Eye-Spy

Know Your Surroundings

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There was a two-storey Lebanese restaurant behind the grand old Sultan Mosque in the old area here. The front of the establishment and the back entrance of the mosque was divided by a thin road. The restaurant owner was stationed in the Middle East. He visited occasionally to check on things.
I used to frequent this place when it was newly opened. Some time later, the management, a group of Singaporeans, decided to host an official launch party. Apart from having a live band, they planned to have a belly dancing performance. I was invited.
I came with a friend, a Malay-Muslim, but with no intention of joining the party. I requested a table outside the restaurant, right at the end of the walkway, in a really dim spot.
The waiters pestered us to go upstairs to join the party. In fact some guests, who were familiar faces, also urged us to join them. I refused.
We ordered food and two apple-flavored sheesha, then sat there quietly in our own space.
My friend was wondering why I chose this boring, isolated spot. I told him to trust me.
The party began. You could hear the drums reverberating, tambourines banging, the loudspeakers yelling incessantly, and shoes thumping on the wooden floor.
About forty minutes into the gig, the mosque Imam, dressed in his white robe and Haji cap, showed up. With a frown, he was accompanied by two clergymen. They marched upstairs.
The music and the craziness stopped.
Later, a senior waiter told us how lucky we were because the revelers received a telling off from the Imam, who felt disrespected.
I turned to my friend. “Now you know why I chose this spot,” I said. “You have to know your surrounding. I saved your face today because the next time you go to that mosque, at least you won’t feel embarrassed when you see the Imam.”

Death Quote

This was years ago, I attended a church funeral of an industry colleague’s husband. I was in the same car as the widow when another passenger, a woman, made a joke about something. The widow’s reply left me wondering for years if she knew what she said or was it lost in translation somehow within the Singapore context. I didn’t dare ask, but her exact words were, “Oh, please let me play the role of the grieving wife.”
I just kept looking out the car window throughout the journey… brain freeze.coffin-150647_1280

 

Noise, noise, everywhere!

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I was walking down the street just now when I suddenly heard a little girl whining.Then came the mother’s voice telling her to stop embarrassing herself in public.

I continued walking toward the traffic light and waited for the signal to change. The whining drew closer. I turned and saw the little girl pulling her mother’s arm, pleading for something. The mother, hiding under an umbrella from the day’s heat, ignored her daughter.

I could hear my little voice screaming, “Stop whining, will you! There’s enough noise in the world already!” But of course, I didn’t say anything. I just stood there with that angelic face and pretended I was listening to a choir.

As I waited to cross the road, I noticed a book in the little girl’s other hand: Enid Blyton’s A Book of Naughty Children.

I tell you, it t took a lot of strength to restrain that bubble of laughter.

A Surprise Visitor

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This happened back in the 80s. On the eve of Christmas, about 3 o’ clock in the afternoon, my family members and I were having coffee at the back of the house when we alerted by a trespasser. We lived smack in the middle of the city near the shopping belt. The trespasser was a woolly sheep.
It ran straight to us, paused, then went to the back of the house. It was trying to hide. All this while, we were quiet, thinking maybe our eyes were playing tricks with us. Maybe it was the coffee.
Minutes later, some men from a nearby hotel came and asked us about the sheep.
It seems the sheep was part of the hotel’s Christmas decoration. It took five men to convince the sheep to go back with them.

Do you believe in fate?

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Met an Iraqi academic in Singapore.
He spent a decade as a military officer during the Iran-Iraq war. Rockets, bullets used to fly over him like nothing, he said. Not even a scratch. Even the RPGs and the jets couldn’t get him when he used to drive a jeep across the desert.
Then he comes to Singapore. A few months later, he gets hit by a taxi that jumped the curb. He ends up in a hospital with a foot fracture.
I don’t know. If you don’t believe in fate, maybe it’s time to reconsider?

Lights out!

 

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This happened to me a few years ago here in Singapore. I was introduced to a female executive who did not pay attention to my presence. But she had the audacity to ask me questions while shifting her eyes left and right. So I decided to bounce her around. She didn’t even know what hit her. The conversation went like this:
Singapore Female Executive: So what do you do?
Me: I am the public relations consultant for Hamas.
Singapore Female Executive: What exactly do you do?
Me: Well, each time they launch a suicide bomber, I will issue a press statement.
Singapore Female Executive: Oh, that’s interesting, where’s your office?
Me: Shenton Way (Singapore Business District).
Singapore Female Executive: Oh, okay.
Me: Ya.

So that’s why he was staring at me…

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Did I ever tell you of the time a taxi driver here in Singapore looked at me in a funny way?
Throughout the journey he kept looking at me in the rear view mirror. I told myself if this guy tries anything, I’ll show him my Chuck Norris moves.
When we arrived at the destination, he took out a pen and paper, turned around, and asked me for the name of the perfume I was wearing. That was it… that’s all he wanted.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Smokescreen

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1)The novel was supposed to be set in a dystopian era.

2)The American ambassador, Michael Dexter, was initially a Caucasian. The African-American was another CIA agent named “Charlie Brown.” The characters were merged into one to simplify the plot.

3)The ambassador’s mansion was the actual property of the author’s grandfather.

4)An action scene in Manhattan, New York, was removed because it was deemed “redundant.”

5)The protagonist Jethro Westrope (Jet West) was initially known as James Gent, a brand for a toiletry company.

6)The protagonist initially drove a Pagani Zonda. It was changed to an MX-5 to accommodate his journalist salary.

7)The cat described in a Cairo scene is based on an actual character.

8)The secret underground base in Singapore is inspired by an actual location.

9)The mysterious island with the citadel is inspired by the old Dutch fortress, Fort Belgica, located in the Moluccas islands, Indonesia.

10)The novel is riddled with secret messages.

Shhh… don’t tell anybody.

From The Horse’s Mouth

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There is a bad habit in Singapore among employees to skip work by using the excuse that someone in their family died.
Usually when you attend a funeral here, you can collect a vouchsafe receipt to validate your claim.
However, some people have managed to bypass this official document, usually based on trust.
Anyway, here’s a real story about a man who told his boss he needed time off during the weekday to accompany his father for medical checkup. The employer didn’t think twice about relieving the man.
On one occasion the employee didn’t show up for a week straight. Everyone tried to contact him, but they couldn’t. He switched off his cell phone.
When someone finally got hold of him, he gave the excuse his father had died.
Unfortunately, the boss found out his employee had been telling a cock and bull story when the father turned out to be very much alive.
Apparently, the employee has been spending time at the race course. It got so exciting he decided what’s a few more days?

My bizarre encounter with a Singapore “author”

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Met a young man here in Singapore, extremely cocky fellow, who claimed he has written 25 suspense novels.

I couldn’t selfie the shock on my face, but I told him he must be some kind of a prodigy or a super genius to have written 25 suspense novels by that age. I asked him for his website address, and he said it’s not ready yet.

He then asked me what I did for a living, so I said: “I’m a fisherman. I have my days, you know — tried to catch a Marlin near the Indonesian waters. Took me several days. I finally got the Marlin. But by the time I came back to shore, it was all bones. The sharks, you know.”

He didn’t get it.

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  • Keith Thomson

    Author of the New York Times Bestselling novel Once A Spy
    Khaled Talib’s novel Smokescreen is a cocktail of Deighton, Ludlum, Hitchcock, and two parts adrenaline.
  • Ruth Harris

    Million-copy NYT bestselling co-author of Hooked and Brainwashed
    Devious! Diabolical! Lurid! Intelligent and deftly plotted. Pick it up if you dare. Put it down if you can.
  • Jon McGoran

    Author of Drift
    In this action-packed thriller, Khaled Talib explores the little known relationship between Singapore and Israel, spinning a web of international intrigue that expands across the globe as inexorably as it tightens around his protagonist’s throat.
  • Jake Needham

    Author of The Umbrella Man and The Ambassador’s Wife
    I have published two novels set in the police and security services in Singapore, and I am here to tell you that SMOKESCREEN is nearer to the truth of that closely controlled little country than you might believe. It is a gripping and creepy tale of how governments can rig the way we all see the world.
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