Xmas eve, 1989, Singapore. My family is on vacation in Asia, and we’re invited to my Dad’s office holiday party in Singapore. On the walk from our hotel to the hotel where the party is being held, my sister and I receive a long talk on how important our behavior is (but really I think it’s mostly directed at me) and how it will reflect on him, and that we especially need to eat the food that is served because not doing so would amount to a huge insult that would impact his career.
The event is huge — several hundred people, at least. My family are among the dozen or so westerners in the hall. The master of ceremonies for the evening is local Singaporean TV celebrity/ventriloquist Victor Khoo.
The warning about the food was pertinent; some of it was challenging to me at the time — a giant prawn with those big black eyes looking at you, and you can’t tell from its look whether it’s begging you not to eat it, or begging you to eat it and get things over with. A dish of little white nubs in a sauce with the color and consistency of warm Elmer’s glue, and when you tried to chew the little nubs, they had the exact texture of those little white ‘ink erasers’ that used to be on the metal ballpoint pens that you’d steal from the bank, and weren’t so much ‘ink erasers’ as they were ‘hole in the paper rippers’. Each place setting came with 5 or 6 small crystal bowls with different dipping sauce — my father pointed out the one with super-hot chilis in it and pointed out that it would kill whatever unpleasant taste you wanted gone.
After dinner: the talent show!
My dad’s boss’ boss’ boss’ wife got up from the table because she needed to be down front to be one of the judges of the talent show. Every one of the acts was a Chinese woman from the factory wearing traditional clothing singing a traditional song, voice all quavery from nerves. After a few of these, it was really getting monotonous.
Over the PA, Victor Khoo’s voice boomed: “And now….. SCARY MONSTER”. The room went pitch black, then after 30 seconds or so faded back in to maybe 20% brightness. A lone figure sat in a chair at the front of the stage, motionless. Quiet, creepy music started playing, and another person came on stage, skulking around, gradually making his way toward the unsuspecting person in the chair. When the music got loud and screechy, the skulker ran up to his victim, grabbed his hair, and…ripped its head clean off. He ran from side to side of the stage, brandishing the head at the audience, sending streams of fake blood spraying onto the first few tables down front.
I don’t remember if there were any acts after that. I remember my dad’s boss3 wife returning to the table with her very expensive-looking white dress now two-toned with fake blood. I remember the look on that prawn’s face. I remember being relieved that it wasn’t my behavior that was a cause for concern that evening. I remember walking back to our hotel in the Singaporean heat.
In ‘The Crying of Lot 49’, Thomas Pynchon says:
“You know what a miracle is. Not what Bakunin said. But another world’s intrusion into this one. Most of the time we coexist peacefully, but when we do touch there’s cataclysm.”
This was my personal xmas miracle.
RIP Victor Khoo