Diary of Dan

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Toast to Toast Box!

I’ve been staying in Singapore for a little over 2 years now. Initially I was determined to not like it, not accept it. For the silly reason that I was so smitten by London and Singapore was not London! But as I stayed on I was converted into a Singapore-admirer in spite of myself. And what better place to admit this and write this post than the very place that in my opinion embodies Singapore, represents Singapore to me!

Yes, if you know me well, you know what I mean. I’m at Toast Box – at Bugis! The TB (Toast Box - a friend of mine calls it 'Plastic ka dibba') outlet on the broad and busy North Bridge Road, a cosy corner of the BHG mall! When I think ‘Singapore’, this place comes to my mind, this is where I would place the heart of my Singapore! When I leave this Toast Box after downing its refreshing kopi, my steps are springier, my face is smilier! If I begin my day with a cup of coffee at this TB, rest assured my day will go well! If I need any wellness boost I need go nowhere else – I am drawn towards this TB, this is my peace haven.

For the uninitiated, Toast Box is a chain of 60s’ ambience coffee shops, also called kopitiams, where you get together with friends over glasses of local beverages and toast and get up to date on gossip, or… studies! (I have myself studied here so often!) The layout of this particular TB outlet is lovely, two of its sides are kind of open – one side is indeed open, near the payment / order counter, and the other is lined with wide glass-panelled wood-rimmed windows that give you a clear view of the North Bridge road flow of traffic and people! So you have this feeling of air and people circulating in and out, and I think that is what I love the best about this place! You can sit inside where the temperature is kept lovely cool with air-con and ceiling fans (brass ones!), or outdoors where you need not shiver with cold and can look upon the road and the shoppers passing by.

I generally like it indoors, in one of the corners from where I can get a clear view of the entire place, and can observe all the patrons and imagine what lives they lead… On any given day you have a perfect cross-section of the Singaporean society let loose here. You can find rectangular families – grandparents wearing old fashioned clothes, young parents trendily dressed and two kids, one of them maybe a toddler… The young husband places the order and brings stuff on the plastic brown TB tray, the grandparents engage in play with the elder child, the mom tries her best to keep the toddler from crying. The elder child scampers from table to table; she decides which table the family would sit at. The wholesome eggs, nasi lemak, peanut butter thick toasts, floss toast, kopi and dinosaur milos arrive, courtesy Dad, and Mom offers the baby Milo, spoon by spoon. I look at them discreetly from my corner, noticing everything trying not to give myself away. But the gurgling baby catches my eye and beams back at me, his family follows his gaze and nods to me smilingly. I wave back at the baby and the elder child whispers to her grandmother - mostly about me J I wonder what they make of me, alternating between looking at them and typing away on my laptop trying to freeze the moment in words….

Two young guys have been sitting at my neighbouring table with some cards spread on a scarf on the table between them. One of them makes the other pick a card and tells him something, I haven’t been paying attention actually. Looks like I caught the words ‘sun sign’… are they tarot cards? “You have a lot of enthusiasm, you have good future prospects! ” says he. Another guy approaches their table and greets them – must be their friend. He can occupy the chair opposite me, I glance at him and note mentally, but I don’t offer the chair on my own, lest he be someone who isn’t joining them but merely saying hi. But apparently telepathy has worked, and he asks me if he may use the chair. I smile my acquiescence and gather up my bags kept on the chair to make space for him. He thanks me sincerely – they seem good guys. I now catch the words ‘life purpose’, ‘external forces’, ‘Gemini’ and what not, also some Mandarin that I can’t understand – not yet J These friends seem really fond of each other and now I catch the words ‘girl friend’, ‘long distance relationship’, ‘next few months’, ‘how long will this last’, etc etc…. I focus back on my writing and decide to not interfere any more with my telepathy J

Meanwhile a sweetly smiling young waitress – straight haired and milk complexioned, in her black n white striped TB apron asks me if she may clear my table. My ice kopi is over and she takes away my glass, the remnant ice cubes clinking. No one minds me sitting on - kopi-finished, reading or writing or speaking on my phone… In fact most of the waiters seem to recognise me. So many of my sort-out-things phone calls have been made from this Toast Box! I am calm and clear-headed when I’m here! I think, what I feel here is what I’d have felt at my favourite pub if I ever drank!

This old-ladyish waitress disappearing into the ‘wash area’ with stacks of empty plates and cups catches my eye. I have seen her come here on her first day of work, being handed her ‘uniform’. She had emerged from the wash area changed into that uniform and begun her first day of work guided along by her fellow-waiters. Short and slim, spectacled, ever smiling and gentle, she flows around daintily wiping tables and bringing people their square plates of hot toast.

I feel so comfortable here! The compact brown wooden tables and chairs, old-world props adorning the walls, black n white photographs of Singapore of the golden-olden days, old-world style print adverts of Toast Box, wafts of steam escaping into the Singaporean atmosphere at the payment counter where the kopi-master works his magic filling cup after cup with nectar-like kopi from his long-spouted metallic kettle darkened with ages of stoic and strong coffee beans… As I sit contemplating and hitting keys, the sweet young waitress goes past and gives me another smile dripping with purity and innocence. I smile back and try making out what my neighbours are now discussing in Mandarin. They are speaking about coffee – coz I catch the word ‘kaffee’… no, they are still engaged with the cards…

As they seem set to leave, I glance towards them intently and the tarot card reader notices asks me if I’d like some tarot card reading done! Aah, so they have indeed been tarot cards after all! I can barely contain my delight, and eagerly say yes! He hands me his pack of cards and asks me to shuffle them. I oblige and he spreads them over his red scarf that’s spread on the table. He asks me what I’d like to know – I tell him I’ve been working in Singapore for 2 years now and am hoping to relocate back to my country but I do love Singapore so much – so what is to become of it, would the cards be able to tell? Would I stay on, or go back? He asks me to pick up a card – he studies the one I do and answers that I would indeed stay on, in fact I’d get married in Singapore within the next one year! I like his answer J He makes me choose another card, and the one I do tells him that I’d become a PR, I would be very happy and secure here. I am happy again and he asks me if I’d like to know more about the kind of guy I’d marry. Now I’m convinced he’s determined to make me feel good, and I pick one more card. That card tells him that this man I’d marry would be very practical, 30+, down to earth, mostly Taurean or Capricorn, having some set ideas or project in his mind that he’s determined to complete. I thank the wise and sage tarot master and tell him how much I love Toast Box and how I frequent it every weekend! He says, who knows, you might meet your guy here in Toast Box one fine day! I say ‘Amen’ and bless the guy J

The tarot card reader and his friends leave after giving me his Facebook name, and another typically Singaporean family occupy my neighbouring table. The only difference is that this family has only one kid, a youngish boy with a pacifier in his mouth. His parents go off to place their order and his grandmom encourages him to say hello to me J He manages it with the pacifier still in place! I put on my best baby manners and hello back! His grandmom seems exceptionally friendly, her earrings are twinkling swans, and they match her twinkling eyes! I glance around and notice more kids have come in, in strollers. It is pitch black outside, but the merry air inside contradicts the melancholy feeling accompanying the end of the weekend. The pacifier kid pounds the table with his fist and his mom and granny chide him, pointing at me and saying something on the lines of ‘don’t disturb this auntie!’ I play along with them and look sternly at the kid who merely smiles back and does more fist-pounding J He slips off to play and his grandfather follows him. His dad thanks me so very sweetly when I help him with his folded stroller to go outside – the dads in Singapore compete with their babies in cuteness!

Now there’s a general lull, they are fewer people in Toast Box and I can sense the cold outside. Imminent rains have rendered the outdoors cool and soft, it is growing dark, but Toast Box continues to emit warmth, comfort and cheer, and will continue to – till 10 in the night! Soulful Chinese melodies fill Toast Box with nostalgic happiness. The sweet waitress brings me a free glass of iced water! Friends and couples drift in and out the whole day long and fuel themselves with the Toast Box love n kindness, aided by spoons, chopsticks, toast-picks and straws….ll

I imagine myself a permanent part of this Singapore story, dressed in my silk qipao, sipping away to glory sweet kopi and memories in this Toast Box, wee-possibly with a fair Chinese husband and kid in tow… J

Friday, December 17, 2010

My Guardian Angel

The feeling of comfort
that settles over me,
when He's watching over me,
my guardian angel...,

..that peace, that calm
washes away my worries,
and inspires my idea of Him,
my guardian angel...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy days demand celebration...

When you want to celebrate,
but cannot,
because you couldn't buy
the bottle of wine,
you sip water
and celebrate nevertheless.
Who said wine was the only way to go?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The pansy in the vase

This one's for my teammates Pantsie and DBO who share a fictitious 'special bond'!

A pansy for Pantsie,
DBO brought -
"that's soooo sweet!"
Pantsie thought!

DBO's pansy,
he kept in a vase,
now we know the
special bond ka raaz!