Crossing from the fruit by the sushi aisles there was a S — L — O — W slow amble through something about a Christmas tree. (Not the old up-tempo fave.) Almonds had not been tasted two full months in Jogja, they were unavailable at Hero supermarket in the basement at Malioboro Mall and likely only out at Parangtritis somewhere. (Reports suggested Parangtritis held a higher concentration of Bule, Whites than even Malioboro.) The first few times at One KM the second nut section had not been located behind laundry and cleaning in the far back corner, where tonight another of the old repertoire ran smooth as whisky over ice. An excellent Deano cover.… it’s cold out thEEEeere.… The slight teeth-chatter causing a not so silent giggle to escape. Ah, that was a good one. My, my! Though one must say the Sunday had been positively cool, and through the afternoon no one could be bothered turning off the overhead fans at Al Wadi. At the checkout one tried the railings.… Well, by no means the sticky ice-cold of NTUC beneath Joo Chiat Complex; that might be hard to beat anywhere on the island. The street-people and beggars could often be found out along the JC concourse stealing some refreshment by the open doors. At One KM hardly stinging at all. By the same token, a body would not want to rely on that polished aluminium for keeping upright. Hardly any bunting had been noticed since the return. Somehow the Guillemard corner shop with its red-brick wallpaper and product along the walkway had been passed blindly. The trees had not yet arrived; a week or so in the run-up to Chrissy the perfume of a Borneo plantation could be taken on that corner. Ol’ Deano in the tuxe might be raised in cut-outs somewhere in the stores here, maybe Robinsons and some of the jewellers and watch-sellers. On the street the cars road-side were giving off the usual furnace-blast as you passed.
The Great Christmas Village was being erected in the forecourt of Ngee Ann City, a merry-go-round out front of Tower No. 2 playing Auld Lang Syne. (Good luck to the locals with the lyrics of that old favourite under the aircon on the Eve.) Pacing along the stretch by the department stores and from the window of the bus there had been no sign of the Disneyfication that the church groups were complaining about; not a single elf or reindeer. In the front window at Paragon, the Raoul display it may have been, an eye-catching heavy knit in bright verticals on cream base lured wives of men who took the season up on the Alps. At Takashimaya the tree inside the entry was complete, scaffolding removed and the illuminated glitter balls and ornaments hung. Up at ski lodges in the Northern Hemisphere tall firs laced with snow would catch moonlight in a similar effect. Slow Monday afternoon, understandable with the event still a month off. Usual tourists from the region: Indonesians easy to pick, Mainland Chinese and Filipinos. Many places in China would still lack the full Chrissy production. Usually there was a brief pass through Kinokuniya before the stop for the Paul baguette, then prior to the bus the raid of the sample oils at Mui Mui. A sudden fit of cowardice had taken hold at the prospect of what may have awaited among the stacks at the bookstore—elaborately outfitted animation characters from the best sellers, celebrity chefs with egg-beaters on stage, minstrels trooping through. You could be caught completely unawares even a week before the end of November. Indoors at Paul the maitre’d in his baker’s coat had recently opted for muted orange, or mustard-loquat perhaps, wee suspicion of implants. Recent months it had been difficult to venture at Paul. Sitting against the wallpaper surrounded by the fawning staff, beneath the chandeliers. The faux fireplace with its implements on a rack, the windmill prints. (Perhaps in fact the campaigne did have windmills dotted around after all. It could not have been a confusion of the designers, surely.) At the takeaway counter a pair of Chinese staff were squabbling and ignoring a customer in a fine panama. The lad inside the door at Juicy by the escalator had sagged in his posture and would need to straighten at an entry.
You might not be surprised there’s nothing whatever of it here. Last few days only trippin betw Lt. Ind and Geylang Serai. Nada. Fairy lights, manger, socks, deer, nowhere to be seen. Have to laugh. An old Java man look-a-like from the schoolbooks in our day has taken a shine to yours truly and his charity lately. Most mornings the chap bellows some kind of hunting call from behind at Mr. T. T., blindsiding on the approach. Ah, Mr. Indigenous. It’s you is it? Hello you old rascal. Pagi. Morning. Pull up a pew… Some little malarkey gets the ball rolling. Chap knows his pal’s always busy, note-taking, circling items in the paper. The head-shaking puzzles him. What in the heck’s that all about? Laughs. Always measures his ask, knowing the routine of course, geezer his age. Nothing straightaway… When it comes it’s the clutch at the parched throat and screwing up the eyes like desert scenes in the silent flicks. Always damn hot of course, even December. Finger and thumb showing the measure of the glass. If only he could get himself some. The little zippered pouch on the table amidst the pens and papers holds the coin, he knows. Indicates with a finger. You gunna rescue a pal, or not?.. Virtually all of the chat is mutually incomprehensible. Man camps out in Toa Payoh apparently, yet takes the No. 67, which doesn’t go out there. Commun. breakdown. His heavy ring clangs on the table-top punctuating the halting conversation. HaHaHa. The approaching event he has been anticipating more than a week now. Jingle bells, Jingle bells. Saya bulom pergi? You goin back when?.. How you supposed to keep a straight face? Ol buzzard early-mid 80s, someone washing, shaving, cutting his hair, paring his nails. Best of his threads the white BOY tee he sports every once in a while. Rip Curl surfer shorts if you can believe—no $2 Chin-wear from the outlets up the road for this fella. Must be a daughter or grand loving him to bits. Decided he doesn’t need the dosh so keeping it now to fifty cents alternate days. One morning a hoot tricking him with one of the new fifties. Smaller, close to the buck and about the same weight. The feel of it had him pretty satisfied. Look-see following however transformed the visage. Jowls dragged south, hang-dog miserable. What?! They don’t take that anywhere here. Whadya think this is? That’s the extent of it here. The carols in the supermarket you can duck, almost nothin else. Could easily forget the whole show.
P.S. Two virtual cards arrived early on the Eve, from Era the Minangkabau, Central Sumatra. Morning haney. Happy marry krestmas. And the correction quickly following: Morning honey happy merry crestmas
Australian by birth and Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic’s eight years living in SE Asia has provided unexpected stimulus. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, including Ambit, Panoply, Citron Review, The Blue Nib, Ginosko and New World Writing. A mountainous blog holding mainly the Asian work is here— http://axialmelbourne.blogspot.com/