#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

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