When John met Jaya

John Tan

Something funny happened on my way home last week. It was a sunny Sunday morning, and Grace and I had just finished breakfast at the market, and after picking up some groceries were making our way home. It was still the Chinese New Year period and the tung-tung-chiang of a lion dance troupe was going on a few feet away.

Ordinarily this would not interest me. But this was no ordinary lion dance. I mean, you would see young men in colourful, frilly pants that matched the body of the lion, banging away at their gongs and cymbals, right? But guys in long-sleeved dress-shirts? I know how much Singapore likes the modern image but a troupe outfitted by Armani? No, something was going on here.

My suspicions were confirmed when I saw photographers milling around. Soon a few policemen showed up with an HDB parking warden in tow. Together they erected a portable “Reserved” sign and choped two carpark lots.


Okay, she got my attention. “Who are you reserving the lots for?” I asked. If you’ve been a Singaporean long enough (nowadays, you don’t really know what that means), you know that something PAP-ish is going on here.

“Professor Jayakumar,” the warden confirmed.

To my wife’s consternation, I decided to hang around and observe the proceedings, or at least until the VIP showed up. “I just wanna greet him,” I assured her within earshot of the police, both uniformed and non. That must have made their proud chests swell a little bit more.

After all, how often does one get to be up close and personal with the deputy prime minister and, no less, the minister for law – an area with which I recently had a few, shall we say, disagreements.

Hmmm, why did I get the feeling that wifey didn’t quite believe me?

Suddenly a car pulled up. I’m sorry, a Citroen – a grand, luxurious Citroen – pulled up. It must have cost the driver a bomb. Add the road tax, escalating pump prices and all those ERP gantries sprouting up like mushrooms all over this little green island, he must be worried sick.

Atten-hut! The very dapper looking bunch of guys snapped to attention in a neat line as Mr Jayakumar alighted. All those years of National Day Parade practices sure come in handy.

(I wonder why everybody still calls him “professor”. That’s a title reserved for those who have made the grade in academe. But, of course, this is Singapore.)

I joined them. Grace wasn’t amused.

What? What’s the problem? Don’t I look like the rest of the guys in the line? Okay, okay, so I was in a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops (I like my Sundays free and easy). But no one told me the DPM was coming to town. Had I known I would have put on my party badge.

As it was, I received a few curious stares from my fellow greeters. I beamed back.

The PAP papparazi started shooting and the minister smiled the most brilliant of smiles. He seemed a happy man.

He went down the line shaking admiring hands and exchanging niceties. Then he reached me. He held out his hand. I took it.

“How do you feel getting paid three million dollars when the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet?” I asked.

Tung-tung-chiang! The gongs and cymbals seemed to beat extra loudly.

His smile, once so radiant, suddenly turned into a grin – one of those that your cheek muscles had to work extra hard to prop up.

“We’ll talk about it,” he muttered.

But he didn’t say where or when, and quickly plunged into the crowd that had gathered to watch the the prancing lion. And, oh, the prosperity god was there too.

Okay, so I wasn’t there to blow kisses at him but here’s a thought: If a dozen of us were there, we could have formed a line and asked the same question over and over. Wouldn’t it be neat if we videotaped the exchange and captured the expression on his face. Priceless!

Here’s another thought: Perhaps we should start looking for such opportunities. And when you do get the chance to meet a minister, pop him the question: “How do you feel getting paid three million dollars when the rest of us are struggling to make ends meet?” We’ve got to keep up the pressure.

And by the way, if you ever see Mr Jayakumar, please remind him that he promised to talk to me about it.

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