Pavle Radonic ~ One Piece Dragon

For read­ers with good Mandarin—back-alley Mandarin it might be—the sig­nif­i­cance of the term is per­haps appar­ent. The guess would be street lan­guage passed into the halls of the Imperial Palace; nev­er for­mal­ly inscribed in the lex­i­con. Hokkien, Cantonese or Teochew, might pos­si­bly be insuf­fi­cient and an gwei­lo, an ang moh red-head-not, might be able to elucidate.

Fine, hearty laugh was raised from the China gal there at the stall on the hot spot cor­ner near Aljunied that after­noon. Almost not a sin­gle, soli­tary word of English. At least a few months ago that was the case; recent­ly the woman had acquired “beef” and “fish”. For any­thing fur­ther some inven­tive­ness was needed.

Elbow-wings for breadth and stout­ness. Head down on encir­cling arms, eyes shut. Followed by fin­ger wag­gling for where­abouts. Shoulder shrug, head loll, up-raised shak­ing hands put the question…

Pretty much right off she got it, bright gal. The big beefy sleepy-head on the day-shift, where was he?…

Almost cer­tain­ly the chap was her part­ner. Husband or lover as well as biz part­ner. It was her he had on the rear of his bicy­cle a few times going up Geylang Road at the end of their shift. Some inter­ac­tion between them dur­ing work hours backed up the impres­sion. They had some­thing going.

A good pair. Somehow she was quite impres­sive, in man­ner much more than looks. The ease and accom­mo­da­tion the woman dis­played there behind the food counter on that par­tic­u­lar cor­ner was real­ly some­thing. Minor hair colour­ing and some curl­ing was the extent of the beau­ti­fi­ca­tion. With the same set­tled bear­ing she could have worked in a deaf­en­ing indus­tri­al precinct, a sea-side resort, or as here oppo­site her coun­try­women of pre­cise­ly her own age doing tricks in a for­eign land.

Beast was the wrestler type. Not exact­ly sumo, but big fel­la, tall as well as broad. No one would mess with him if they could avoid it. Commonly the man could be found there after lunch either dic­ing veg­eta­bles, or else face down on one of the tables rest­ing on his fore-arms. Sometimes with a spread of news­pa­per below. All sorts of noise and activ­i­ty all round—on he dozed uncon­cerned. It seemed incred­i­ble that any­one could sleep in the midst of all that hus­tle and bus­tle. Once or twice when the chap had to be called for some­thing his re-sur­fac­ing showed to what a depth he had descended.

The woman gives a warm, free laugh at the sketch. Tickled and sur­prised, her fin­ger goes out to a place by the cen­tral pillar.

Ah, yes, there the vil­lain indeed was found, not easy to make out in the scrum. Head flat on the table, under-arm hair sprout­ing and arms encir­cling. Sleeveless sin­glet, bas­ket­ball shorts and san­dals. Three oth­ers at the table for four. There was bare­ly a free seat along the rows that after­noon. Their Chinese stall sat in the mid­dle of a clus­ter, two dozen tables spread down the slope and out front to accom­mo­date three food and one drinks out­let. That cor­ner lorong always found a brisk trade.

Beside the Bruiser sat one of the old­er China gals, a cheeky, ven­ture­some thing like most of them. This one need­ed to put out if she was going to reach the cus­tomer. Late thir­ties and not the pret­ti­est on the block, sun­nies this after­noon despite the cloud masked the lady. Taking a call she blared into her cell-phone. No dis­tur­bance what­ev­er for the Beast.

The China girls were inter­est­ing in their par­tic­u­lar way. Unlike the traf­ficked young girls from oth­er coun­tries of the region, who flit­ted through the night stay­ing one step ahead of the police with the help of their pimps, these China ladies of the after­noons were in their mid-thir­ties and beyond. They had come down to the mag­net of Singapore by oth­er arrange­ments, shady of course, but much less fraught. The house-wife, divorcee, fac­to­ry hand and farm labour­er could be seen in the gath­er­ing. Alluring dress, jew­ellery, hand-bags often appeared as some­thing of a par­o­dy with them. And more often than not, through the thin per­si­flage, the sim­ple, giv­en char­ac­ter clear­ly emerged. A cus­tomer might receive some con­ver­sa­tion and car­ing in those hands.

Opposite the big fel­low sat two old­er “uncles”, local Sing crocs who hung on that cor­ner by the look of them. On that cor­ner the enter­tain­ment was cheap, whether one was buy­ing or mere­ly observ­ing. Lots of the old men sat over their dol­lar cof­fees and teas sur­rep­ti­tious­ly assess­ing the trade. Many looked quite open­ly, some­times a lit­tle open-mouthed, at some of the shenani­gans employed by the lass­es. Usually it was not so crowd­ed. A Saturday lunch-hour; rain earlier.

Such a Bruiser; so child-like vul­ner­a­ble in that pose, as Anais Nin com­ment­ed on sleep­ing men. The baby-face was still dis­cernible. Awake an occa­sion­al smile pro­duced the effect most clear­ly. More than like­ly a Mainlander; the locals would­n’t work those kind of hours. And not a word of English either. Locals of his gen­er­a­tion had at least the bare min­i­mum, espe­cial­ly those in any kind of busi­ness oper­a­tion. The Bruiser and his girl had found each oth­er in Singapore; work­ing visas were not grant­ed to cou­ples at that end of the labor mar­ket. The con­struc­tion work-gangs would have the fel­low going well before dawn with all the prepa­ra­tion for the counter; two o’clock he was invari­ably dead on his feet. You could­n’t blame the man. And not done until after din­ner. For this sort of activ­i­ty you need­ed to be rake-thin, sup­ple and agile. Chap had earned his beau­ty sleep.

A loud fel­low with his feet up on an adjoin­ing chair would­n’t take the hint from the wait­ress. Paid for his cof­fee, had every right he thought. Liberty prin­ci­ples he gave her, in English for the ben­e­fit of bystanders.

The wait­ress had tried to shame the man; he returned as good as he got. Laughed unflap­pably at the side-joke about not being able to act like that at home. However that may be, here he choos­es com­fort and relax­ation, so there. At least the feet were washed.

One of the gals on the cor­ner lolled some­thing in her mouth, brought it out on the tip of her tongue and turned over. You want some of that? she asked… Earlier the lady had sat at one of the tables. Many of the gals sat at those tables, where they took their food and at the same time fished among the fel­lows bask­ing on the rocks. Their coun­try­women serv­ing showed a degree of indul­gence, some sis­ter­li­ness despite all, cer­tain­ly in the case of the Bruiser’s woman. The Bruiser’s woman there had lis­tened to woe and trou­bles aplen­ty. A dozen and more girls com­mon­ly hang­ing on the slope; more still around the cor­ner under the walk­way on the main road. Many got a hear­ing with their lunch at this stall in par­tic­u­lar, from their under­stand­ing compatriot.

A few min­utes lat­er the gal tongu­ing put on a dance for a tall ang moh on a bicy­cle who had stopped. Loaded up plen­ty this lass. For a fel­low who liked his women stacked, she was the one. Silicone pos­si­bly. Difficult to tell, even had she revealed her breasts entirely.

Half an hour lat­er a van dri­ver with his eyes out on stalks knocked into the cab in front.

…Still down the big fel­la, a sol­id hour. Chap was­n’t mere­ly rest­ing his eyes.

From the laz­ing, recal­ci­trant loud-mouth with his foot on the chair, a com­men­tary had start­ed up at some point, the buzz of a foot­ball broad­cast or race-call not too far from the mark.

Did the ang moh know the charges here?… What you can get?… What to look out for?

Hourly rates— his own expe­ri­ences hunt­ing with his pals through the lorongs. (The pals pro­vid­ed cov­er for wives. I was out with…) On and on he went. No encour­age­ment of any kind required.

Seated at an angle, swiv­elled around in his chair to face the girls direct­ly along the slope, snout point­ed across the table of his new-found friend whose ear he was bashing.

The girls leant against the sheet­ing that enclosed the shop veran­da oppo­site. A knot of them stood up on the cor­ner itself chat­ting among them­selves, chat­ting up the passers­by, swing­ing handbags.

— Eighty, revealed Loud-mouth casu­al­ly after a short, unhelp­ful pause, uncer­tain how much of an impres­sion he was making.

Come on fel­la! Tedious.

When he was told of the girls flash­ing two and five a lit­tle way along under the veran­da, the man stood corrected.

OK, but they were unlike­ly to be China girls though, he added.

A mis­take to have engaged the fellow.

China girls were real­ly what the man was talk­ing about; his specialty.

The hur­ry all the time; clock-watch­ing. Watching your belong­ings while going to the bath­room. Unsatisfactory ser­vice and fak­ing. The gripes went on.

Shut The FFFF up will ya please if you don’t mind!…

Messaging was use­less. The fel­low was not a mind read­er. Body lan­guage, pos­ture, signs of busy­ness, all ignored by this guy.

Twenty a day the pret­ty ones could score.

For cry­ing out loud.

…Not an espe­cial­ly big num­ber to accom­mo­date for a will­ing lady. So much a month. Take it all back home if they were smart, tax free. In RMB good dosh.

Grrh! Wouldn’t give over. He was going to get it any minute.

For prop­er mon­ey one got real good treat­ment from those hon­eys. They could turn it on Hollywood-style, don’t you wor­ry about that…

The fuck­er was impo­tent for a cert. Guaranteed. Sitting up there with his beer and fags, leg up, the fan­ta­sy of an adven­ture teas­ing him… Perhaps he was not past it after all, maybe? In the right cir­cum­stances, with the right girl?…

Eventually, when he was told more or less respect­ful­ly that he was pro­vid­ing cheap, com­mon infor­ma­tion, the man pulled his head in briefly. Briefly. One need­ed a base­ball bat to stop this fel­low in his tracks.

An old­er woman who worked the walk­way came down by the tables to buy a drink. One or two locals in their six­ties with an alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent self-assur­ance kept along the front stretch of the main road.

Surely the ang moh could­n’t have known of the cur­rent PM’s dis­com­fort a cou­ple of years ago when it was report­ed Geylang was either the num­ber four, or num­ber five tourist draw in the coun­try. Whether four or five the guy could­n’t vouch. It was top five. Reported in the news­pa­per. Immediate police raids fol­low­ing; depor­ta­tions cut the trade in half for a while. It still had­n’t prop­er­ly recovered…So much bet­ter back then, the choice had been far more exten­sive. And with those num­bers the bar­gains to be had.

Chong was the name; John for ease.

Fifteen years in China had giv­en Chong a thor­ough famil­iar­i­ty with these girls. The con­di­tions at home, the deci­sions involved, what they earned there com­pared to here.

The show-girl oppo­site could eas­i­ly be flash­ing sil­i­cone. It would not have sur­prised Chong, build­ing up a head of steam again.

There were five sur­gi­cal enhance­ments com­mon in China, mark you.

An ana­lyt­i­cal researcher, the dra­mat­ic pause was a lit­tle beyond this Chong.

Eye-lids was one.


Nose jobs and breasts.

Chong was relent­less. This infor­ma­tion had not come mere­ly from the news­pa­per. No. Particular info.

You could punch out the Dickbrain with a left, right, Waitress count him out and Bruiser scrape the remains and deposit in the dust bin, who would care. Steely looks and swiv­el­ling away in the chair water off a duck­’s back for this man.

The fifth sur­gi­cal item that emerged how­ev­er was sur­pris­ing and rather strik­ing. It grat­i­fied Chong in no small part that he was able to hook his lis­ten­er even­tu­al­ly. Cannily, the man had in fact pro­gressed in ascend­ing order.

The fifth pro­ce­dure com­mon for these China girls was a lig­a­ment job just below the knee. Chong did­n’t know the prop­er term. On his own leg just to the side of the knee-cap he showed where the sur­geon entered. An exten­sion there at the lig­a­ment, a piece of high ten­sile mate­r­i­al of some kind, gave the girl a full four cen­time­tres. That was an inch and a half, Chong oblig­ing­ly did the con­ver­sion. A sig­nif­i­cant, telling increase. The trade in that was as good as any of the oth­er pro­ce­dures on the Mainland, rais­ing a gal to a lev­el from which she could com­pete with the more nat­u­ral­ly advantaged.

The after­noon encounter had not been a waste; Chong saw he had made a mark.

Ah well, you had asked for it real­ly had­n’t you.

Late fifties; Manchester U grad (Electronics). Married. Dyed his hair like most of his peers, edu­cat­ed or not. A wide mouth opened like a draw­er gab­bling. (Another of the cos­met­ic ops. in this region, not in the top five so far as the China girls were con­cerned, was “cor­rec­tion” of the prog­nath­ic jaw, for both gen­ders. On anoth­er day Chong might have been served that to put in his pipe to smoke. Something out­side his knowl­edge perhaps.)

Unremarkable in every way, Everyman Chong. Earlier he had smoked a cig­a­rette at the table. Likely the wait­ress had­n’t noticed, being run off her feet that after­noon. The big Bruiser might have been raised from his cat-nap to deal with that one had there had been any argument.

Chong deliv­ered his pièce de résis­tance last of all. It took a while to emerge in the unfold­ing. The reac­tion to the lig­a­ment exten­sion had giv­en the man encouragement.

After the lig­a­ment had fol­lowed the grim tale of his expe­ri­ence with the $200 young beau­ty a few years ago in one of the back alleys near­by, a per­fec­tion of a lass who could­n’t be resist­ed. Some extend­ed admi­ra­tion and like­ly bar­gain­ing, before Chong’s com­pan­ion in the hunt encour­aged his friend: Why don’t you take her?… Ah, O.K. Why not? Chong had answered.

Chong’s English was good, there was no stum­bling for words. This seemed to be pre­cise­ly how it hap­pened, with this par­tic­u­lar exchange. Or in fact did­n’t hap­pen, as it turned out.

Trouble was there was swelling and bruis­ing Chong had­n’t count­ed on when he was prepar­ing to begin. Chong knew the game more than well, yet this arrived as a sur­prise for the man.

For such a Beauty the lights must have been left on in the room and Chong’s keen­ness quick­ly blunt­ed by what was revealed.

The lads pre­vi­ous­ly, the fif­teen or twen­ty accom­mo­dat­ed before Chong, had been ham­mer­ing away blind­ly with­out care or prop­er aim. Chong had twigged to the reason.

Hang-dog Chong. Poor man. Beauty despoiled seemed to be the rubric. Here was the pret­ti­est girl on the block, the loveli­est, fresh­est girl for months back, an utter per­fec­tion. Yet on clos­er inspec­tion, so bad­ly damaged.

Sometimes the traf­ficked young girls late night in the lorongs larked like school­girls at the beach; oth­ers raised the eyes like spec­tres reawak­en­ing from a dark, Arctic sleep.

For real delight, for top-notch ser­vice, one went for…Something gar­bled in Chinese from Chong or John.

Once the man was done with the unfor­tu­nate tale of mis­fir­ing with that loveli­est of lovelies spoilt by her trade, Chong passed on quick­ly, almost with­out a breath.

This was some­thing new and dif­fer­ent; anoth­er mat­ter now.

Yeeyow long…

Did you know of it?… One Piece Dragon? Ever heard of that? One Piece Dragon, Chong wondered.

The blank look seemed to sur­prise Mr Chong. The assump­tion had been he was con­vers­ing with a trav­el­er of the world, famil­iar with the flesh-pots of Asia. Certainly his inter­locu­tor seemed well acquaint­ed with Geylang.

A lit­tle nar­ra­tive tease in the pause.

The yi kiao lung was spelt out carefully.

Lung was drag­on. One could ask around. Anyone would cor­rob­o­rate on the One Piece Dragon.

In the time of the Emperor, One Piece was the Heavenly Being’s spe­cial priv­i­lege alone. An Emperor only received such delight. Now in more demo­c­ra­t­ic times, it was with­in the reach of the com­mon man. Two hun­dred and fifty dol­lars bought you One Piece Dragon in Geylang cur­rent­ly, accord­ing to infor­mant Chong.

Delectation beyond all compare.

The girl start­ed at the toes. All ten got the treat­ment one by one indi­vid­u­al­ly. Done there, the lass slow­ly nosed north­ward. Nosed slow­ly, but all the way. From the toes right up to the hair on top of the head, the girl did­n’t miss any part. Pleasure recalled from years past gone cold now…Lowest south all the way to top-most pole.

Chong’s den­tal work showed. Blinking as if with mod­esty, eyes flick­er­ing behind steel-frames.

Anyone would con­firm the truth of what he said. You could go ahead and ask around.

Chin nod­ding. Gratified. Pleased with him­self. In the end Chong had suc­ceed­ed in claim­ing his listener.

Many of the spec­ta­tors on that cor­ner, at the Eateries and loi­ter­ing on the pave­ment, were ten, twen­ty, or even thir­ty years old­er than Chong. Well past it like him. No doubt like him they had the mon­ey most of them. Sitting there the men were like Chong remem­ber­ing phys­i­cal pas­sion, recall­ing the stir­ring of desire. The time was not so dis­tant, even for the great-grand­fa­thers sit­ting high in their chairs look­ing as if they need­ed some­one to feed them. Even now they were touched by mem­o­ries that stood near at hand. With their slow-motion eye-blink­ing they did indeed resem­ble rep­tiles. Some of the grand­pas went upstairs with the girls too for what­ev­er com­fort was avail­able; one com­mon­ly saw them stopped under the veran­das with a young, cajol­ing arm on theirs. When the big-chest­ed gal did her wob­bly jive for the for­eign­er on the bicy­cle one of the chaps at the tables watch­ing had swiv­elled his head look­ing for his pals to share the moment. Did you see that? Something like a spec­tac­u­lar goal bent into the cor­ner of the net.

 Singapore 2011–2020


Australian by birth and Montenegrin ori­gin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years liv­ing and writ­ing in SE Asia has pro­vid­ed unex­pect­ed stim­u­lus. Previous work has appeared in a range of lit­er­ary jour­nals and mag­a­zines, includ­ing Ambit, Big Bridge, Citron & Antigonish Reviews. A moun­tain­ous blog hold­ing main­ly the Asian writ­ing is here