining with a slight twist.

One Sunday morning, the king got up from his bed after a delicious lie-in while listening to Red Dragon FM,[2] and ordered the kitchen staff to prepare a gorgeous serving of ratatouille for brunch.

In his haste to prepare the King’s dish, the chef, whom we shall call Steve Bruce, accidentally cut his finger, causing blood to drip into the food. Pressed for time and unable to prepare another dish, Steve Bruce quickly plated the ratatouille in the most appetizing way he could and watched in trepidation as the King savoured the dish.

“Marvellous! This ratatouille is absolutely sensational!” remarked the elated king. “I want exactly the same dish tomorrow,” he told the Steve Bruce.

The next day, Steve Bruce duly prepared the meal, but when the king took a mouthful, he frowned and summoned Steve Bruce immediately.

“What is this? I wanted the same dish as yesterday. How come it is not as tasty?” There’s in consistency in its taste, you are not elevating the meal sufficiently, and it’s lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Compared to yesterday’s splendid fare, today’s dish is just vile!” the king ranted.

The cook stammered and promptly rushed out of his kitchen another dish of the same ingredients, prepared to perfection.

Or so he thought.

The King took a spoonful, and swiftly spat it out. “I want the same dish as yesterday! Not similar, not comparable and certainly not almost-identical. I want exactly the same dish!” he roared.

Thoroughly scared and soiling his pants slightly, Steve Bruce – who was rumoured to have cut his teeth in the culinary world as a Sous Chef at London’s Gymkhana[3] before being appointed Executive Chef at the castle – broke down and confessed that the other day he had cut his hand and a drop of blood was mixed with the food.

Expecting the worst of fate to befall him, the cook was surprised when the King ordered that from that day forth blood be added to his meal each time food was prepared. He also decreed that human blood – and he wasn’t too fussed if it was Group A, B, AB or O – was to be made available from his subjects.

So the king indulged in his gastronomic delights for months on end, with blood extracted from his people and added to his favourite dishes.

Conveniently enough for the purpose of this story, the king soon sprouted fangs, and became known as Raja Bersiong.[4] He continued with his addiction, and after a while, his behavior was becoming a bit dodgy. The whole became compulsive and – if reports on CNN are to be believed – was beginning to interfere with his health.

Prisoners were executed for blood, which was initially thought to be a neat solution to the prison overcrowding issue. However, this was criticised as being inhumane and drew a lot of flak from international NGOs.

Obviously the ordinary people were also expected to do their bit, and they were becoming increasingly testy as no men, women and children were spared. Some of them started to flee country, gave up their citizenship and sought asylum in the USA – and these people didn’t even write naughty blogs!

Soon, conscription or drafting system was installed, and compulsory enlistment of people for blood donation was gazette as national service. Except there was no war to fight.

His subjects were at first fearful and endured this dreadful ordeal. However, as more and more people lose their blood without being compensated properly, they started plotting to turn against the king in defiance.

In the middle of this troublesome period, Steve Bruce – the chef, in case you have forgotten about him – was feeling a bit guilty as he watched the atrocities unfold. He knew that he must do something quick before more people ended up being tortured for blood or worse, die.

He came up with a cunning plan to spike the king’s next meal and procured some particularly potent poison at the market. One day, when the king and his advisors were out for a charity golf event, Steve Bruce cooked the king’s favourite Kolhapuri Chicken Curry and the equally formidable Murgh Makhanwala, and put in some poison in the dishes.

When the King arrived back at the castle – elated after having improved his handicap – he immediately asked for lunch to be served.

To make the story more interesting, a bumbling waiting staff carrying the dishes tripped over the king’s favourite cat, a shortsighted Australian Mist fondly known as ‘Ronaldo’. He fell over and spilled the dishes already fortified with a cocktail of exotic pesticides. The murder attempt was thwarted by the incompetence of the chef’s own staff.

Unfortunately, Ronaldo ate the spilled curry dishes and instantly gave up the ghost, as if he was hit by the Avada Kedavra spell by Lord Voldemort.

The king immediately figured out that the food was poisoned and the chef was trying to kill him. The king ordered the chef to be executed at once, and naturally, his blood was used as a key ingredient in the next toasted fermented corn brioche with burnt leeks and slow-poached duck egg prepared by the kitchen.

The people were not amused and finally had enough of the king’s antics. They decided to never again live in fear and stood up against the king.

Inspired by the Arab Spring, the people demanded their very own version of glasnost and Perestroika, which they felt would liberate the scared and scarred people. Led by a former union activist, the mob staged a coup, armed with nothing more than chopsticks and some foreign coins. Evidently, this was enough to worry the king. Fearing for his life, he fled the country, moved to France and changed his name to Louis de Pointe du Lac.

No one really knew what happened to him after that, until he made a high profile cameo appearance in the mid 90s, in an American romantic horror film, ‘Interview with a Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles’, using a new pseudonym, Brad Pitt.

After a string of moderate success in the local theatre productions, he was rumoured to have been contracted to make a guest appearance in one of the Harry Potter movies. He eventually declined, after fracturing his ribs in a rugby match, and was apparently replaced by his cousin, Professor Snape.

The (abrupt) End.

[1] In fact, this was long before there ever was a Berlin Wall.
[2] Former incarnation of South Wales’ No. 1 Hit Music Station, Capital FM, which broadcasts to Cardiff, Newport and the surrounding areas from studios in Cardiff Bay.
[3] Try the Fried South Indian chicken wings and the tandoori-seared guinea fowl breast for a bedazzling gastronomic experience. Don’t expect your usual nasi daun pisang fare.
[4] Literally, ‘Fanged Monarch’.

#20: Raja Bersiong: Reloaded

#19: Si Tanggang: Reloaded

Tanggang lived with his mother in a dilapidated wooden house, after his father was eaten alive by an ill-tempered tiger. They were so poor that Tanggang had to drop out of high school, and that put paid to his ambitions to become a world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon.

Tanggang was very close to my mother and he could see how much his mother had sacrificed to give him a comfortable life. He promised himself that he would one day get a good job to improve their lot in life. He swore that he would take care of his mother without employing a foreign maid.

One day, a ship arrived from a distant land and cast its anchor off the beach near where Tanggang lived. As luck would have it, the crew held, among other things, a recruitment drive for suitable candidates aged sixteen and above, regardless of previous qualifications and work experience, to join the ship as an apprentice.

Having read the brochure, Tanggang figured that this was the opportunity he’s been waiting for. He could graduate with a Diploma in Marine Engineering and, more importantly, get the hell out of the depressing village.

He begged his mother to allow him to join the crew to sail and seek his fortune and a better life. Despite her misgivings and initial objection, Tanggang’s mother finally relented and tearfully gave her blessings and prayed for his safe return.

Years passed and there was not a single word from Tanggang. There was not even a postcard, and his mother could only assume that Tanggang was having a good time in some white, sandy beaches, and enjoying a spot of Western decadence, debauchery and hedonism in general.

The truth was much simpler, less immoderate and certainly less lecherous than his prolonged absence may have suggested. Tanggang was actually busy working on the ship as apprentice.

He started as a rigger and moved on to become a bosun, and finally a marine engineer after he completed the requisite on-the-job training in a shipbuilding discipline and specialised engineering work rotations.

Along the way, he fell in love with the ship captain’s daughter, Cheryl Cole, and married her. When his father-in-law was tragically eaten by an octopus in a water skiing accident, Tanggang took over the ship as the Skipper by a unanimous vote by his shipmates.

Several more years passed, and a ship cast its anchor at the same spot off the beach near Tanggang’s village. The crew did some trading with the locals, and words began to spread that the young Captain was, in fact, Tanggang, the village’s own long lost son.

Tanggang’s mother was elated to learn that the captain on the ship was none other than her beloved son who had been gone for many years. Overjoyed, she cooked and packed Tanggang’s favourite food, cek mek molek,[1] and she then rowed her sampan to the ship.

When the boat neared the ship, the crew informed the captain. Tanggang came to take a look, with Cheryl Cole by his side.

“Tanggang! This is your mother! I have missed you so much!”

Tanggang was discombobulated and mortified at the sight of his old mother. He was also feeling slightly guilty for not inviting her to his lavish wedding reception in Florida.

“Who is that, my dear?” asked Cheryl Cole.

Tanggang quickly regained his composure and responded, “Oh, she’s just an old woman probably trying to sell us an insurance policy.”

“Tanggang, don’t you recognise your own mother anymore? I have brought you your favourite cek mek molek,” his mother implored.

Embarrassed at being offered such pedestrian and fattening fare, Tanggang and barked, “How dare you call me ‘son’? My name is Louis Van Gaal and I don’t even know you. What do you want from me?”

“What did you just say, Tanggang? How could you forget your own mother?” his mother said in tears.

By this time, the mother is completely distraught and said, “You must be ashamed of me in my rags, now that you’ve hit the big time and you have a beautiful wife. Don’t you remember those years when I took care of you?”

“Go away, you impertinent old woman! Don’t you dare set food on my ship or I will punish you!” yelled Tanggang.

“Are you sure that’s not your mother?” asked a rather nonplussed Cheryl Cole.

“I’m pretty sure she’s not. I’m half-Korean, and she doesn’t even look remotely Korean,” retorted Tanggang.

Now thoroughly humiliated and utterly crushed, Tanggang’s mother slowly rowed her sampan away from the ship, crying in silence.

As the ship was about to set sail the next day, Tanggang’s mother – now royally cheesed off with his attitude – whispered a quiet prayer to herself. “Oh God, please show my son how wrong he was to have hurt his mother like this.”

The sky promptly grew dark and the wind started to whip up a perfect storm. Tanggang’s ship got a real shellacking from the furious vortex and soon capsized. The ship, the entire crew and Cheryl Cole turned to stone.

Tanggang howled in repentance, “Forgive me, Mother, for I have sinned!”

But it was all too late, and Tanggang turned into a 65” Samsung Curved Smart TV, and his mother got to watch Korean drama to her heart’s content.

Which wass brilliant, because arguably, turning Tanggang into stone would have been a waste of a perfectly good curse.

[1] A local delicacy made from sweet potato with sugar filling, deep-fried for that delicious taste and extra calories.

#19: Si Tanggang: Reloaded

#18: Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup: Reloaded

Many years before the 1920s Great Depression, a widow and her two children lived on the fringes of a jungle and remained below poverty line for ages.

She worked three jobs and every day, the resourceful and multi-skilled widow would start with catching fish at a nearby river. She would leave her two children at home by themselves, with her daughter babysitting her younger brother with the aid of an iPad and an obscure video game called ‘Angry Bird’.

One night, she had a weird dream of a school of dolphins in thongs doing synchronised swimming in the nearby river. This was particularly bizzare because synchronised swimming did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1984 Summer Games.

Anyway, she woke up the next morning with a desperate craving for the roe of a tembakul fish.[1] She immediately set out to catch a tembakul fish with roe and spent days on end scouring the river, but alas, to no avail.

One fine morning – it was the first Thursday after Thanksgiving – her net finally found the desired catch. She was understandably ecstatic beyond words. She brought home the fish, cooked asam pedas ikan tembakul, and left it in a basket suspended high above the floor.

Before going out to start her second job of the day, she left a message on a Post-It Note to her daughter, which said, “You and your brother can eat the fish, but leave the roe for me.”

An hour after their mother left the house, the son woke up hungry and cried for food. Her sister gave him some rice, a small portion of tembakul fish and some of the roe.

It was such a delicious fare that the younger brother cried for more. The sister obliged and pulled the basket down, when suddenly the boy seized all the roe and dashed off, eating it all in a corner of the house.

The sister was horrified, terrified, mortified by what had happened. Knowing that they were now in neck-deep trouble, she decided to fry some fish fingers as replacement for the roe.

Later that day, the widow came home and asked her daughter to bring her some rice and roe. When – quite inevitably – only fish and fish fingers were served, she asked for the roe. Her daughter had no choice but to tell her that the little brother had eaten it all.

Needless to say, she was crestfallen and exceedingly distraught.

“I told you to keep the roe but you let your silly brother eat it all! Obviously you don’t you love me despite everything that I have done for both of you,” the widow said somewhat melodramatically.

Completely exhausted, the widow went to sleep in tears and had yet another vivid, weird dream. In this dream, she saw peacocks running in slow motion and then she saw a huge rock, gaping and yawning, calling her name.

She woke up dazed and confused, as she initially couldn’t figure out how the dream she just had echoed and amplified the things that were going on in her waking life, as well as the attendant stresses and upheavals.

Suddenly, she heard a voice inside her head[2] telling her to go to the huge rock, so the widow bolted out of the house, still in a trance of sorts.

The daughter woke up with a start upon hearing her mother footsteps. She woke her brother up and they went in frenzied pursuit of their mother.

While running towards the rock, the widow cried:

“Batu belah batu bertangkup,
Ambil aku, telan aku,
Aku kempunan telur ikan tembakul.”

 Which can be loosely translated thus:

“Split rock, conjoined rock,
Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,[3]
For I crave the roe of ikan tembakul so much.”

The widow kept running faster and faster towards the gaping rock, chanting the same refrain. Upon reaching the rock, she looked back for the last time at her beloved pursuers, and dashed into the rock’s cavernous maw.

The rock devoured the widow like a voracious, gigantic animal and was burping incessantly by the time the two hapless children arrived, betraying the gruesome and gory end to their mother.

Consumed by regret, the daughter vowed to never make the same mistake ever again, and the episode put her off caviar for the rest of her life.

As for the younger brother, he continued to be haunted by a weird dream of him swimming in the Caspian Sea, shouting “Beluga caviar for sale!” for the rest of his life.

[1] Mudskippers, according to Google Translate.
[2] Never a good thing.
[3] This sounds suspiciously like a U2 song.

#18: Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup: Reloaded

#17: Singapura Dilanggar Todak: Reloaded

Temasek, the old Singapore, was home to a gifted 10-year-old named Hang Nadim. Even at a very young age, he was known to be a bit of an intellectual with a keen grasp of mathematical concepts and a penchant for advanced physics theorem.

He was probably the most sought after person whenever the island had a seemingly intractable problem that needed solving — water, sand, gambling, town planning — but more of the wee lad later.

One day, disaster hit Temasek. Schools of horny — and not to mention deadly — ikan todak, or swordfish, started to attack the island at the end of the mating season like Chelsea FC supporters going on a rampage during an Asian Tour.

Quite inexplicably, they jumped out of the water, spearing and killing Singaporean passport holders, expatriates, and naturalised foreign football players. Their unruly behaviour[1] created havoc all over the island.

People who came to witness the phenomenon soon tried to flee the beach, but many ended up getting lanced by the ikan todak. It was an absolute carnage, and the death toll soon rose. The chief lifeguard on duty, David Hasselhoff, had no choice but to alert the King of Temasek of the todak onslaught.

The King hopped on his elephant, which was equipped with a brand new naturally aspirated 5.5-litre V8 engine, and reached the beach in no time with his entourage.

The mayhem and the scale of the catastrophe were plain to see. There were dead bodies everywhere at the water’s edge, and the King knew he had to act fast.

Upon consultation with a group of management consultants, the King promptly instructed the rakyat to line up along the sandy shore with a parang, or machete, in hand. “Use your body as shield, and use the parang to chop the todak,” he ordered.

It didn’t sound like a good idea then and — let’s be perfectly honest here — it still sounds like a pretty dumb idea today. Alas, the rakyat had no other choice but to do as told.[2]

Needless to say, the effort came to nought. The barricade of men did little to stem the tide, and resulted only in further loss of lives mainly attributable to massive loss of blood, sepsis and men accidentally stabbing each other while trying to hack the todak.

The dead bodies began to pile up, and even those who were not speared by the todak were also rolling all over the place, feigning injury like their national football team.

Everyone was beginning to freak out as things looked increasingly bleak and hopeless. It was very confusing and incomprehensible, not unlike the lyrics to Selena Gomez’s songs.

The King was at his wits’ end, and he was desperate to salvage the situation. The calamity was obviously bad for the country’s reputation, bad for business, bad for investors’ confidence, and, of course, bad for voters.

The King was at the point of fleeing, when someone suggested that he should consult Hang Nadim, the boy genius. Hang Nadim was hastily brought to the palace to deliberate the strategic options to combat the todak blitzkrieg.

After listening intently to the client’s brief, Hang Nadim gave a seven-page Powerpoint presentation to the King and outlined a remarkably simple plan to save Temasek from the deadly todak attacks: fortify the beachline by erecting a barricade of banana tree trunks. This would neutralise the todak threat and spare the people from being skewered like kebabs.

The King’s advisers were sceptical and vehemently protested, but were told off by the King.

“We have nothing to lose by listening to this boy, but everything to gain if it works. Get it done, be proactive, work with a clear end in mind, synergise and think win-win!” barked the King.

“I know I may sound like a management consultant now but it is absolutely imperative that we combine our strengths and genuinely strive for a mutually beneficial and sustainable solution.”

The entire population set upon the task of cutting down banana trees, and it was a good thing too that Temasek was a major banana producing country. It was a weekend, so everyone was pretty happy to work since they were paid overtime at triple the usual daily rate. They hauled the trunks to the shore and before nightfall, the entire island was buttressed by row upon row of banana tree trunks.

The King’s advisers again derided the whole thing, saying that Temasek would gain no real benefit from the move. This was, of course, mere conjecture on their part, but hey, they were older and had a lot more facial hair, so they must have thought that that was enough reason for their bellyaching.

The next day, everyone including the King rushed to the shores to check if their plan had worked. Lo and behold, there were literally thousands of struggling todaks with their snouts stuck in the banana tree trunks, trying to wiggle themselves free. The jubilant crowd chopped off the swordfish and Temasek was once again peaceful.

Hang Nadim was heralded a hero and was rewarded handsomely by the grateful King. The lad was conferred a Datukship,[3] appointed a board member of the country’s investment arm, and became lead consultant to the Temasek ruler with comprehensive medical benefits.

The King’s advisers were fuming with rage that Hang Nadim was being feted and honoured by their boss, given an expanded job description and a plump performance bonus. They obviously envied the boy’s intelligence and popularity among the girls, so they vowed to make the King turn against the boy. As you can see, dear readers, fury, jealousy and incompetence are never a good combo.

They whispered into the King’s ear, “If Hang Nadim can think up such a scheme at such a young age, what kind of a threat would he pose to the palace when he grows up? Your Highness, genius and ambition are a dangerous combination.”

This obviously got the King all riled up and worried about his future.

“You are quite right,” the King said. “What if the boy turns Temasek into a republic? Supreme control over the government shall no longer be granted through heritage, and the monarchy — constitutional or otherwise — becomes a relic. This is Temasek. I cannot allow that to happen.”

To make this story slightly longer, the King continued, “What if this boy gangs up with other English-educated middle-class professionals, forms some kind of people action political party, suppresses free speech and other civil liberties, and becomes prime minister? Clearly, this boy cannot be allowed to live.”

Hang Nadim was immediately summoned to the palace, stripped of his Datukship, and swiftly sentenced to death with no real legal remedy made available. He attempted to bring the matter to court but it didn’t really get anywhere, because unlike this day and age of judicial independence, corrupt judges controlled the courts of law in those dark days.

Thus Hang Nadim the boy genius was executed for being too smart, and for fear that he might grow up ambitious and hungry for power. He was lined up against a wall, pelted with rotten potatoes, and finally executed with a keris.

Naturally, the insecure palace advisers were dead chuffed, as they looked forward to many more years of festering mediocrity. The whole episode is believed to be one of the earliest documented history of office politics as we know it today.

Temasek did not remain peaceful for long, as the todak made an even more deadly return soon after, descending on the island and harpooning the King, his advisers and all his subjects.

It was a dark period in Temasek’s history, where the people were stripped of their sense of humour, an affliction that remains among the people of the land until today.

This particular chapter was not one without a happy outcome. As a result of the whole banana tree trunk defence, there were banana leaves scattered all over the island. This triggered a lucrative export business when a Malayan entrepreneur began to import the leaves into the Federated Malay States and started a Kassim Nasi Daun Pisang outlet near Brickfields.

The franchise thrived over the years until the area was torn down to make way for the construction of KL Sentral and all the posh condos.

Well, that’s development for you.

[1] The ikan todak, not the expatriates.
[2] Maybe they should have ordered management consultants to line up on the shores so that they could all be speared to death by the todak.
[3] Similar to what Jackie Chan got.

#17: Singapura Dilanggar Todak: Reloaded

#16: The Lion, The Fox and The Ass: Reloaded (Part 3 of The Donkey Trilogy)

One day, the Lion, the Fox and the Ass went on a hunting trip and agreed to work collaboratively and to assist each other. It was Boxing Day and with so many animals still suffering from their Christmas dinner hangover, they managed to secure a large booty.

Once they reached home, the Lion – always the gang leader – asked the Ass to divide the loot and allot each of the partners his due portion.

The Ass wasn’t exactly a genius in these things,[1] so he used his rudimentary skills in mathematics to carefully divide the day’s catch into three equal shares. He then modestly invited the two others to make the first choice.

The Lion duly responded by devouring the Ass in record time, an act of brutality that shook the watching Fox to the core.

The Lion then delegated the task of dividing the spoils to the Fox. The Fox accumulated all that they had killed into one large heap and left to himself smallest possible morsel: a mingy hare in his late 30s and a self-conscious squirrel who graduated from Cambridge University.

The Lion was thoroughly (if not sincerely) impressed and asked, “Who taught you, my very excellent fellow, the art of division?”

The Fox replied, “I learned it from the Ass, by witnessing his fate.”

Apparently the moral of the story is, it is always wise to learn from the misfortunes of others, and I guess that’s pretty obvious.

But the main thing is the Lion ate the Ass, and we are quite happy to leave it at that.

The End.

[1] Actually, the Ass wasn’t a genius, full stop.

#16: The Lion, The Fox and The Ass: Reloaded (Part 3 of The Donkey Trilogy)