Fiction / October 2018 (Issue 41: Writing Singapore)

Unscrambled Eggs and Teenagers

by Benjamin Lo


10:12 am

Bertie's Human Survey

Observing people has always been a hobby of mine. Seeing how the people around me react to the simplest of life's offerings is intriguing and at times hilarious. At school, as I walk or maybe when I do the occasional odd job, I always keep my eyes peeled on the people around me, trying to extract as much information as I can from them. I'm not sure when I started, but one day I began to frequent the coffee shop below my HDB block to observe the people who walked by. Usually, in my free time, I troop down with a pen and journal (this one here) in hand and steal a table for myself—buying some quintessential teh or carrot cake, of course—and I survey the coffee shop and the boulevard beyond for anyone or anything interesting. The fun part is trying to figure out those I take an interest in. I've never really understood people, you see—it's even harder to talk to them. It's something to do with my genes and whatnot, but I don't like to dwell on it like the rest of my family. I was born this way, so I have to deal with it. So most of the time, I feel like a tourist in my own country when I try to understand my fellow Singaporeans. Maybe this hobby is a catharsis of sorts? Anyhow, I really do want to try and understand what it means to be a "Singaporean," so here I am like Columbus finding the New World.

I am currently sitting in a nice shady spot under a retractable canopy with a plate of carrot cake steaming before me. I'm not sure why they call it fried carrot cake when it is actually fried radish chunks in a mushed omelette. Not complaining though; it still tastes great. I stared down at the odd chunks of white poking out amongst the greasy yellow. I should say that I really like my eggs. It's one of the only things I look forward to when I wake up and go to school or on humid weekends. It was either the eggs or falling in love with someone, so I took the simple route. Eggs seemed to represent people so perfectly: there were only good eggs and bad eggs and—oh wait, I'm digressing now, aren't I? Sorry. I should get to the point.

The reason I'm writing is because I just saw some guy my age on an e-scooter whizz past, his school bag slung on his back threatening to spill its guts. He had almost crashed into an auntie who had stood up from a bench. He didn't say sorry or look back—a bad egg there, no doubt. I was very glad I didn't understand Hokkien for the auntie seemed to be cursing up a storm (But doesn't most Hokkien sound vulgar anyway?). I'm not sure how long she'll go at it, but I'll take down any changes. I think I've found today's specimen. Anyway, that guy on the scooter has really put me out of it. I can't really continue my research unless I vent.

I have grown to dislike the Singaporean teenager despite being one myself, but not acutely in mind and body towards any particular individual. I find my own feelings odd because I was the one who decided to observe the teenagers that stalked my school's grounds. I believed that the key to the country's identity lie in the midst of its youth who learn the contributing values, so I thought I had struck gold in a school full of teenagers. But there had always been a rather dark idea of them in my head from my previously scant observations, and as I dug deeper, the idea incubating as time progressed, it hatched one day at the peak of my frustrations. The thing that emerged was one of intense cynicism in its cry with a scaly hide of incurable bitterness. Unfortunately, making any medicine from this thing's scales hasn't worked any wonders on my feelings.

I've heard boys who, at first glance, seem to be good eggs in front of their female friends, talk of these same friends in the most crude and vile ways in the toilet. They were not very shy of it either, just blabbing away by the urinals. On one occasion, I was embarrassed when I realised one of them had been speaking of a female teacher in a rather, well, detailed manner. Another instance saw me overhear two boys discussing how many girls they had "hooked" for some private party and how they would go about "reeling them in." I'm sure that I am sorely mistaken here; people can't really be this rancid, and perhaps this is merely banter to advance friendships. But I can't help but pity some of these girls when I see them talk with their male friends.

The teenage girl has an air of complete mystery to me. I'm not sure what I've done (I just sit still and be quiet), but sometimes, girls in my class just come up to me and begin complaining about other girls or their other woes before making me promise not to snitch on them. I found it rather rude at first, but perhaps this is how females communicate to each other, too, so I felt a bit proud over how I had stumbled into this secret circle. It was fascinating at first, but grew cumbersome because I didn't really get to talk. Maybe this is what you call a symbiotic relationship in nature—like how remora clean sharks and get their bellies filled. 

Overall, I seem to sense a pervading air of animosity and duplicity amongst the teenage Singaporean. I don't think I've hit the core of the matter yet, so I can't say this is what it means to be "Singaporean." But it still doesn't prevent me from feeling uncomfortable around teenagers.

Update. Another teenage bloke just zipped by the auntie—this time on an e-bicycle—and this time he seemed to stop and apologise. But that hasn't really stopped the auntie from unleashing her fury on him. I'm not sure who to feel sorry for in this incident. The bloke is just crossing his hands in front of himself, letting the words gut him—from his face I can see he understands every word. At least this bloke had the decency to own up. Definitely a good egg.

Well, this isn't to say there aren't any nice teenagers like that bloke, but they are a complete rarity, a spectacle rarely seen like a Mountain Gorilla in the foliage of Africa. Speaking of nice teenagers, I do recall a remarkable incident just the other day with a classmate. A very nice chap—he comes to talk with me for no reason sometimes. He had spent half an hour with me by the rickety piano under the first level staircase trying to teach me "Chopsticks." When I asked why, he had simply said I was his "guinea pig" for "giving music lessons," which made me worry for a bit that I needed a haircut. There was lots of frustration, sore fingers and, most of all, sour sobbing from my classmate, but I managed to learn the first few bars of "Chopsticks," so hurrah for that!

It was a fun little sport, and it made me feel rather warm inside. In fact, I could even call it a shining moment in my youth, and I feel proud about it. I feel like I had uncovered a simple nugget of the boundless possibilities of what being "one united people" could mean, so this incident has truly been important in understanding the concept of being "Singaporean."

Even with this step closer, I still fail to understand the abuse of human relationships amongst teenagers, even when we could try to get along. Why the guy on the e-scooter failed to stop really confounded me. I see no sense in how teenagers forego thinking for their quick kicks. I see no sense in how I am supposed to be a teenager and "live my youth," if this was what it meant doing. I don't want to hurt anyone and get in trouble. I just want to be quiet, old Bertie who doesn't mean harm to even a dust mite. I just took another bite of my fried carrot cake, hoping it would mask the bitterness on my tongue. It worked a bit. I feel better now. Food never lies—it is the chefs who do the lying.

The auntie is hammering away at the bloke. No, I mean, literally. 

She's using her bags to hit the bloke who's trying to defend himself. Some other curious pedestrians have stopped to observe—some smirking, others wondering aloud if the police should be called. Some even have their phones out to take pictures and videos.

I'm not sure why, but I'm feeling rather upset.

Things are escalating in the entirely wrong way. 

Hold up paper, I'll be back soon.

Bertie the upset out.



2:17 pm

Bertie's Human (Interaction?) Survey

Oh my goodness, was it bad! I'm back at home now after a spot of lunch. I do not usually write in this journal unless I'm observing, but I do suppose I can let this one incident pass. I wonder if I should buy another journal for things like this. It really was a series of unfortunate events that unfolded.

I tried to get an understanding of why the poor bloke was getting hammered by getting a bit closer. The bloke's bike was parked a short distance from him, gleaming darkly in the light. Even up close, I still couldn't see why the auntie was assaulting the poor bloke. It didn't look like he had hit her, or had pinched anything from her bags. So I did the only thing I could really think of and went up to the bloke and asked him why the auntie was hitting him. It only seemed logical. And so I tapped him on the shoulder and the bloke turned to me, agitated as he tried to fend off the flurry of groceries hitting him. The auntie, confused, yet practically steaming like my carrot cake, halted her blows at my presence. I found that a rather positive development, and so I carried on, though with my heart jittering away.

"Sorry sir, but why are you getting hit?" I asked in my nicest voice possible. The bloke seemed not to understand me for he gazed at me with odd eyes, his head tilted with an open mouth.

Dissatisfied, I instead turned my attention to the auntie, jabbing a thumb at the bloke.

"Auntie, why are you hitting this guy?"

I didn't know what I was expecting, but I got a mouthful of Hokkien thrown at me at a rapid pace as she switched between gesticulating at the bloke and her shopping. Of course, I didn't really understand what she was saying in her anger laced words and merely fixed her with blinking eyes. The phrases Gong and Bo Hew came up quite a bit. At least that is what I think she said … I'm not very good at this dialect to paper business. I suppose those were words that expressed her misgivings. The bloke for his part looked very annoyed and told me not to listen to her. I wanted to point out to him that listening for me was a futile thing, but the auntie began to wave her bags about as she yelled at the bloke.

By then, a small crowd had gathered and surrounded us in a loose circle. Some of them were on their phones while others were giggling. That was when my nerves got the best of me. I'm not very good with crowds, no siree. I decided to quickly get to the bottom of things. I also had my carrot cake to get back to so that was a thing too. Cold carrot cake is criminal.

"OK, why don't the both of you just say sorry?" I asked, shrugging my shoulders.

"Bro, you crazy?" the bloke said, hands on his hips. "This ah-ma hit me—say sorry cannot already. If can sue, I sue for assault."

I frowned at the bloke, wondering where the good egg I saw went to.

"I mean, did you apologise for almost running her over?"


"Then why is she so mad?"

The auntie pointed to the insides of her bag, eyes flicking between me and the bag. I leant forward a bit and peered into the bag, only to see a rather ruined egg carton with its contents coating the rest of the groceries in a slimy and soggy mess. It was a proper swamp down there.

"Cripes," I mumbled, hand scratching my neck. "What a waste of good eggs …"

"She says I ran over them—but it wasn't my fault. She should have put her bags on the bench."

I raised an eyebrow at the bloke, not really understanding his logic. How was the auntie supposed to know he would come dashing by on his bike? No one was psychic, you know.

The auntie spoke up, looking at me, and I was relieved that it was in broken English. Perhaps she figured I couldn't understand her.

"Break egg. Pay egg." she said.

"Oh, then that's simple!" I found myself beaming then. The mystery had been solved. "Just pay her then! No need for such a fuss."

"No way man," the bloke shook his head. "She hantam me one; I kena bruise here on my arm. She should be paying for my GP bills."

"But you broke her eggs …"


"Eggs are expensive these days … and tasty … They're filled with vitamin D and A, and are a good source of protein." I remember shaking my head sadly. "You've ruined her chances for a good breakfast or snack. That's rather mean."

The bloke just frowned at me, his lower lip furling which allowed his teeth to stick out in a most grotesque manner like a babirusa.

"Bro, I don't know what's wrong with you," he gestured to his head, spinning his pointer finger. "But she hit me."

"I guess hitting you is bad, but isn't everyone here being a tad too … angry? I don't think saying sorry is very hard. It is just two syllables. Pulling a tenner from your wallet isn't very hard either."

"Seriously, bro, what planet do you live?" The bloke shook his head, waving a hand.

"Earth, on the Orion Arm in the Milky Way." I answered, not really getting why he asked such an unrelated question. But if it helped him think, I was all for answering.

It looked as if the bloke was about to say something else, but we were interrupted by a voice.

"Hey kid!" It was a man in the crowd who had piped up. "Your bike."

"What, lah?"

"Your bike." The man's hands danced wildly to his left. We both turned towards where the man was indicating, and I heard the bloke draw in a sharp breath. Someone had made off with his bike. I hadn't even seen it—I think everyone else was too occupied to notice—but there was an empty space where the bicycle had been. We stared at the spot for a few moments as if we could have magically wished the bike back; but magic doesn't exist, so no miracles were granted. Of course, the bloke was hopping mad, and it was rather hard not to be scared when he began yelling at everyone, his face all red and runny at the nose. Even the auntie seemed a little worried at the commotion as she mumbled Chin Gow Tan while shaking her head. I was touched that she seemed worried for the bloke despite their differences. The police eventually arrived and managed to disperse the crowd. The bloke took a little more work than that. But boy, did the officers have questions. I guess I can nix "giving a statement" off my bucket list. 

Someone even made a STOMP article online about it, and there were pictures and videos of the entire debacle. It seems I was described as an "unidentified passer-by who tried to calm the situation," but no one really cared about me, only the drama involving the auntie and the bloke. I'm rather thankful, yet oddly peeved at that. Some people in the comments found me funny for some reason though I don't think I was telling any jokes, so I'm confused at that, too. To make things worse, I hadn't even finished my carrot cake, and it had been cleared away by the time I got back. I feel rather cheated to be frank, but I suppose it was a worthy sacrifice for this humbling experience. I think I'll get two plates the next time I go. Maybe the uncle will take pity on me and give me a freebie.

I can't help but feel I'm at fault somewhere in all this. Based on what my mom says, I really should have minded my own business, so I guess the implication is that I really am at fault. Maybe I'm just overthinking things, but it still doesn't stop me from feeling guilty. I am glad though that the bloke was much too occupied with his stolen bike to press charges against the auntie. Speaking of her, I slipped a tenner into her bag when she wasn't looking. I hope that makes up for the eggs somehow.

Still, this incident has rather confounded my classifications of humans. Good eggs or bad eggs, it seems like this state changes, alters as time goes by. It doesn't make sense in nature, for how could a spoiled egg become one that is perfect for making a stunning omelette. That would mean chicks regressing back into little black specks in the yolk. But nature in itself is a mysterious thing, so the possibility shouldn't be thrown out. I had judged that bloke to be a good egg, but yet his behaviour shows another thing. Looking back at my past observations of my schoolmates, maybe it isn't as simple as just classifying everyone as either a good egg or a bad egg. Perhaps we are both sometimes, and either other times, like the shifting phases of the moon. Perhaps our minds are so volatile that we unintentionally let ourselves be scrambled into this mess—yes, in fact, perhaps people are scrambled eggs. When you make a scrambled egg out of a good or bad egg, you possibly can't tell its quality till you bite into it.

I'm very rattled by all this, so I don't suppose I'm making much sense. But, in the thick of it, I have come to reflect upon myself. Where exactly am I on this spectrum of eggs? My dark ideas of teenagers have perhaps led me to an incomplete conclusion unworthy of praise, full of bias, too. Should I have perhaps cracked that idea that lay incubating long ago? If I had let myself go into the fray of teenaged youth, perhaps I would have gained a greater understanding of the events that had just transpired, why we are so quick to fault, so quick to anger and yet so slow in understanding. If being Singaporean connotes subjugating myself to my anger and immediate needs, then I don't think I'm very keen on growing up. Being unkind seems to be a trend here. We seem to exploit the situation to suit our needs but never for others. I'm selfish in my own way come to think of it, but I don't think I've actively gone out and harmed someone. Have I? I need to think about this. Scrambled eggs, while delicious, will eventually clog the arteries up, and I guess being exposed to too many conflicting people is not very good in the long run. I should take a break from my hobby and just read a good book for a while.

So I must say that I prefer the way I am though I am incomplete. Unscrambled yet stirred.

Maybe I'll look into this matter deeper some other day. But I feel as if I won't get anywhere like this.

Bertie the confused out.



6:00 pm

Bertie's Human Interaction Survey

I am no longer quiet, old Bertie who doesn't mean harm even to a dust mite. I am that "weird dude from that funny quarrel on STOMP." I do not like this change in title, but it has allowed me to be drawn deeper into the depths of the teenage tempest over these past two days. Classmates who have never bothered speaking to me have found interest in me as if they have discovered I was an antique stamp in the kitchen cabinet that was suddenly worth loads. It is no wonder then that I am tired. I am not used to speaking to so many people. It has been two days since that dreadful bicycle fiasco, and after a spot of mom's steamed eggs during dinner, I feel slightly energised.

I have to say first that I am not happy. I have eaten too many scrambled eggs if you catch my drift. My classmates have had endless fun poking fun at me the entire day. My first step into the school hall for assembly on Thursday (24th) was met with many whispers and mocking eyes. I felt uncomfortable, but no one said a thing. It was only in class that it began. The boys clapped me on the back. The girls awed at how funny I was. One girl even whispered in my ear to call her. I didn't like this close contact at all. My teachers didn't say a word, but I could feel that they looked at me a little differently. I was heckled into sitting with my classmates during recess, which I do not like because the canteen is much too loud. I feel as if the noise digs into my brain and twists it inside out, so I usually find a quiet spot by the school garden after I buy a snack from the café. But my classmates didn't care for my protests. They only wanted to know the full story of the debacle.

I tried my best to explain over my thumping heart and whining brain, but they only seemed focused on my behaviour. They didn't ask whether the auntie got her eggs back. They never asked if the bloke got his bike back. They only asked why I had acted "weird," why I gave "silly answers" and whether I was "dropped on my head' when I was born. I tried my best to answer them, but I couldn't really corroborate with my memory if I was "dropped on my head," which lead to laughter. An acquaintance of a classmate stopped by our table to chat before taking notice of me.

That was when I got my new title, and everyone laughed, which made me feel rather small and upset and confused.

And that was also when someone grabbed me by the shoulders and hoisted me up, much to the protests of my classmates. It was that nice chap who'd taught me "Chopsticks." With a rather perturbed looking face, he dragged me away from the canteen, yelling back at our classmates about some deal we made regarding the piano, which I have no recollection of. Once at the piano, he glanced me over before asking if I'd eaten anything. I shook my head before he dug out some squashed French toast in a paper baggie from his pocket and gave it to me. After I was done eating, he began to teach me how to play the rest of "Chopsticks." It was a huge relief and rather fun, but a question lingered in my head regarding his intentions like furling smoke. And so I asked him why he stole me away.

"You looked uncomfortable." He simply said, before he resumed his lesson on "Chopsticks." The chap did the same thing today (25th) during recess. He hauled me over to the piano and treated me to some muffins from the school café. He didn't say much, so I'm not sure what his thoughts are, but I am grateful for his actions; it was probably the best thing to happen over these two days. (You can infer that it wasn't much better after recess either day). As a result, I didn't really feel like going down to the coffee shop for fear some stranger would recognise me. I ended up staying in my room, listening to music, drawing and studying while feeling sorry for everything. I feel like a caged canary.

I can conclude we are truly scrambled eggs. We seem to let our emotions override the very basics of our common sense and decency. I don't think we intend to be bad, but there is a certain boundary after which it is no longer logical to let logic take its course, and our emotions and curiosity take over in order to reach that distant finish line and preserve our logic and face. Does that make sense? It does to me. Then again, my brain works differently as my mom says. 

I am saying that perhaps I am mistaken about people and about my classmates trying to reach out, that all this is just in the guise of forming bonds and it is my incapability that is warping the perception of my encounters. But even so, I do not like it. I feel like they are pounding me into a mould they created themselves. If they are scrambled eggs, they see me as a raw egg, ready to become what they want to eat. I feel like I'm being cannibalised by my own kin. But I am already something myself. I don't know what, but they don't seem to care.

I am incomplete, and I shall stay incomplete for the time being, because it is better to have a grasp of what you know of yourself than let others fill in that blank with their own thoughts. I remain unscrambled yet stirred, and I can confidently say that I do not regret leaving my idea of teenagers alone. The values that Singaporeans seem to communicate are rather mixed and confusing. But it doesn't matter. I will be a "Singaporean" in my own way, in my own set of values that I hold dear. But I'm not sure if everyone else will agree. This throws the whole "one united people" thing out of whack.

I shall persist, keeping an ear open, but my eyes closed, to perhaps learn more from this beaten path and complete myself on my terms. I'm sure things will die down eventually. I have more "Chopstick" lessons to look forward to, so things aren't really that bad.

I finish this entry with the declaration that I am a prisoner of my birth, but one day, I will be a free man of my own making. 


Bertie the unscrambled out.

ImageBenjamin Lo is a first-year undergraduate student at Nanyang Technological University studying English. He enjoys reading and drawing in his spare time.


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