Escape from Paradise

Singapore is a name of a dream, an imaginary vision of the Orient of colonial times, of leisurely lives, of verandahs, of all the things it isn’t.

There are no clouds on the horizon.

Well, almost none—the CIA claims that Singapore serves as a transit point for Golden Triangle heroin going to the West.

Singapore is Chinese. Singapore is safe. Singapore is making money.

It’s not that Singapore isn’t nice. It’s not a particularly interesting or easy place, but it is nice. Singapore is slick on the surface—marble hotel lobbies stretch sky high. It is China in paradise, with a Manhattan skyline, where Chinese autocrats talk about preserving their core values from the onslaught of “pseudo-Western” culture. It is materialism run rampant—the most mercenary of environments—a Chinese dream—a contradictory clear win for Western-style capitalism.

§ § §

I was born there in 1957, when Singapore wasn’t Singapore, the country—it was still part of Malaysia. The world I knew as a child, and as a teenager, is a long-gone distant memory.

Most Chinese arrived in Singapore as coolies during the time of British rule. They were permitted to do only the most menial of tasks and were not considered acceptable even as house servants for the British—only Indians and Malays were good enough.

Still, over time, some Singapore Chinese families grew to be wealthy—most did not.

My family arrived in Singapore by a different route. We were not coolies and did not fit any of the popular Chinese stereotypes. We were not gloomy Joy Luck Club middle-class folks. We had no ancient faded family photographs of destitute peasants to gaze upon with simple pride. We were not humble. We were not obsequious. No one impressed us. No one had more than we did, or showed it off so grandly. We were flamboyant, irreverent, and loud. We came to Singapore from Burma, and arrived in style. We were already rich, very rich—we were the Tiger Balm Kings!

Our business empire grew from one simple product, an ointment called “Tiger Balm,” to newspapers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Australia, and Canada, and to banks in Singapore and Malaysia.

Our houses, the Haw Par Villa in Singapore, and the Tiger Balm Gardens in Hong Kong are now tourist attractions—free donations from our family for public pleasure and family aggrandizement.

No one had anything quite like what we had—but that was then.

§ § §

As though they had never met, Dan Arnold introduced himself to Lynn explaining that he was an American, and further established his credentials by saying that he was an ex-CIA employee. All this Dan Arnold conveyed in somber tones to emphasize his importance and credibility.

Lynn went along with Dan Arnold’s act, pretending herself that this was their first meeting.

Dan Arnold explained to Lynn, in even tones, that everything would be all right, and that “things were being done, including the possibility of a helicopter rescue” to get her husband and Hin Chew out of Brunei.

Lynn was already unsettled by the police raid of the night before. But now, Dan Arnold, the CIA, a helicopter rescue—and why?

§ § §

I connected the dots—S. P., Dan Arnold, Bush.

Far fetched?

Was the shabby little Chinaman from Mumong with $48 million in liquid assets far fetched? Was Anna Plains, larger than the state of Rhode Island far-fetched? Hin Chew’s detention in Brunei with his “life in danger.” Was that far-fetched? Was Alexander Irvine a mirage? Were Dan Arnold’s helicopters a fib?

For me, this was all much more than far-fetched—it was a nightmare.

Could S. P.’s connections, his world whatever it was, cause problems for me, if I tried to leave Hin Chew? Life with the Chungs was making me ever more isolated and alone, devoid of friends or allies. How could I escape from a family like the Chungs? I saw what Peter had done to Rosita.

And what were my chances?

§ § §

The next thing I knew, and without any warning, Lillian was screaming at me, "You bitch, can't you do anything right? You only married my son because he's educated. You married him for his money, didn't you? You're good for nothing! My son should never have married you!"

In a total state of shock, I said nothing, and neither did Hin Chew.

"I demand that you beg me for forgiveness!" screamed Lillian.

I could feel my face redden with anger, and fighting back the tears, said, "I'm so sorry Ma, it will not happen again."

"That's not good enough!" Lillian shouted, "you will beg for my forgiveness on your knees!"

I hesitated.

"On your knees!" she screamed, pointing at the floor.

To my eternal shame, I got down on my knees, and, with Hin Chew watching in silence, said, "Ma, please forgive me, it was all my fault."

§ § §

I enjoy being provocative, not in a sexual way, but more as an agitator. I have always loved to be inquisitive, to see what makes a person tick. In the case of the approaching letch, what he deserved was some prodding and needling. I leaned over and threw a remark his way. I have no idea of what I said, but his reaction was as I expected.

He immediately left C. K.’s side to move in on me. Typical!

“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you from over there.” Yeah, sure, I thought, observing him. He was not too tall, and not too good looking, brown hair and eyes, and not too young. I’m John,” he said. “Hello, I’m Monicka.” It was great protection to have a name that wasn’t on any official document, and not in any telephone book.

(That’s how the authors met . . .)

Escape from Paradise
It's quite a story
The legendary Alice Mayhew,
Vice-President & Editorial Director,
Simon & Schuster.

lThe Tiger Balm Kings
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