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A local story of the 60s/70s

 
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redbean



Joined: 07 Mar 2006
Posts: 11606
Location: singapore

PostPosted: Sun Dec 23, 2012 8:17 am    Post subject: A local story of the 60s/70s Reply with quote

Let me deviate from the norms of my Sunday postings and write something about life in a different time not too long ago. I am not sure how many parts I could write but this is the first introduction of Morgan's rite of passage into 'Jiang Hu", 走江湖.

The story of Morgan 白面浪子

He was very strongly built. His arms were twice the size of his contemporaries. This physical blessing came from a time when babies were fed with Milkmaid or Blue Cross condensed milk. The poorer brands were Lady General or something else. Morgan was luckier. Born a few years after the war, poverty was the norm everywhere. People were jobless or on call as odd job labourers, waiting in the kopitiam or ‘koolie keng’, a place where the coolies called home where all each had was a bed. The rest were common areas. Landing a full time job was a great contentment. Morgan had the good fortune of being breast fed. Mother was an illiterate immigrant from China, with bound feet and not the type suitable for labour intensive work. Breastfeeding a baby was not as easy as it looked. The mother must have at least decent meals to nourish the baby with enough healthy milk.

When Morgan arrived, the family fortune improved in a strange way. Mother was a ‘chap jee ki’ runner, collecting the bets for the syndicate. After a while she saw the trend. Most bets were losers. She took the risk by not submitting all the bets and pocketed the balance. With more spare cash, she started to plough some into bets of her own. And lady luck was kind. Enough food, lesser worries, Morgan was the ultimate beneficiary of the good fortune. He grew up a happy and boisterous child, fair and unusually sturdy. He was the apple of his mother. And the breastfeeding continued till he was 5 or 6 years old.

Morgan was in a way allowed to do as he pleased. From young he could tell Mother that he was not interested in schooling. And that was it. It was accepted and no pressure was put on him to walk the extra mile to do better in his studies. There was no tuition and no need for tuition. The hope was pinned on his elder brother to do well in school. The father passed away in a traffic accident when Morgan was only 8. His last few words, the brother could do well in school, and as for Morgan nothing was mentioned. It was kind of fatalistic, or the ability to assess the potential of the children and accept their fate. No need high education to know that. A child’s potential was well written before his teens.

The brother’s report card was all blue. That was a great credit and a great pride when the whole neighbourhood’s children were mostly a colourful mix of red and blue. Morgan was one of the statistics. As he advanced from Primary 1 to Primary 6 in Radin Mas, the number of blue marks got lesser while the reds got more. In his last few years in primary school, it was nearly all red. That was his life, his destiny. Mother did not go hysterical and rushed him for tuition classes. A young nonya girl a few doors away was giving tuition. She only completed Secondary Two and was good enough for the job where the rest were unschooled. Maybe money was also a problem by then when the coolie Father was gone. The selling of little satchets of opium as a side income was also sold.

The good part about the educational system then was that one could either get promoted to the next level or be advanced, ie failed but still moved up to the next grade. Morgan was posted to a new neighbourhood school in Queestown, Newtown Secondary School, probably without passing his PSLE. The only thing that he excelled in school was ECA, the official and the unofficial kind. ECA did not carry any weight in a child’s school performance and was incidental, something that was just part and parcel of school. His athletic built and prowess made him a champion in field events where might was an asset. For that, the school was kinder to him and did not really put him under a short lease. He was mischievous but did not get overboard. The disciplinary master, a black belt judoka, the father of a future national swimmer, was watching and assessing Morgan’s every move. Many boys that crossed Morgan’s path were chased and beaten outside the school. Often they were chased all over the school’s neighbourhood and up into the flats across the road. Morgan did not do the chasing. Neither did his sidekicks in the same school. He would call on his support from nearby schools to do the hunt. That kept him from trouble with the school.

He was not entirely an angel though. In the science lab and a lesson in biology, the science teacher was doing a dissecting on the table. The eager students were gathered closely to watch the demo. Many were good students and still wanting to study and do well, unlike Morgan. There was no purpose in him being in school. He was bidding his time and waiting for destiny to unfold, to take him on a path he had to travel. It was he and his life and his life to deal with.

‘Kock’, a loud noise was heard. In full concentration and the quiet of the lab, the knock was a sudden interruption. Everyone lifted their heads wondering what happened. The male teacher also stopped what he was doing. He lifted his hand and started to rub the back of his head. No one said a word. The teacher did not ask either. Then it was back to business. The lesson continued. Teaching in new integrated schools had their little risks and challenges.
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redbean



Joined: 07 Mar 2006
Posts: 11606
Location: singapore

PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2013 8:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

School days over for Morgan.

There was no room for advancement to Pre University level. At 16, he was to enter the world of working adults. He should count himself lucky. Many of his childhood friends had been working in the kopitiams after PSLE. That was quite a normal route of progress at a time when living was casual and natural. There was no grief or pain for becoming a kopi kia and doing odd job as labourers.

Morgan already had his offer, as a bouncer in a bar in some corners of Balestier Road. He was big and strong enough for the job. There was no need for any application to write. He was handpicked or head hunted by one of the triad boss that he met while frequenting the bars.

Though Morgan’s highest standard passed was not even PSLE but completed Secondary 4, he turned down the bouncer’s offer. He was to lead a team of salesmen to distribute Van Houten and Nestle products. The father of his brother in law happened to be one of the Three Oxes of Tanglin. The ward of Tanglin was shared by these three seniors of the area. They were the bosses that operated the underground trades, bars, gambling, prostitution, etc etc. The job offered to Morgan was like godsend. How many who failed the Senior Cambridge Examination could enjoy such good fortunes of landing two jobs on their lap, without lifting a finger to write an application letter?

The supervisor job came with a decent income and a mini van as his personal vehicle. Life was good for a 16 year old. And life began at night, in the bars of Balestier, Jalan Besar and Geylang. Drinking and smoking and merry making with his salesmen and new found friends every night was Morgan’s routine. Daylight was spent in his office in a prewar house in Kuok Road that served also as a warehouse for his sweets, chocolate and confectionary goods.

Kuok Road was a busy street especially during lunch hours. Traffic was heavy as it was a favourite haunt for food in one of the lanes behind the old Orchard Wet Market, the present Robinson Shopping Centre. Morgan’s first encounter with the power of the triad bosses came when one of his salesmen reported his goods being stolen from his van. The vans were normally parked along side the shophouses for loading and unloading. Apparently someone found the unattended vans easy target. It was a short distance from the warehouse. It would take a couple of minutes for moving the goods in and out of the warehouse. This was good enough to walk by to lift a few boxes of free chocolates or merchandise.

The matter was raise with his father in law. A stakeout was arranged. The loading and unloading went on as usual. The thief struck but was bundled into a waiting van by a few men in double quick time. He was never seen or heard of again. With such powerful friends in the background, life was easy for Morgan. He spent his free time inside the warehouse practising his nanchaku, made famous by Bruce Lee.

Lunch time was noisy and busy in Kuok Lane. One such routine afternoon was interrupted by the shouting of Ah Siong’s voice. Ah Siong was a childhood friend of Morgan and share the same academic achievements with flying colours. Morgan roped him in as a salesman. Morgan went out to check the commotion. Ah Siong’s van was in the middle of the road and a Datsun was in a parking lot he was attempting to back into. Apparently the Datsun driver drove head on into the slot while Ah Siong was attempting to reverse into it. Ah Siong was there first and he related the incident to Morgan. ‘Get out’, Morgan pointed to the driver. This was ignored and the driver walked off. He was stopped by Morgan who told him in a harsher tone, ‘Get out or else…’

By then the driver too was getting agitated. He waved a card at Morgan and shouted that he was a police officer. Morgan was not to be intimidated and snatched at the card. The plain clothed police officer withdrew his card swiftly. Morgan moved in at great speed, a skill he learnt while being a national fencer. It was followed by a lightning punch that connected the officer’s jaw. He spun around, dropped and hit the road. Before Morgan could make further attacks, he heard the slamming of doors of another car behind him. Out came several police officers in plain clothes.

The officers were there for lunch and were furious that Morgan attacked one of them. One stretched out to grab Morgan, wanting to drag him into their car. This was blocked by Morgan’s oversized arm and the officer gave an ‘ouch’ cry as his arm was thrown off. While the officers kept threatening Morgan to go with them, Morgan coolly swaggered into his office, lighting a cigarette along the way. Then he warned the officers not to step into his office. He told the officers to send a marked police car if they wanted him to go to the station.

A moment of truce and silence took over from the noisy shouting and threatening voices. The crowd gathered to watch the excitement. Ah Siong and the other drivers also retreated into the warehouse. All of them were shivering in their pants and wondering how the matter would turn into. It was a serious matter to strike at a police officer. They were more frightened when the police car came to whisk Morgan away. They could only think of the worst. The police of the time were noted for being tough with the criminals and the triad members. Entering a police station, in the hands of the law, getting manhandled and rough up were the normal courtesy extended to their uninvited visitors. In this instance, Morgan was likely to be given a good bashing for his thoughtless attack on their comrade in arms. Beating a police officer was unheard of in those days, or even today. Morgan must have gone bonkers. It was senseless and reckless.

Morgan beating up a police officer was hot news. It went ‘viral’ and the whole underworld came to know about it. They laughed at the stupidity of this new kid in the block and expected Morgan to be taught a good lesson for it. At least, Morgan was famous in the wrong way, a notoriety in the underworld of triads and hoodlums.

Morgan sat waiting at a table in the backroom of Tanglin Police Station at the junction of Orchard Road and Scots Road where Ion now stood. Soon a tough and gangster looking officer came and plunged himself on the table in front of Morgan. He stared down at Morgan, slammed his palm onto the table. It was their way of shattering the light out of any wrong doers. Short of lifting Morgan up in the air to shake him out, this was the best he could do. At 18, Morgan was big and not an easy thing to lift even for a well built man.

Morgan was not impressed or startled. It was a test of grit and will. Seeing that his antics had no effect, the officer began unbutton his shirt. The tattoos flashed out from his chest. Morgan also unbuttoned his shirt, and there were tattoos as well. Morgan also had tattoos over his arms and back. His favourite was a man leaning on a lamp post with his head bowed. This was etched on his upper left arm. Four Chinese characters below the tattoo read ‘chiat pah tan si’, or ‘eat full wait die’.

The confrontation between the officer and Morgan were more verbal and posturing, with each trying to size up the other. Morgan was allowed to make a call. (To be continued)
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