On 26/10/11, my long time friend Mr Rodney Chua invited me to his AMK residence for a dinner gathering. It was the eve of Deepavali and he managed to get some good catch when he set out recently to the South China sea with some of his friends on his fishing boat. He maintains a fishing boat berthed at Punggol Marina. Every now and then he would just pull out his boat and go fishing with his friends. Last week, he suddenly rang me up and insisted that I go to his place for dinner. He had just come back from his fishing trip and excited over his big “parrot” fish and “lobster”!
Rodney Chua is my long time friend. I have known him since 1997. A rather tall slender frame with slight balding receding hairline. He is basically a businessman. The last business was in the shoes retail business and having shifted his shop to many places. Just before that, he was running a typical “mama shop” or kiosk next to a hawkers’ centre along AMK Ave 4. After he was forced out by the original owner, the said hawkers’ centre caught fire and burnt down. He was lucky to have shifted out fast. When he was younger, he was running a food cafeteria at the old Katong Shopping Ctr. Like me he is a Teochew. He is happily married with 3 grown up children and lovely wife about 10 yrs younger than him. He is now semi retired and spend his time “fishing” in the stock market if he is not fishing in the South China sea. The huge fishing rods on display testify his penchant for deep sea fishing even up to the southern part of the gulf of Thailand! There are many stories of high seas adventures or mis-adventures of near misses of collision with huge ocean liners which he shares with us. For many decades, he has spent his time fishing in the deep and high seas, he never runs out of tales for us.
Even though I have known Rodney for about 14 yrs, I continue to be amazed and intrigued by his resourcefulness, ingenuity, creativity and dexterity in everything he does – despite of his visual handicap – he lost his left eye in an accident many years ago before I know him. If I were a gifted writer, I could write a huge volume on him. Nevertheless, I shall just try to highlight some of those traits.
According to him, Rodney told his wife before he got married that there are 2 passions in his life he would never give up – beer and fishing. True enough, he is always with his beer and fishing on his own boat now and then. I share both of these passions with him but then I do not fish – I only eat fish. I leave the fishing to him which he loves to. When I declined many times to follow him fishing on his boat, he stopped asking me. But when he has some good catch, he would always invite me to enjoy a fresh fish meal. He calls it “sashimi” where the fish caught off the sea is so fresh that it is eaten raw and uncooked. On few occasions, he would bring the entire fish raw and uncooked – nicely cut and ready on a silver plate and bring it to the nearby hawkers centre where we would eat with Japanese wasabi. Of course not without a dozen of beer to go with it. A few of us would just simply enjoy the fresh fish. His wife usually tags along. We could be there from about 7pm till after mid nite before we call it a day! It is from such occasions that I began to understand more about him and enjoy his company with his endless anecdotes and jokes.
You see Rodney is a guy who is not very educated. He can speak and understand some English. Most of the time we converse in Teochew. Maybe it is the same dialect, beer and fish we share that we continue to be friends for about 14 yrs. LKY ever mentioned that the population of Singapore may be educated but they are not smarter! So it seems that we are educated but not smart at all! In my opinion, Rodney is the smartest guy I know around my circle of friends. I have never seen a person more intelligent than him. This conclusion is based from my observations on him over the so many years.
If you go to his 5-room HDB flat, you will find that nearly all of his furniture such as display cabinets, sofa, racks, beds, bedroom door frames, tables etc are hand-made by him. The water fountain at the small balcony is constructed by him. He has got all the tools such as big and small saws, electric and battery operated drills, chisels, carpentry equipment etc etc at his disposal to DIY. Whenever he shifted to a new shophouse like the last one in Yishun near to the Bus Interchange comprising 2 or 3 HDB shop units with a rental of nearly $20K per month, he used his imagination and skills in carpentry to set up display counters, racks, showcases etc for much of his goods in his shop. He did not engage any contractor. For more than 4 yrs, he was operating in that shop until he got chased out by HDB due to en bloc re-development. He was very sore and bitter about that. I will discuss this on another time.
Before the Yishun shop, he was operating a small typical “mama shop” adjacent to the hawkers centre/wet market at AMK Ave 4 near Blk 600 plus where that place was burnt down many years ago – end of 2007. He rented from the original owner at a higher price. He was able to pay the monthly rental on time and yet gain a tidy profit despite competition from his next door shop – similar to his. Every CNY, he would display and sell so much CNY items such as greeting cards, decorations, CDs etc… Mainly he sold CDs, sweets, cigarettes etc like a typical mama shop. As usual I would drop by to visit him in his shop. It was there that I learnt from him the art of listening to Buddhist chanting. Then, he sold lots of Buddhist CDs in his shop. All the Buddhist mantras such as The Great Compassion 大悲咒 Dàbēi zhòu and my favourite mantra Vairocana Buddha 大日如來 CDs in various styles and forms were sold in his little kiosk. He gave me my 1st Buddhist chanting CD more than 10 yrs ago and since then, I have acquired the art of listening to Buddhist chanting which not many could.
Due to the nature of his job where he got to look after his shop all the time, he usually welcomes visitors and friends to his shop to accompany him. Of course, he tries to get away for his fishing trip when he has the time – if his children could help in looking after his shop. He may be staying in a HDB flat but he owns a huge fridge just as big as a coffeeshop’s fridge. His supply of fish came from the South China seas from his frequent fishing trips on his own boat. As such, he hardly buys his fish from the market. If the HDB is agreeable, I think he will even grow his own vegetable in his balcony!
Rodney is a person who does not keep still. If he is too boring in his shop, he would start to do some carvings from discarded pieces of wood into very beautiful pieces of art. There is a sample pic here – Tibetan “Om Mani Padme Hum”. In fact, when residents throw away some unwated furniture, items or whatever, he would salvage them and turn them or recycle them into beautiful pieces of art. There was a row of mirrors on the wall of his dinning room which looks impressive. I commented on it. He told me he got it from some discarded furniture and installed them there.
Such is the kind of intelligent creativity in him. Not only that – he is also a great conversationalist where he could relate in precise detail with chapter and verse the everyday common encounters he came across in his shop. Basically the good, bad and ugly customers he came across. I never fail to laugh and surprise that there are so many idiots, retards and cretins existing in this world. Even in my job, I often come across such retards. I will talk about those retards on another time. Like I say, there are so much bits and pieces to highlight about Rodney which I would not be able to relate all. Suffice it is to say that he is a fantastic cook. In fact, he cooked that fish and lobster for us on that night which he caught earlier. We used to go to a Kelong in Penggerang; Johor and stay overnight. He would just get some fish below the Kelong and cook for us there and then. We have been there many times where I would enjoy the fresh air, fish and beer without worrying about police road blocks and yellow boxes! Total freedom and relaxation which we do not find here.
I am already looking forward to another makan gathering at Rodney’s residence. I have always been there during the CNY for many years. The next CNY is just months away. I will definitely make my way there. It is indeed a blessing to have a friend like him – full of fun and entertainment besides the fish he would catch and prepare for us! Thank you Rodney for being such a wonderful friend.