So much of my life seems to consist of sitting somewhere, smoking, drinking one overpriced beverage or another, and trying to figure it all out… whatever ‘it’ is. Mostly I watch people. They’re endlessly fascinating, endlessly complex, endlessly un-understandable. I will never figure out why people do 80% of what they do, but the price of a beer or a coffee is like buying a ticket to the greatest show on earth. It’s always the same, which is to say it’s never the same. The only thing that really changes is the seat I’ve rented.
Right now, across the street at Orchard Towers, one of the clubs on the second floor has just switched on its neon. ‘HONKEY TONKIN,’ it reads, ‘SWAMP ROCK’. ‘LIVE ROCK n’ ROLL’, all in red. Alcohol, women of questionable morals, rock n’ roll, men with too much money and not enough action. I know it’s been said before and better, but Singapore is a strange place – in some ways, self-delusional. Prostitution is legal, but ‘Asian values’ are touted regularly. There is a great uproar over casinos, as they may turn some into gambling addicts – as if Toto, 4D, horse racing etc. aren’t gambling and may not have the exact same effect. I think the idea of ‘Asian values’ is a good one, actually; one of the many sad things about globalization is the erosion of vibrant native cultures across the world. But to be honest, I have no idea what ‘Asian values’ are supposed to consist of, beyond the idea of filial piety. But I’ve gone off on a tangent. I was talking about prostitution.
I may not agree with prostitution (yeah baby, make love to my wallet!) but I understand it. And I don’t disagree with it on a moral or ethical level, as long as it’s two consenting adults. No, for me it’s just a matter of being a little too sordid and sad to be worth whatever brief physical release comes with asking a girl at Top Ten, ‘Have you had your dinner?’ For me, (and admittedly this is just for me, I’m not telling anyone else how to think or what to do in regards to prostitution) if I am hard up for sex, I’ve got two hands, a wide choice of lubricants and a stellar imagination. I can have sex with anyone I want. I can have sex with Helen of Troy if I want, and it doesn’t cost me a penny, and there is absolutely zero chance of catching a communicable disease. Or starting a war, for that matter.
But like I said, that’s just me. I understand loneliness, and I understand desire that blurs into need, into craving, almost into compulsion. I’m a smoker, after all. And while I am not the handsomest of men, I have been blessed (and sometimes cursed) with an adequate amount of female companionship throughout my adult life, making ‘professional’ help unnecessary. I prefer love to be real or wholly illusory.
But I’ve strayed far (and wide) from the topic. I don’t understand people. I never will. I understand some of their actions, their drives but in the end we are all prisoners locked in our own skulls, passing notes to the other inmates by the Morse code of language… and doing it badly. Every man, and every woman, is an island. An island that we can never truly visit. We send each other postcards (weather’s fine, wish you were here) but the interior lives of each of us remain forever locked away, songs without music, music without ears to hear.
And so I sit and drink my coffee or my beer, and I look at the faces of those who pass by, and I wonder what’s going on in each of those undiscovered countries: the beautiful woman whose face is set in stone, just at the edge of a scowl; the child in the stroller riding the edge of sleep; the business man with the dreamy look in his eye; the guy in the wheelchair, slack-jawed and darting eyes… And I will never know those lands, the contours, the forces which have shaped them.
But I want to.