Saturday, May 17, 2008

Kid Kok, Purloiner of Things

"Morality is of the highest importance--but for us, not for God."

Albert Einstein

My nickname in my family, given by my grandmother, is "Sui Chai" - and it means 'bad boy' in Cantonese. Back then, I was called so much by that name that when my Dad comes back for his half-yearly vacation or during the Chinese New Year reunion when my more distant relatives return, I found myself weirded out when they actually address me by my proper name. My neighbors and my friends' parents were regularly baffled whenever they learn about my unfortunate moniker because I, you'll be surprised to know, was an especially polite little boy and I have always behaved angelically whenever I went over to anyone's house to play. A Mrs Chong once asked my grandmother why she called me "Sui Chai" when I was obviously such an exemplary child.

My grandmother looked genuinely surprised to hear that, and answered, "Well, he's a really good actor then."

Anyway, I don't think I was particularly mischievous when I was a kid but I do have an amoral streak. And if you're particularly sensitive to the small nuances and subtleties of the definitions of words, you'll know that being amoral isn't anything like being immoral at all. Someone who is immoral knows that doing something is wrong, but does it anyway. A person who is amoral has no mental concept of what is right or wrong at all (and by extension, is not able to experience guilt), and the only motivation they have for not doing anything considered socially as "bad" is the avoidance of punishment. I think all children are amoral till they reach an age when they know better.

However, I retained my childish amorality well into 11 years old and some of the stuff I did then were quite frankly... deplorable.

I lied and stole.

Being unable to feel guilt, I could lie so convincingly that if you knew the truth of any fib I was telling to you, you'd be aghast at just how composed I was when I told it. I wouldn't hesitate or stutter, nor would I give the slightest sign that anything I say was any less than the unadulterated, unsweetened fact. I embodied the Chinese saying of "lying without blinking", and at the age of 5, my lying skills were already as developed as a veteran courtroom lawyer's. I knew I had to be consistent. I knew just how outrageous or unimpressive a story has to be if I want it to sound believable. And most of all, I was totally aware of my advantage as a child and that the stupid adults would never expect me to be that good at lying. I actually prided myself on being able to manipulate several adults at the same time; adults who thought they were so much bigger and smarter than I am. The only time I was ever caught being the deceitful little bastard I was, was when another person was there to contradict me. My kiddy logic was simple: lying made nice things happen to me and let me avoid the things I did not want - hence, as I observed, lying was like so totally awesome.

Anyway, what I really want you to focus on was my unfortunate and regretful childhood kleptomanic tendencies, and I shall tell you about them through two separate incidents in which I was caught stealing.

When I was eight, I spotted a ten Ringgit bill on the bureau in my grandmother's room, and without thinking or even having any particular object in mind I wanted to buy, I pocketed and brought it to school with me - that was the single biggest amount of cash I ever stole till date. Of course, if you have ten bucks in your grubby little paws back when at an age when you did not have a concept of numbers bigger than a hundred, you'd think you're some freaking rich prick. Inexplicably, I took my new found wealth to the school bookstore and bought a jumbo box of pencil erasers - you know, the sort that had the flag of the world on them - and I distributed them amongst my classmates. For some reason, I seem to have a weird history of pathological philanthropy back when I was a kid. Anyway, my class teacher caught me playing Robin Hood and told my Mom about it - and for it, I went through the single most brutal trashing of my young life. It's one of the few instances I remember being whipped; firstly, because of its raw harshness (think seriously hysterical woman making full arc swings with a cane like she's trashing grass) and secondly, because my dad stood in the way and received just as many lashings as I did *Happy Belated Birthday, Dad*. I locked myself in my room for the rest of the day and night, crying bitterly and vowing to never ever to be so stupid as to get caught again. Yes, that's precisely what I did - I still remember those very resolutions as clearly as I do of what I had for dinner yesterday evening. I was the sort of boy who gets more defiant with adversity. Admirable attitude indeed, if for very, very wrong reasons.

So, I continued pilfering till I was eleven, till I was caught for the second time.

During the P.E. periods when we were allowed to play with the stuff they keep in the sporting equipment storeroom (hoops and plastic cones and what-nots), I developed an irrational fixation on some grapefruit-sized rubber balls. I eyed them every P.E. session, waiting for an an opportune moment to filch one for myself. You see, ever since my trashing 3 years before, I practically got stealing down to a science, and I knew bidding one's time is one of the first rules a sensible thief must remember. One day, the chance came when another boy and I were charged with putting away the equipments, and while the teacher was standing outside waiting for us to finish stacking up the stuff, I intentionally dawdled and managed to sneak one of those rubber balls into my pocket, and as I walked out of the storeroom, I angled myself in such a way that the bulge in my pants wouldn't show. Okay, "bulge in my pants" sounds so very wrong but moving on; I was able to make myself scarce when the teacher was preoccupied with locking the place up. I took a long, roundabout way back to class so I wouldn't meet any of my classmates en route. I thought I got it all figured out.

I would have got away with it had I not took out my prize when I was walking back to my classroom to look at it. I thought it was safe since the school grounds were completely deserted because all the kids were in their classes then. As luck would have it, I ran into Mrs Jaya around a corner. Mrs Jaya was a rather plump and kindly Indian woman in her early forties, and she was my class teacher back in Standard One, when I was seven but had never taught me since.

She took one look at the ball in my hand and told me to stay put - but in that same calm and serene way she always talked. I watched as she went into the faculty room and I was so nearly shitting my pants then. She's probably going to fetch Mr Chee, I thought. Mr Chee was the discipline master and the star of most of my childhood nightmares so you can pretty much imagine the state I was in at that time. I just stood there, skinny pip of a boy I was going sheet white in the face with a yellow rubber ball quivering in one tiny hand.

Mrs Jaya came back - to my great surprise - alone. She told me to follow her and I immediately thought that she must have found Mr Chee absent in the faculty lounge, and was going to lead me to wherever he was terrorizing innocent young children at that particular moment. But as it turned out, she took me back to the sports equipment storeroom, and she had only ducked into the faculty lounge for the key to its lock. She told me to put back the rubber ball into its box, and then, asked me to run along back to my classroom. Also, she said to tell whichever teacher who was teaching my class during that period that I was late because I had to help her (Mrs Jaya) carry some stuff, and she assured me she would collaborate on my tale if need be.

I remember running back to class, feeling somewhat woozy. It's as if I had just woken up from an especially nonsensical dream.

I remember Mrs Jaya so well because she is a very important person in my life. That day when she caught me stealing and did not reprimand or punish me but instead, just told me to return what I took back to where it belonged; she assumed that I felt guilty for what I did. She assumed the good in me. That was the first time anyone ever considered me as a thinking, innately scrupulous person and allowed me to reflect on my own actions critically. It's little enough but it prodded something that had laid dormant in my being ever since I existed. My conscience, I like to think, was born that day.

That was the last time I was ever caught stealing.

Thats because I never stole again.

And I really despise this quote and what it stands for,

"Morality without religion is only a kind of dead reckoning,--an endeavor to find our place on a cloudy sea by measuring the distance we have run, but without any observation of the heavenly bodies."

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a twat

It is a grievous insult to humanity. It devalues our innate goodness.

P.S. Yes, this post is about religion.

P.P.S. Okay, I stole some condoms a couple of times back when I was in high school, but it's a stupid teenager thing more than it has anything to do with morality.

Grew a conscience at eleven,
k0k s3n w4i


Anonymous said...

but why did u steal condoms??they are not expensive. u could have bought them.

phoebe said...

thief T^T u steal bigger things now don't u T^T

Zzzyun said...

hmm but why did u break ur non-theiving streak for of all things condoms??

dont tell me u were desperate to use them? =P

Sim said...

One of your more brilliant pieces!

Or perhaps i'm biased because it has a lot more in common with me
than most people know.

but i definitely applaud the "double-talk" on religion..


k0k s3n w4i said...

anonymous: dude, it's not the price. like i said, it's a teen thing. particularly big group of teen taking a slushie break during some out of school hour function. Hard to 'splain, really.

phoebe: OH YES :P *hugs*

zzzyun: it takes a special kind of thing, to tempt a person off his high horse. i wasn't desperate. just... curious :D

sim: hey, first time u commenting in the box! why, u used to cheat and steal too? I wrote this post in respond to a few pious remarks made to me about how can I consider myself moral without having a standard of morality i.e. God to measure myself against.

minwi said...

i'm a sucker for karma haha. which i don't think is proper in e eyes of certain religions. but yeah tht whole "do good n good will come unto you" shite is my central moral value. or rather, do not do bad n nothing bad will happen to you hahaha. yeah tht sounds more like it.

you're going back to m'cca soon right?

p/s: i like posts like this more than your travelogues. those make me feel like i need to LEARN.

k0k s3n w4i said...

minwi: hey, karma works for me too - balance of the universe and all that jazz xD. tho, i'm pretty much into the Golden Rule too; don't do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you. I'll be back in Malacca in mid-September :)
Hardly anyone likes my travelogues xD. They are mainly written for myself anyway.