Ty-Phoon, a stellar student in High School, calls himself 大風, inexplicably oblivious to the destructive forces of the “Big Wind”. In regions from Hong Kong to Taiwan and Japan, autumn is notoriously their typhoon season. I did not want to sound inquisitive to ask him why he would voluntarily associate himself with death and destruction, suffice to conclude that at some moment in our lives, our dark side escapes from our deep psyche – our “shadow self”, as Carl Jung called it, and this is his time. A self-described peasant, he shared a photo of his lunch today. A scrumptious plate of rice with shiitake mushroom, long beans and fish curry; I was surprised he called it humble. “Humble?” I asked. He reasoned that due to the recent confusion between austere and frugal, humble seemed a much safer word to choose. “You sound like a self-described peasant who dismisses his meal as paltry when feasting on pheasants.” I could not resist remarking. In the old days, the wealthy landowners threw lavish parties; formal entertainments accompanied by big feasts which invariably included roasted pheasants. On one such occasion called the Feast of the Pheasants, the Duke of Burgundy invited noblemen to a banquet, with the purpose of organising a crusade against the Turks who had overrun Constantinople in 1453. Pheasants were not for the peasants. Ty-Phoon would say I am just blowing up a storm in a teacup. Pheasants today are farmed mostly for sports. These birds are pale cousins of those in the wild. Born and bred in compact surroundings, they are cruelly debeaked to prevent cannibalism from aggressive behaviour brought about by the crowded environment imposed on them. Once these “flight birds” are released into the “wild”, they are easy pickings for the wealthy members of exclusive hunting clubs. They see man as a source of their daily meals rather than their eventual killer. The rest of the farmed birds called the “meat birds”, are destined for posh restaurants and eateries. Either as meat birds or flight birds, these pheasants will inevitably face their black swan day. The friendly farmer who diligently and unfailingly feeds them daily wins their trust but one day, it is the same farmer who will be responsible for their deaths. Unexpected to them but in reality, it was bound to happen.
Many of us have encouraged Ty-Phoon to write his story. It would make a really good read. We have been sharing snippets of our lives since we re-connected recently. I can only say his life stories are, by far, the more interesting. He retorts that the other side is always greener. True, but looking at his lunch, my food is definitely a lot greener.
This is his story. A century ago, three under-nourished men landed on the piers of George Town after a perilous journey across the seas from China. Two brothers and a nephew left their homeland in search for a better life and a more promising future. But with only a rattan basket each, the big blackish type with a tight cover, they arrived in their new world without a plan A or a plan B. At the pier, they sought the only means of transport, the trishaw, to convey them to a bus station which was a short distance away. They figured a bus would take them farthest away from where they were. Most arrivals would settle in the town they arrived at but these men wanted their journey to continue. There were no local maps then, so the three men simply left it to the trishaw pullers to take them to any bus station. They were taken to the The Prangin Canal Bus Terminal. It was no different from any other major bus terminal. There were many different buses going to different parts of the island, how would the newly arrivals know which to pick? The men chose to board the blue Hin Company bus, it was the first one to depart and it looked clean enough. That was how they started their journey northwards. Not knowing where to alight, they paid the fare for the furthest travel, the last stop for that route was the remote village of Telok Bahang. It was at the kopitiam that Ty-Phoon’s future maternal grandpa overheard the men seeking accommodation and employment. Fate would have it that grandpa hired them. At that time, grandpa was the owner of thirty acres of farmland, the majority of which was untouched. The three men were god-sent, grandpa had the land but lacked good hardworking labourers. Before too long, grandpa married off one of his daughters to the eldest of the three men. They impressed him with their tireless work ethic and enthusiasm for learning. She was only 15, and soon would become Ty-Phoon’s mother. The three Chinamen were all Phoons from Guangzhou province. The lucky one who married the 15 year old -was Ty-Phoon’s dear father. Was it Ty-Phoon’s destiny to be born or was it his parents’ destiny to meet and fall in love? Or was that just the random outcome of a chain of events? Fate, what some consider as the power that controls and determines everything that happens. The Phoons may celebrate their fate that the blue bus took them to Telok Bahang but for the pheasants, it would be wrong to think it was fate that got them shot. No, it was the farmer’s plan all along. It wasn’t fate, it was the urghhling.