Thursday, November 1, 2007

Chapter 1: The Beginning of Another Day

“kik kok… kik kok…”
“turk turk… turk turk…”

The sound of countless high heels and leather shoes knocking on the ceramic tiles reverberated through the quiet City Link. I wondered did the reverberated sound sounded so loud because City Link is actually an underground tunnel that ran through the sea, just like how loudly I had sounded when I held my breath under the pool.

It was eight in the morning. The owners of the high heels and leather shoes were rushing to enter their office door before their bosses, or in some cases, before their subordinates. Every single man and woman had put up a face as cold as the fish that I took out from the freezer last night, and as hard as the, well, the ceramic tiles they were stepping on. Nobody dared to talk, as if the slightest energy invested in saying “ah” will slow them down. Everybody just tried to walk as briskly as they could down the Link and overtake as many people as they could.

After I made the quick turn, the escalator appeared in front of me. Briskly, I climbed up the escalator just like everybody else and crossed the overhead bridge towards Suntec City. As I walked down the corridor, I suddenly realized how lonely those shops flanking both sides of the corridor looked. It would be four more hours before the first batch of customers will pay their visits to the shops. But right now, they were feeling so, empty.

Finally, I reached the office tower. Together with the rest of my neighbors in the tower, we took the lift to our respective offices.

“Ding… Eighth storey.”

I walked out of the lift and pushed the door into the company reception area.

“Morning, Beng!” greeted our darling receptionist.
“Hey, morning,” I mumbled.

I knew it was rude to mumble a greeting early in the morning, but after holding a cold and hard face all the way from my flat, to the bus, to the train, through the City Link, across the Suntec City shopping area, up the lift, and finally in front of her, my muscles had somehow solidified. And I knew she would understand that. Because part of her job was to hear hundred over mumbled morning’s everyday.

“You’re early today! Got an early meeting?”
“Nope, not meeting, but bad enough. Conference call. See ya later,” I waved before rushing into my office.

I switched on the lights as I walked into the office. Nobody seemed to be there yet, which means that I was the first to arrive, all thanks to that damn conference call. I took out my notebook from the document bag and docked it on the docking station. I took a glance at my watch. Just in time. Briskly, I put on my headset and dialed into the conference call.

While on the conference call, my fellow colleagues arrived at the office one by one.

The first that stepped in was KZ, as usual. KZ was a quiet guy hidden in an unconventional vegetarian body. ‘Quiet’ because from my latest statistics, he would not utter more than ten words a day. But every word he uttered would be more unequivocal than my ten sentences. ‘Unconventional’ because most would have expected a guy whose main stable was greens to look weak. Weighing at 60kg with a strong pair of arms and a ribbed abs, KZ looked more like a feather weight bodybuilder rather than a senior product manager for some financial instruments. Also as usual, he nodded at me and carried on to sat at his desk.

The usual second person who stepped into the office was Ju. Ju was the marketing person assigned to our team. An elegant lady in her forties, Ju was like an orange. When handling clients, she would talk so diplomatically that even her disagreement would not contain sharp edges when voiced. When handling vendors, she would be so firm that the vendors would be so joyous they could celebrate with fireworks each time they managed to change her requirements. Elegantly, Ju waved at me, sat down at her desk and took out her breakfast from the plastic bag. Each morning, Ju’s husband would drive her to get the breakfast she wanted, yes, even if it meant a ‘cross-country’ drive, before sending her to work. From the scent emitted from her desk, I betted it was fried carrot cakes.

Then the pregnant Dawn walked into the office. She was a fair looking lady in her late thirties and still slender though pregnant. Dawn was a project manager in the team as well as our ‘secret weapon’. Due to her capability to make a mountain out of a mole and the ability to delay things, whenever our team head encountered a situation when she could not politically reject a new project requested by the business heads, that project would falls into Dawn’s portfolio. In that case, the business heads would feel chuffed by our head’s enthusiasm and conversely, they would not feel unhappy when the project failed to materialize a few months later, thinking that we have tried our best.

Choi stepped in after Dawn. Weighing at 0.1 ton, it was hard not to notice him as he entered the office. Pearls of perspire were seen rolling down his cheek as he waved at everybody before sitting down at his desk. He was another product manager in our team and a very outstanding one. He knew his products well, so well that he could talk about them non-stop in twenty-four hours. The only problem though, was that he spent so much time talking that the action part was usually left to the end and done hastily, with mistakes thrown in for free.

It was five minutes to nine when the flustered Nicky rushed into the office. He was a tiny guy always dressed in polo t-shirts. Without a second to lose, he took out the notebook from his haversack, docked it on the docking station and switched it on. He then sat down and stared hard at the screen as if his stare would persuade the notebook to boot up faster. Nope, it was not any work he was so anxious about. It was the stock market which was due to open in five minutes’ time. Like any other Hong Kongers, Nicky’s passion for the stock market was as strong as his devotion for Feng Shui.

At exactly nine, the skinny Sally strolled in lazily. Yes, strolled, not walked. In fact nobody had ever seen her walking before. Sally was the youngest in the team, at her early twenties. This was her first job after her graduation from a local university but she was always trying very hard to display a ‘been there, done that’ aura at all time. And she was the only one in the team that would not greet anybody in the morning.

Five minutes past nine, Rose, our team head stepped in. Like her name, Rose always tried start the day as rosy as possible. She was the only one who would step into the office smiling with a subtitle at her feet that said “Today is such a wonderful day!” We were so fortunate to have Rose as our team head. She was the kind of leader who would fight bloody battles for her team and shield them from flying arrows. She was also the kind of person that anybody would also think twice before arguing with her. Perhaps because she was an Indian, it would be almost impossible for anybody to find a letup in her fast and winding sentences once she started talking. Sometimes I got the feeling that her breath could beat a veteran Korean pearl diver hands down.

After one hour and an addition of five entries to my to-do list, the conference call ended. Before I could finish stretching my back, my MSN Messenger popped out. I had got a message from Dawn.

“u on conf call just now?”

No, I was not on conference call just now. I just put on the headset because it looked great as an accessory to my blue shirt.


No, the only items on my to-do list were two with deadlines which were yesterday, a couple with deadlines in a few days’ time, oh, and another five new ones. I was so free I did not know what to do with my time.


However, to Dawn, ‘Yes, I’m busy’ was never equivalent to ‘Please do not disturb’.

“u got any lunch appointment?”
“lunch together later? Wat do u wanna eat?”

I looked at the clock on my notebook. Ten a.m. I looked at the watch on my wrist. Ten a.m. Asking me what I would like to have for lunch at this kind of hour? My guess was, Dawn had got too much time on her hands again.

“dunno. Why dun u ask the rest?”
“I feel like taking fish soup. Wat about u?”

Which part of ‘dunno’ did she not understand?

“dunno. I need to prepare for a meeting later. Why dun u ask the rest?”

After my cold rejection, Dawn went on to ask Nicky the same question on the MSN Messenger. How did I know? In the midst of his shares monitoring and product analysis report writing, he suddenly stopped clicking his mouse and gave his notebook a “What the?!!” look.

From there on, Dawn would habitually ask everybody, except our team head Rose, on their preferred lunch for the day. And each of us would reply ‘dunno’ before habitually blocking Dawn from our MSN Messenger for the rest of the morning, until after lunch. After lunch, Dawn would habitually complain that her MSN Messanger was malfunction because everybody looked offline to her.

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