My perpetual struggle between the city and kampung – who am I

February 28, 2015

Since my epic migration from cityscape Singapore to the kampung five years ago. I’ve been shifting gears, adjusting and trying my best to find that mythical happy line. It has not been an easy adjustment physically nor mentally. I’ve had to throw out many aspects which used to define me as an individual, along with taking on to new ways to adapt to the prolonged isolation, lack of support and sheer distance of being away from home.

It’s been uphill for me only because I happen to love immensely what city living has to offer. May seem strange for many of you to know that I actually find wandering around an air conditioned mall like a eighteen century flanuer quite liberating. That along with other city inspired rituals that I happen to miss terribly such as how long can I stare at a girl in a short skirt in the trains without coming across as a crazed stalker. To signing off as either Mahatma Gandhi or George Washington IC No 01234567 whenever I buy semi illegal chewing gum from the pharmacist. Yes…the idea of being able to reduce oneself to everyone else under a cloak of anonymity is what I miss most about city living.

It’s the direct opposite of pineappled eye kampung living where a man can’t even enjoy the simple pleasures of life such as being able to scratch his balls without provoking mass fainting spells amongst the ranks of the busy body auntie brigade.

Seems paradoxical…ironical that I should consider my life in the kampung corseted, scripted and choreographed when compared to the city. Even more incredulous is how I’ve come to regard this imposition as nothing short of an attempt to appropriate my individuality.

No. I don’t think you would take to me readily if you came face to face with my self effacement of hypocrisy in the kampung. Over here. I am known as a hard, implacable and ruthless man. I inspired fear precisely because my very form, demeanor and values leverages on a stream of consciousness that has always inspired fear in kampung folk ever since the dawn of mankind – the ramrod no nonsense bush jacketed, briar pipe belching planter of lore. That variety of man one spies occasionally in sepia prints from a bygone ago of candles, sails and cantankerous machines. Or maybe that other man invaded…supplanted and overcame me. Yes….it’s conceivable. It’s hard to say for certain how that stream of consciousness ever intercepted my life to finally fashion me as who I am today.

Recently I experienced a rare moment of epiphany: how much the landscape of where we live affects and creates who we are and how we think. Perhaps I’ve been living for so long in this time capsule of a tiny farming hamlet. The values and attitudes of what it means to be a part of that has obliterated the person who I used to be…..I can’t be sure….not for certain. Except perhaps to say with some measure of certainty.

I am who I am. Who am I? Do I even exist.


‘Into my second year of farming. Just after I beaten up so badly by gangsters who worked for a greedy landowner who eyed my small veggie patch. I nearly threw in the towel and ran back to Singapore.

I was afraid….scared.

That same week something strange transpired. A old plantation mansion deep in the jungle smack in the middle nowhere was put up for auction. It belonged to the old defunct Hartfield and Cross Estate. Since I was the only bidder who bothered to turn up. I got it for a tuppence, which wasn’t surprising as there was really nothing of value in that rat infested dilapidated mansion – but I know timber well and I knew there was at least SG$10,000 that I could strip right down with my bare hands and sell off for a handsome profit. I said to myself that way when I return back home, at least it wouldn’t all be for nought.

When I got to the master bedroom of this old mansion. I found a old trunk secret behind a hidden door in the headboard. When I opened it, there were three changes of bush jackets in various colors, a pair of steel tipped black shoes, dated square rimmed dark glasses, brass knuckle duster, ivory handled stiletto, a briar pipe, an ornate horse whip and a traveling shaving kit.

I tried it for size. I don’t really know why I did that except to say it called to me. I am not kidding – it’s like that evil ring in that hobbit movie.

That evening when I went to the village kopitiam dressed in a bush jacket – a very old man upon setting eyes on me began to shudder and wail, ‘it can’t be….he is back!’ Later on I gathered the bush jacket belonged to a planter who once waged war on the communist. He was a widely feared man who wore a glass eye and walked around in a stump. He was eventually gunned down by the communist as since he gave them no quarter and asked for none himself. They put a bounty on his head.

From that day onwards I knew this was a superhero suit like maybe a iron man’s or superman’s super duper armor. Only my wonder bush jacket could perform other miracles besides stop bullets such as stave off neurosis, neuralgia, relieve menstrual cramps, chase away melancholia arising from unrequited love, instill discipline in slothful policemen, render sober drunkards, straighten bengkok politicians, bring locomotives to a sudden halt, disperse violent crowds, pacify crying babies, ward of malevolent spirits, tame cantankerous women, cure epilepsy, scarlet fever, necrosis, mercurial eruptions, paralysis, hip diseases, chronic abscesses, and even keep at bay mass fainting spells, high blood pressure and sudden heart attacks amongst kampung folk.

Somewhere in all this. I realize what we call “I” has to be at best an illusion. As within the four helms of my superman suit. There is no discrete self or ego living like some ghost in the machine of the mind. And the feeling that there is—the sense of being in some cockpit where one is one control somewhere behind one’s eyes, looking out at a world that is separate from oneself — can be so irrevocably altered or entirely extinguished. Although such experiences of “self-transcendence” are generally thought about in religious terms, there is nothing, in principle, irrational about them. From both a scientific and a philosophical point of view, they represent a clearer understanding of the way things are.

Eventually the hard, implacable and ruthless man took over all the lands of the greedy landowner. As for the boy from Singapore. He was never seen again. Many believe he was murdered and his body was thrown into the river.’

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