Singapore in Chinatown

It was nearly eleven, and the streets of SoHo were just beginning to quiet as theater-goers piled into taxis and crowds descended into Leicester Square Station. June wrapped a padan cake in cling wrap, locked the register at the counter, and gathered and tied the white rubbish bag full of stale rice balls and dusty nonya kueh. She flipped the lights by the door, the rubbish bag by her side and the cling-wrapped padan cake balancing in the crevice of her elbow, and locked the bakery door from out front.

Two green rubbish bags on her stoop tonight. It could have been worse. When she opened Sweet Singapore in 1992 Chinatown, the average was eight bags per night. She would often forget, and stumble into them on her way out of the bakery. Her wrapped sweets for her husband would fall into the street, and she would plunge her hands through the cheap bags into a sticky piles of oolong noodles and orange weepy napkins as she tried to catch herself. She didn’t even know it was a dig at all at first. It wasn’t until she saw the man from China Royal Duck next door dump his rubbish and spit on her store-front window a few weeks after he opened that June realized her bakery stoop was not the designated street rubbish pickup sight. The number of bags fluctuated as newcomers opened businesses on the street. The man from China Royal Duck had since left June alone. He’d since married a woman from Crewe, his two children were in university, and he gave out fortune cookies with every meal from Royal Duck. But there was a new take out window three doors down and a new bubble tea place on the corner who refused to let customers choose flavors, insisting on the traditional milk flavor that kept her nightly closing rituals lengthy.

June set the padan on the step, and took the bags, two in each hand, back to the dumpster around the back. She brushed her hands on her jeans, zipped her jacket, scooped up her padan, and walked down Gerrard Place towards the station. Chicken glistened in lit windows, red neons seared her eyes, and red and gold lanterns and prayer flags danced above her head—kissing the buildings to her left and right. A flock of women in a tight skirts, boots, and leather jackets stumbled out of the pub between China Royal Duck and New Loon Fung with their phones in front of their faces. June turned left onto Newport, then made her way to the station on Charing Cross.

***

Paul always stayed up for June, even on Saturdays when Singapore Sweets didn’t close until midnight. “Junie, how was your day?” he called to the kitchen from his living room armchair.

June smiled, wrapped her arms around him from behind, and kissed the top of his bald head. She dropped the Padan cake in his lap: “For you.”

“My favorite,” he sung, and kissed her cheek.

“Let me cut it up we can eat it while we watch,” June took the cake back to bring it into the kitchen to slice.

“No, no. You sit, I’ll cut. Sit.” demanded Paul. June obliged. She sat on the sofa, curled her legs up around her, found British Bake Off in the DVR, and waited for her cake.

Paul returned, two slices of cake on paper napkins. He handed one to June, and assumed his seat in the armchair. “Okay ready?” he asked. He bit into his cake.

“Ready” June pressed play.

***

It was just before open, and June stood outside Singapore Streets, key in hand, examining the spit marks on her front window. Windex. Windex would do the trick. She unlocked the front door, switched on the lights, and grabbed the Windex from the back closet. She heard the bell ring from the closet, and emerged to see Yeo put on his apron and unlock the register: “We have a saliva situation.”

June smiled: “I saw.” She went out front to wipe away the marks before the sun came up. She sprayed the window, and wiped it clean with a few scrubs.

Footsteps sounded through the empty SoHo street, as the owner of China Royal Duck walked from the station to his storefront. He walked the stairs to his door next to Singapore Sweets, and for a moment watched June wipe away at her window. June caught his figure in the corner of her vision. She turned, and looked at him. He nodded at her. She nodded back, turned back towards her foggy window and continued scrubbing.  The man unlocked his door, and flicked on the restaurant lights and the neon in the window that read: “Authentic China Duck.”

Hope Whittaker (character description homework)

Hope Whittaker. 25. Art history major. Full-time barista. She’s figuring things out, and working at the Blue Corner coffee shop on Hammersmith Road in the meantime. She got the job through a friend from school. She’s technically a millennial, but she’s terrible at social media, she can’t commit. She brews coffee all day, but doesn’t drink it. She loves the smell, and the way the whole vibe of the place seems to match her tattoos and her short dark hair.

Hope moved to London in 2010 will full intentions of becoming a full-time girlfriend. She was 17, just graduated high school, and her boyfriend who had spent the years since his graduation three years prior playing angsty gigs in his garage and local pubs decided that if he ever wanted to be truly serious about his art, he needed to move. Hope followed.

They moved into an East London flat with his bandmates, and Hope got a job as a bartender at the pub her boyfriend’s band had a weekly gig contract. She would watch him play, he would stay until close, and they would walk home together. The band would travelled, and she followed—her boyfriend always inviting her but never begging, never seeming to remember that she was there until the post-gig adrenaline settled in.

Eventually, as girls of 20 often do, Hope became tired of following her boyfriend. She was tired of watching gigs and pretending to hate pop music, she was tired of bartending. And so she broke it off. It was devastatingly okay and anticlimactic, and this remembers, was the worst part.

In an post break-up effort towards living a larger existence, Hope attended a lecture at the National Gallery and decided she wanted a degree and a real job. She enrolled in school, she started reading Kate Chopin and Alice Walker, and started listening to Fleetwood Mac. She made friends who begged her to hang out, she cut her hair short, and she got her own apartment. She got the the degree, but she’s nervous because she doesn’t really want the real job anymore.

Guerrilla Girl (site visit homework)

Phoebe joined Women’s Empowerment because she hated her roommate and the girl with the blue hair and nose ring who sat next to her in Women’s Medieval History Via The Male Gaze told her she should.

Phoebe wasn’t always so obedient to suggestion, but she was a transfer student from Maryland. She needed to be decently impressionable if she ever wanted friends in London. She joined the club because she needed friends and because she couldn’t exactly confess to the girl with the blue hair and the nose ring that she was only enrolled in Women’s Medieval History Via The Male Gaze because she needed to fill a history requirement and the level one classes were closed to freshman.

So instead, Phoebe smiled and nodded at the girl with the blue hair and the nose ring when she suggested it like she could want nothing more, asked her when the group met, and promised she’d be there.

“Awesome,” the girl said. “Perfect time to join too. We’re in the works of planning our fall movement. It’s gonna be sick. Real intersectional.”

Fall movement: Phoebe would tell her mom about it over the phone later. Her parents would be happy she was getting involved in some school organized service. They were always reminding her how good philanthropy looked to law school admissions boards.

She let herself get carried away as she walked home from class. She imagined bucketing with the blue haired girl around campus and greeting familiar faces, tabling in the student union office, selling baked goods for women’s shelters in the cafeteria, and running through dormitory halls together gathering petition signatures. She imagined her new friend helping Phoebe home-dye her hair a shade of orangey pink and she imagined their other friends referring to them as purple.

She did not, however, imagine herself standing naked wearing nothing but a gorilla mask outside the Tate Modern in the eight degree wind on a Saturday morning surrounded by forty other masked and naked members of women’s empowerment, which was were she found herself presently.

The girl with the blue hair and the nose ring stood beside her, her blue hair and nose ring hidden behind her gorilla mask. Farris, she’d found out was her name, was a double major in women and gender studies and political science concentrating in anarchist ideology. Farris had enthusiastically suggested women empowerment’s fall movement be a Guerrilla Girl demonstration at the Tate Modern. The demonstration was in protest of the replacement of the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit with a male German artist.

Phoebe was confused throughout the whole proposal. She’d never heard of the Guerrilla Girls and she’d never been to the Tate Modern. But everyone else in Women’s Empowerment loved Farris’s idea, so Phoebe went along with it. She nodded and smiled at appropriate intervals, and eagerly accepted Farris’s invitation to her flat party that weekend.

Phoebe didn’t ask questions. In fact, Phoebe had no idea that Caroline’s idea involved full nudity until she was handed her rubber Gorilla mask at the foot of Blackfriars station and the other girls began stripping down.

The group of masked naked students huddled close by the station waiting on Farris’s signal. Several girls held blown up Guerrilla Girls prints of the ‘Do Women Have to Be Naked to Get into the Met’ piece with the ‘Met’ crossed out and and replaced with ‘Tate’ in orange paint and the ‘women’ replaced with ‘Georgia.’ Other girls held signs: a print of Georgia O’Keefe’s Autumn Trees-The Maple on a meter stick and a poster reading ‘Take Back the Tate’ adorned with yellow painted bananas.

Girls giggled and whispered into the ear cutouts of one another’s masks, rested heads on one another’s shoulders, and huddled in small groups to keep warm. Phoebe stood alone. She stood in the center of the group, her arms folded at her chest, rocking from her heels to her toes, shivering and entirely unmoved. Her mask stunk of rubber and felt sticky and steamy from her heavy breaths.

Confusing Courtesy (homework week 7)

She heard the woosh of the approaching train from below and began running down the escalator. She reached the platform, rounded the corner, dodged passengers who had just exited the train, and nearly threw herself onto the train jostling several other riders.

“Sorry” she mouthed, and smiled apologetically. Londoners, she noticed, were not accustomed to being groped and assaulted by ruthless hurried travelers like New Yorkers. In New York she had been body-blocked from a train door by a fed up commuter who needed space, elbowed in the back and stomach countless times, and her body had been used as a makeshift grabrail by several subway riders to maintain their balance at particularly violent stops.

She was reaching for her headphones in her coat pocket when she felt a tap on her shoulder from behind. She wasn’t sure if the tap was intentional or accidental so she turned around to scan the train. A young woman stood behind her and looked her in the eyes. “You woke her, please be more careful when boarding the trains,” the woman said kindly as she gestured to what Evie realized was an infant wrapped at her chest.

Evie brought her hand to her mouth in shock: “Oh, no.” She shook her head: “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

The mother shook her head: “It’s fine, thank you.”

But Evie felt so guilty. The infant cried in its wrap against its mother. “Really, I am so sorry,” she offered.

But instead of once again accepting Evie’s apology, the mother shook her head and her face reddened: “Please stop talking to me. I’m trying to put her back to sleep.”

Evie was taken aback. The mother had been so kind just moments ago. Now she was backing away from Evie and shielding her child.

Notting Hill Gate Bus Stop (homework week 6)

It was 8:13, the 27 towards Chiswick Business park was late, and Quentin was therefore also late. No one in the office would really mind, in fact they would likely do the opposite of mind. Quentin stood at the bus stop with his hands in his pockets and his earbuds in his ears and imagined how excited his colleagues would be to see his empty cubicle at 8:30, how they would probably plan a lunch out—sushi probably. Quentin hated sushi. He imagined how they would gear up their office playlists, and smile at each other and point to his empty office chair, and then he imagined the disappointed looks on their faces when he would walk in late and they would realize that he was just late.

He turned to look down the road for the 27. Not a bus in sight. Just shopkeepers setting up outdoor discount displays, people mad rushing in and out of the Starbucks on the corner, and traffic as far as he could see. He pushed his fishbowl glasses up the bridge of his nose, and ran his bitten-nailed freckled hand through his red hair: now wiry and crunchy from this morning’s shower and the freezing air.

And as he stood there, neck crooked toward Portobello Road, eyes scanning the busy landscape for the 27, he felt a tug on his pant leg from below. Quentin pulled his eyes from the street and looked down. There at his feet, was little girl no older than four years old (Quentin thought, he was terrible at guessing children’s ages) in a red checked jumper looking up at him. Her short brown hair was held back from her face with two red barrettes, and she was saying something. Quentin paused his podcast, and pulled out one earbud. “Hm?” he asked, hoping she wasn’t actually speaking to him.

“I said ‘Are you famous?” she repeated to Quentin, her eyes widening.

“What? No. No, I’m not” he replied, confused.

But she wasn’t done, “Are you sure?” she persisted, now standing on her toes.

Quentin furrowed his brow, and replied “Yes, very sure.”

The girl turned around at pointed to an ad on wall of the bus stop next to the bench: “So that isn’t you?” Quentin followed her small pointer finger with his eyes, and when he saw the ad she was pointing at, he gasped.

And then, he was sick. All over his brown shoes. The little girl screamed and fled, and pedestrians dodged the vomital runoff as they passed him by. But Quentin was not concerned with his shoes, now covered in oatmeal and stomach acid. He was alternately concerned with the ad the little girl had pointed out to him. In white Helvetica: “Feeling blue?” the ad read? “We can help. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, reach out before it’s too late” and at the bottom of the page was a hotline number and some fine print. And set behind the text, was a huge photo of a man that was most definitely Quentin, sitting on the tube, in his blue button, ear buds in his ear, looking past the camera lens, his briefcase on his lap, looking really fucking depressed indeed. But how? Quentin never posed for the photo, had never heard of the hotline, he couldn’t even recall owning a blue button up. But yet there he was, the face of London’s depression, looking adequately depressed and unsuspecting on the bus stop wall. He felt sick again, sat on the bus stop bench, considered calling the hotline, and put his head between his knees.

***

It was 9:30 and Lindsey, with 9 month old Delaney wrapped at her chest, waved to Maddie and Gracie as they entered the school yard of their Notting Gate prep school. The gate shut, and Lindsey turned back onto Portobello Road towards the Starbucks near Notting Hill Gate Station. Maddie had been in her bed all night tossing and turning with after dinner Halloween-chocolate induced insomnia, and Delaney was fussing all morning as Lindsey tried to get the girls ready for school.

The family had just moved to the neighborhood in August for Steve’s job at the firm, but Lindsey could already find her way to the nearest coffee shop from where she was in West London. Lindsey liked London. She liked the old buildings and how much her girls loved wearing red checked jumpers and straw hats to school. She loved walking around Notting Hill and the park with Delaney after she walked the girls to school, and she loved how excited the girls got about sitting at the top of the bus.

But she missed New York, and its tall buildings, and its food, and the parks, their apartment on 96th street, and even the Subway. Lindsey walked up Portobello Road, past the bus stop, dodged what appeared to be a pile of vomit, and entering the Starbucks down the street. She waited in the line. The queue she reminded herself. Queue. Ordered her Americano, and left the coffee shop, heading back towards the bus stop.

And as she passed the stop, an ad caught her eye. She wasn’t close enough to read the print just yet, all she saw was a photo— the saddest photo she had ever seen of the saddest man she had ever seen, riding what appeared to be the tube. He had red hair, bags beneath his eyes, headphones in his ears, and the saddest look on his face. And he was looking past the camera not at it. And as Lindsey got closer, she read the print: “Feeling blue? We can help. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, reach out before it’s too late” and at the bottom was the number.

Lindsey looked at the man again, but in the glass pane of the ad she caught her own reflection instead. She hugged Delaney closer to her chest, breathed deeply, and clutched her Americano in her hand. She sat on the stop bench, as if waiting for a bus. And she thought. She wasn’t suicidal. Far from it. She loved her life, She wasn’t even depressed. She had been depressed before, just after she had Maddie. The months after were still a hazy blur of crying and numbness she tried not to revisit. She wasn’t depressed. But for some reason she felt compelled to call the number. She wanted to talk to someone. Someone who was over the age of seven. Someone who wasn’t from home. She couldn’t let her friends from New York know that London wasn’t everything she thought it would be. And She couldn’t talk to Steve. She knew what that conversation would sound like. She reached for her phone in her coat pocket, gave a squeeze, and subtly dialed the number on the ad.

Homes & Property (homework week 5)

Michelle Thompson sat in her kitchen, coffee in had and her forearms splotched in yellow acrylic, and scanned the Homes & Property section of yesterday’s evening standard. There, above an ad for luxury apartments was the article: “Illustrator Michelle Thompson, famed for her pop art Boris Johnson, above, is selling her home in Saffron Walden, Essex, for $700,000 through Cheffins. The four bedroom house, above, has had a new kitchen, conservatory and wood burner and is great for commuting, with local trains to Liverpool Street in under and hour.” And above the text were two photos, a washed out print of her Boris Johnson piece and a street view of her house.

She texted Sam: “Page 14!” She turned the paper over, hiding the story. But the small pixelated print photo of her house was still very much in her mind. She would miss its violet door and its navy blue trim. Maybe she could convince Sam to consider painting his—could she even call herself an artist with a beige front door? She walked over to her counter to refill her coffee from the pot—she had made just enough for two cups as she always did. She would miss her kitchen, though not as new as the article claimed, her tiled counter and the creak of her front stairs.

She wanted to move in with Sam, but she didn’t want to move out of her house. She loved Sam, but she also loved living alone. She loved her quiet mornings, and brewing coffee for one, and talking and singing to herself while she got dressed to head down to the studio in the mornings. She loved how her groceries never quite filled the fridge, the way she could fill the bedrooms with paints and canvases and materials without feeling like she was intruding, and she loved that she could come home each evening to a house that was just as clean as it was when she left it and cook a meal for one.

Her phone buzzed as she sipped her coffee, and ran her hands over the page of the Evening Standard. It was Sam: “Finally!”

Ridley Road Panic (site visit homework week 4)

I had no intention of spending my Sunday morning standing naked in the middle of Ridley Road market in my bra and jeans with my arms full of a rainbow variety of bell peppers. I had other intentions, loose ones. I figured I would wake up at Jack’s, we would run out to grab coffee and breakfast, go back to his apartment and spend the day there or head downtown to check out the Jessica Hische exhibit at the Design Museum I had been meaning to see. But Sunday had very different plans for me because somehow, by 11:20 AM I was standing partially nude between a vegetable vendor and spice vendor threatening unassuming onlookers with vegetable-based violence.

I wake up forgetting where I am. I know it’s Sunday, and I don’t feel a waistband on my hips, and it’s bright, but I can’t place myself. It only lasts for a second or two. As soon as I open my eyes and see the plastery cracked ceiling paint I remember. Jack’s apartment. Floor 3. Southgate Road. Hackney. And as soon as I remember he’s there, I can here him next to me, breathing those deep long sleep breaths in and out. His brown curls cover the pillow next to me.

    I push the covers aside as quietly as I can, sit up trying not to shake the bed frame, and slip off the bed to slink across the creaky wooden floors into the bathroom to pee. His bathroom smells like his shampoo, and the polaroid we took two weekends ago in Dover leans against the window on the sill. We fought over who would keep it, or I pretended to at least. I liked the idea of him having it more than I wanted it. It wasn’t a real fight—one of those cute faux fights that seem to frequent the first two month. Fights that are more about giggling and smiley whining than winning.

I notice chipped floor tile I haven’t seen before, and an empty toilet paper roll atop the radiator next to the toilet. I don’t know where or if he keeps the spare rolls. I open the cabinet under the sink and in the closet next to the shower: nothing. I’ll have to wait until he wakes up. I stand in front on the mirror. I run my hands through my knotty hair and run my index fingers over my undereye bags. My face is ghost white and I regret not throwing my blush into my purse last night. I suck in my cheeks and give each out a few rouging pats. I grab a glass from the cabinet above his sink, fill it with tap water, and tiptoe back to his bed.

I lay there waiting for him to wake up, counting paint chips in the ceiling paint and magnets on his fridge against the wall across from the bed. A plastic sombrero from Mexico City holds up the note I wrote him the first night I stayed over last month. “Jack. Coffee. Lizzie.”, my name signed with heart, the appropriateness of which I spent far too much time overanalyzing. I see a cutting board behind the sink faucet and I wonder what he likes to cook, or if he even cooks at all. I know his coffee order, and that he orders three chicken quesadillas at the Mexican place down the street from my apartment, but I have no idea what or if he eats at home. I turn over on my side to face the window to the right of his bed, and I watch the tops of the trees across the street wave with the wind. And as I lay there, my back facing him, and my eyes fixed on orange rustle of the tree tops outside, I notice the point of the top a tower through the leaves that I don’t remember seeing when the trees were fuller a few weeks ago.

We’re walking down Birkbeck Road, take away cups of coffee from All Nations in one hand and each other’s hand in the other. I’m wearing yesterday’s jeans, my puffer, and his grey sweater, the soft cable knit one that has become my favorite. The street is quiet and it’s sides are hidden in fallen leaves. It’s still early, and the sky is a grey purple above us.

As Birdbeck ends, Ridley Road begins. We walk towards the corner where the roads meet and the market begins, and I’m overwhelmed by the smell of overripe fruit and the sound of wheels hitting cobblestone. At this hour, the market is mad. Gulls fly overhead, paper shopping bags and leaves of spinach cover the ground like a litter carpet, and vendors yell changing prices at the hungry shoppers. Vendors line both sides of the road, selling everything from bananas to bras to cosmetics, curry, and iPhone cases for cheap under striped industrial umbrellas and tents.

Jack puts his hand around my waist and pulls me in, “I might grab a few groceries,” he says, eyeing the tables and tables of fresh produce in tupperware bins. I nod, my eyes fixed on the red glow of the butcher across the street and the silver and gold wrapped carcasses that line the shop window. Jack heads over to a loud fruit vendor, and I follow.

“Pound fifty for two! Just one pound fifty for two!” the vendor yells in an accent I can’t identify. Jack scans the table of produce. I’m standing next to him, his hand in mine, but I’m watching the women in the shop behind the produce vendor, shopping for meters of fabric with babies wrapped close to their chests.

“What do you think?” Jack asks me.

I turn towards him, confused. I hadn’t been paying attention to the produce. “Hm? Sorry?” I prompt him to clarify.

“I want these naval oranges and bell peppers for stuffing” Stuffed peppers. I think back to the cutting board behind his faucet. “What color should we get?” He points to the bins of peppers: yellow, orange, green, and red.

We. “What did you say?” I ask again.

He laughs, his dimples show in his freckled cheeks. “What color bell peppers should we get?”

But I’m not laughing. And not because I’m distracted, I’m paying attention now; close attention. “We?” I repeat to him, clarifying, my eyes widening with the long e sound of the plural pronoun.

“We, yeah, I mean I will pay for them…” Jack replies in what becomes a mumble.

Money is not my concern. “No, I mean we. Why do you care what kind of peppers I like? Get the peppers you like. They aren’t my peppers. They will be yours” I emphasize the singular pronoun.

Jack’s confused now: “Okay, fine. What color peppers should I get?” he asks.

“No, no, no, this is not about pronouns, not really at least” I itch at my neck at the collar of Jack’s grey sweater. “This is about you asking for my input on what kind of peppers you should buy. I don’t care, my opinion shouldn’t matter. They’re your peppers!” I’m yelling now, and Jack looks scared. He puts his hand on my hard to try to calm me down but I’m not done. “No get off me,” I push his arm away. Suddenly I’m sweating, and Jack’s cableknit sweater feels more like actual cables pulling me down, making my whole upper body hot and itchy. I scratch at my sleeves, and pull down the neck to get some air. Jack takes a step away from me. “I don’t care what color bell peppers you get. I don’t have to eat them. We aren’t married, we don’t have to grocery shop together or eat dinner together every night. And we are not a we. Where do you even keep the spare rolls of toilet paper?!” I’m loud. Jack is now even more confused, and I’m dying.

“Lizzie, calm down are you okay?” He asks, but I hear “Lizzie, let’s buy a home together in the suburbs where we can eat stuffed pepper every night” And I picture four children with Jack’s brown curls sitting at a kitchen table munching on red bell peppers, and Jack and I in our old age mincing yellow peppers to make them manageable for our soft teeth, and I picture making stuffed green peppers for Sunday night dinner with Jack’s mom. Or at least I try to, but I can’t fully picture it because I don’t know what his mom looks like, I haven’t even met her.

The sweater is too much now. It’s suffocating me. I pull at the neck and the sleeves for some air, for some relief, but nothing helps. I feel like I am drowning in an itchy woolen ocean. I step back from Jack, grab the sweater’s hem, pull it over my head, and throw it towards him.

But I don’t stop there, I grab peppers from the table, one of each color. The vendor doesn’t even yell at me, he just watches with the rest of the crowd that has gathered around us. My arms are full of peppers, and I give Jack crazy eyes and extend them towards him. “Here” I say. “Take one of each! All for you!” Jack backs away from me, bumping into the table. A man in the small crowd of onlookers behind me laughs, and I spin around like lightening, and grab the red bell pepper with my throwing arm, cocking it behind my head in the ready position: “What? Do you need some produce input too?!” He’s puts his hands up, quieting as he looks into my eyes. I turn back towards Jack.