Meetings and Partings
I often talk about being lonely during those times and I was, but in truth, I did have friends – quite a few, in some cases. It wouldn’t be a very honest nor accurate autobiography if I didn’t tell you about at least a few of them. My loneliness was more due to the fact that I could not share my terrible home life or depression with anyone. But there were friends, and I was indeed happy to have them.
I had always been a lonely child, and finally I had more than just one or two friends. It was always me hanging out with C and C or Zhen Xun, but now I had a gang of my own. We would go out and talk about this game or that, or chat and eat at fast-food places and generally shoot the shit and hang out. It was a reprieve from the constant hell of home life. Not that the hell didn’t follow me around, but friends helped soften the blows somewhat, even if they didn’t know what was going on.
Many of them departed for greener pastures, and for years it pained me – much more than I knew or admitted. They went on to lead the lives that I thought that I should be living, but instead here I was, shackled to my family and its issues. Though I was angry and envious I didn’t begrudge any of them their successes. How could I? They were all dear friends of mine.
I loved them more deeply and truly than even I knew. I sought a deeper connection that some were able to return and some were not – because of their own pasts, or ages, or just because we didn’t click. Some of them I didn’t know even know that I was so close to, but I was.
So for better or worse here’s my rogue’s gallery.
I cannot talk about Wallace Heng without mentioning his windbreaker. He never went anywhere without it and never took it off – not in sunshine, in rain, in good weather or bad. Singapore is a pretty hot and humid place and he must have been pretty uncomfortable in there sometimes but he never EVER took it off.
He was probably the most cynical, bunched-up, constipated person I have ever met. A man (boy at that time) who fancied himself Sauron (or a dark lord of equivalent stature) but was actually Gollum.
It seems strange to say, given my less than salutary comments above, but for some time and in some ways he was quite a dear friend. He shared my love of fantasy novels, philosophy and JRPGs. He wrote fanfiction (his chosen field was Phantasy Star mainly) and as a writer he was in some ways not a bad one, but in others a complete and utter failure. He never really got why I was so into Evangelion (but then, at that time few did)
His dark side (which I think he tried to keep at bay with his windbreaker and failed) finally got the better of him. He had issues (who doesn’t have issues?) but I think the internal pressure built and built until it overcame him. His typical snide and condescending manner – which everyone who knew him somehow put up with – got worse and worse. It was when he started commenting about my sexual preferences that I had to cut him loose, and I did.
Chen Wenzong, a boy who was twelve and never stopped being twelve. Once again it sounds kind of mean to say but it’s true. He was actually around eighteen when we met but internally he was twelve and he remained stuck at that age for what seemed…forever.
We used to go over to his house to play and game and actually for a while it wasn’t that bad. He was the first person that I tried to talk to about my depression (I can’t fucking believe it…I really should have picked someone better) but all he said was that I seemed very lonely. Which wasn’t entirely untrue.
He never seemed to want to grow up. He did the same things in the same way all the time and eventually I got a bit bored of it. I mean, don’t you want to do new things? Get better and stronger? Learn and grow? Maybe he did (or he thought he was doing so) but it didn’t seem like it to me. I grew tired of his childish ways after a while and left him to Wallace, who also seemed to want to stay at that same level of maturity.
Onizuka, this really weird guy (and this is coming from a person who is already really weird) who I ALSO met at the first anime convention in Singapore. I think he was the first person I met in Singapore who could possible come close to being as weird as me. He was named after Great Teacher Onizuka (obviously!) and I didn’t learn his real name until years later.
In a country of conformity and conservatism he was the only person I met during my teenage years that seemed to just want to go his own way and do his own thing. A chronic underachiever, he did however possess a strange perception and wisdom of his own that taught me many things.
Hanse Lim, Wenzong’s closest friend. Hanse was the most racist person I have ever met (and I’ve known a few) and yet somehow we had fun together. He would go around talking about how horrible Malays were and how Malay babies were so much more loud and annoying than Chinese ones (I’m not kidding) It wasn’t exactly pleasant to listen to.
He was really into the Battletech CCG and heavy metal and there was one night that I went over to his house and did all that and played fighting games and even watched a few stupid movies together. (Riki-Oh…oh man is that movie ever bad!) I had fun – quite a lot of fun. I still can’t quite believe that – but hey, racists aren’t racists 24/7.
These guys would sort of be my gang for the next few years. We shared games and stories and visits to each others’ houses. But I never really felt that close to them (except Wallace, for a while) As I grew older my perspective changed and wanted to do new things. Also our interests simply differed and well, people move on from people.
I think it was around twenty-four that that happened. I was all like “why the fuck did I ever hang around with these punks anyway?” That was my Mum’s critic talking again. I think a lot of it was just doing things to pass the time. It was fun – as fun as anything was in those dark times.
We’ll move on now to friends closer and dearer.
We’ll start with the friend I’ve had the longest in Singapore, Terrence Kwok. I did not expect Terrence to become a close companion, but he did, and he has remained my friend in Singapore while many others left or were left behind.
If you were to tell me that when I first met him that he and I would be close I probably would have hit you (considering that I was seventeen or so that time, not the most mature of ages) We were in an anime goods store (the only one in Singapore at that time) and I was explaining how to pronounce a certain word in Japanese. He stepped in to correct me.
The galling thing is that he was RIGHT. But he wouldn’t shut up about it and that was more irritating than anything else. In an ICQ conversation we had that night he said wanted to “correct my attitude” and got all Chinese patriarchal on me (he’s older than me, which is a Big Fucking Deal with Asians) until I basically told him “thanks but no thanks.” I think that stunned him somewhat and took the wind out of his sails.
I have no idea how we ended up becoming good friends but we did. Some of it was the same interests – games (especially fighting games for a while) anime, and singing. I think most of all it was the KHK that brought us together so closely. (what’s that? All will be revealed in time.)
Over the years people would keep on asking me “Terrence? Are you still friends with him?” in disbelief and I would reply with “Well…yeah, he’s actually a good guy.” And he is. Despite his rigid, officious and stuck-up nature he honestly does want to help and tries to do the right thing. (Even if he’s often a prick about it.) Maybe that is above all why we’re still friends – and good friends at that.
Among other things he is a complete and utter homophobe, whereas I’m about as pro LGBT a straight man can get and still be straight. But like I said above with Chris the racist…in the end people are people. You can still get along and have fun with them regardless of their views and perspectives.
Lawrence Yap, perhaps the most devout Christian I have ever known. Lawrence may have single-handedly changed my entire opinion of Christianity. When I first met him I remember thinking to myself “if there is a God, he most definitely is with this man.” In the fifteen years or so I’ve known him I have never seen Lawrence get angry, never raise his voice, and never treat anyone or anything without courtesy and respect.
But of course in all those years we never talked about Christianity. We talked about anime! And games, and computers, and books. I had my first few anime marathons at his house in Singapore and man could that guy watch for hours. I would be wasted after like a few hours or so but Lawrence? He could go on till the next morning.
There is a lot to respect and admire about him. For one thing besides the strength of his faith he’s also one of the smartest people I know, with talents ranging from music to computers to game design and business. He was a bit of a role model for me at one point I think. He’s about ten years older than me, and I met him at an extremely impressionable time in my life.
Benjamin Qwek, a sensitive, intelligent and perceptive individual who has still not finished watching Evangelion after all this time that I’ve known him. I met him at a bookstore in town once and we fell to talking. He joined me in my adventures around the anime scene in Singapore for a while before migrating to the US to work at Google, and then later Facebook.
I don’t recall sharing anything deeply personal with him, and neither did he with me, but we just sort of clicked I guess. Sometimes things just happen. For some reason he also ended up getting close to most of the people I knew in various ways. There are a lot of stories there but if they’re ever told it won’t be in this book.
He came back quite a few times in the years I knew him, and we almost always managed to catch up. I never really told him what was wrong (always that same “family problems” excuse) but he may have guessed at least a few things.
He’s still there in the US, almost married now (I swear to God if you keep Lindy waiting any longer…) and doing very well for himself.
Benjamin Qwek you sneaky bastard! In writing this book I kept on seeing his name crop up. I guess he was closer to me than I thought.
Allan Cheng, my brother of steel. I met him at one of the early anime meetups in Singapore (NOT the first anime convention for once) and we hit it off instantly. We liked all the same things – Gundam, SRW, games, singing, retro anime…it was like instant best friend, just add water! Not to mention that he was (and still is) one of the coolest and friendliest people you will ever know. At our first meeting we spent a couple of hours talking and he introduced me to his group of friends, who were all as cool and amazing as he was.
Then the next week we went to a BBQ and sing anime songs and then he told me he was leaving for Australia two days later.
I was devastated. I had just come out of my depression and was meeting people, and I met this totally cool guy and he was going to leave before I had ever gotten to know him properly. It would take over a decade for me to really acknowledge how much his leaving (and others) had really affected me, also because I was repressing a lot of emotions for survival.
Allan did however come back more than few times in the ensuing years, and yeah, the good times rolled as always, especially with anime karaoke. He married and settled in Australia and I visited him there once.
There were others over the years but I’m really just going to talk about these here because well, I think they were the first real friends I had in a long, long time. I think back to myself then and I was perhaps happier than I knew to have known so many people, and to have had those people know me.
My friends are in that way like all the games and books and anime that have been such a huge part of my life – I love them all but there is just no space to mention all of them! Throughout everything bad that happened (and a lot has) at least I have never lacked for friends or for the health of my spirit.
Some stayed and some went, and some vanished, never to reappear. I guess that’s how friends are. You’ll see at least some of them in the later chapters. Wherever I go from here, and whatever days I spent with them – I will always be grateful for everything we shared.