I’ve known Old Mai all my life.
This fellow clansman of mine
Used to live next to my grandpa’s village
Amidst the chicken farms of northern Canton.
Since he’s retained the rustic accent,
Whenever he hollers, “What’s the matter?”
You’ll hear instead, “What’s the tree trunk?”
Old Mai and I aren’t really friends;
He’s like a distant uncle nonetheless:
When I hired him for our warehouse,
I did ponder how one would call
The opposite of “nepotism”—
A friendly chap without a lot of friends,
With which I have a fair affinity,
Autistic Old Mai is quite obsessed
With dates and numbers and all that sort.
When even your kins can’t remember well,
He’ll be the first to wish you “happy birthday”.
And if he’s ever out of things to say—
Albeit rarely so—
He’ll recite Pi,
Up to the 50th decimal place.
It doesn’t matter if you begin
With weather, sports or politics,
If you can’t get away within two minutes,
He’ll assume you share his fascination with
The Ten Facts of Bruce Lee You Never Knew,
On which he’ll enlighten you
With unfailing gusto,
For the next hour and a half.
Be it sunny, cloudy, rainy or stormy,
The warehouse supervisor is never sick or weary.
With a graceless flick of his wrist,
His signature straw hat is on,
And off he dashes
Into whatever the wind has brought.
As reliable as he is predictable,
Old Mai scrutinises each deliveryman
As a detective would with any dubious lout.
I don’t suppose you should try,
But if you do,
You should find it more excruciating
To sneak an unrecorded pebble through his gates
Than to pass a stone of twice the size!
Oh, but don’t you dare, no, don’t you dare!
Never mind he cannot swear or curse,
Nor his inability to hold a grudge;
Old Mai’s temper is hardly fair!
I gave him a telling-off the other day
When we needed him to bend his way;
But the stubborn man argued back hotly,
For he couldn’t see beyond his lines and boxes
On our silly organisation chart.
Perhaps, Old Mai’s intolerance of
Any veering off from pre-established lanes
And deliberate neglect of labels or signs
Owes itself to the traumatic loss
Of Mrs Mai and their only son
Some twenty years ago
In a terrible traffic accident.
So, next time when you visit our factory,
Feel free to drop in on the good old chap.
You’ll find him on the same old bench,
With his straw hat on his lap,
Outside of the corner shop
At exactly 12:30,
Where he’ll be gorging on
A chain of cheap ice cream,
While chatting up passers-by
By hollering, “What’s the tree trunk, mate?”
And if you have an hour and a half to spare,
You’ll make Old Mai’s day
By enquiring about
The Ten Facts of Bruce Lee You Never Knew.
Good evening, friends. As mentioned yesterday, I still have a few more real-life tales to tell. For this particular collection, provisionally titled Sweatshop Stories, I’m featuring pictures taken in the factory to accompany these tales of real people I work with.