Friday, September 24, 2010


Rare are the days when scenes from a cop show come into your life. The boys in blue do not often ask you to help lift a corpse that was found in the alley beside your fish shop; the detective in charge, with his bedhead of hair and an unlit cigar dangling from tiny pursed lips will not ask you questions and look for deception. The police that we see are usually driving quite slowly through quiet side streets, or pulling us over to ask for I.D. Would we want it any other way? To ask for upheaval is to invite the untidy, and who wants more chaos in this fucked-up old world?

Unless, of course, such an intrusion is an oddly benign interruption that surprises, then perplexes, then gradually shifts into that pleasantly puzzling offshoot of the status quo that every so often asks us to pull up a chair and take in the show. No matter how brief it may be.

Just beside the Jollibee chicken franchise at the corner of Session Road a group of old and young women sit and sell fruit. Fresh fruit, I'm presuming, with varying varieties of bananas and strawberries, apples and oranges, alongside some other small food that I don't know how to quite name. (One of the unexpected pleasures of living in various Asian countries is that you come across an inordinately astounding numbers of fruits that you didn't know existed.) They sit there so often -- meaning, constantly, forever -- that I never take much notice of them, unless I decide to grab a bunch of bananas for an afternoon snack.

Last Friday, though, I sure as hell caught wind of what they were up to, and I suddenly realized, roundabout the time the police truck slid to a halt with a surprisingly quick jolt, that there are layers to life here above and beyond me. The truck stopped; a handful of men and women in faded blue uniforms leaped out, if only half-heartedly; the young women behind him, the ones with the fruit, leaped up from their perches and, giggling, grabbed their boxes of goods and raced across the street and somewhere not here, laughing the laugh that you laugh when a game that you know is played well and played often.

And me, standing there, watching two forces at work, two groups that were partners in one all too strange new game. Strange, for me. A game, for them? I don't know. What I saw was this: A handful of cops jumping out of their ride in a half-hearted, half-assed, completely half-whatever manner. A few of them seemed to have billy-clubs raised; a couple of them looked like they'd rather be watching cartoons or cockfights. Their gait was casual, their pace rather slow. They didn't run so much as lope. This all happened in the span of five seconds and ten feet. (Life's confusions usually are that short and that narrow, I'm finding.) Within that time, the ladies bundled up their boxes of fruit and raced away -- 'away', being, literally, ten, fifteen feet away. Within sight of the cops. Who didn't chase them. Who watched them run. Who smiled and laughed themselves. And me, wondering.

Seems like, somebody was going through the motions. The usual bunch of somebodies, maybe. Official, anonymous ones. They were told, I'm guessing, to go check out what was going on at the corner with the fruit-sellers, who, presumably, were not supposed to be there, had no permission to be there, and yet were there, as they've always been, every day, forever. I've seen the same thing happen with English schools run by Koreans and staffed by the locals. Somebody comes to inspect the place where nobody is supposed to be, yet the people who shouldn't be there are informed of this inspection, and so they hightail it out of there before the inspectors come to inspect. Simple. Circular. The rules are followed and then flouted in a few easy steps. You do what you're told to do.

And me, thinking I've come up with a solution. That I've figured it out. You look at the foreigners as they look at you, and you devise your own theory, and hope that it's true. If it's not, who cares? The day's first few moments have offered a new set of standards. Chips in the china of this still foreign land have been spotted and pondered, and all before lunch.