Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lao Fu Zi

This comic strip has become such a mainstay in our cultural consciousness that I sometimes wonder why not more fun activities are organised around it.

We should have a 'Lao Fu Zi Skit Challenge Day' or see more of him in our Chingay parades.

I grew up in the 70s reading it all the time; whether it was in the waiting rooms of clinics or on a bench waiting in some neighborhood barber shop. I would read them browsing the Chinese bookshops along South Bridge Road. LFZ comics kept me company a lot when I had a bad case of chicken pox in Sec 3. This and Mad Magazine. My disease was so bad I had to be quarantined for three full weeks!

I have never quite understood why the comic strip is called Old Master Q in English. But I am sure as hell proud of Alfonso Wong, the creator and author. He is the first Asian (Hongkonger) to stand tall in a world of comics then dominated by Marvel and DC comics, and the syndicated ones like Bringing Up Father, Blondie, Nancy, etc.

Mr Wong's humour was not poor by comparison either. They reflected universal themes of pathos, irony, courage, romance, and even reverse logic, why I guess his humor is still relevant today!

If I have to describe the kind of laughs in Lao Fu Zi, it is what many Chinese call "neng xiao" or cold humour, the double-entendre sort. The punchline is altogether quite unexpected and leaves you chuckling. A classic example is when LFZ orders his dog to fetch the newspaper. You would think it a strip about pet training but the dog returns and sits on the sofa reading instead - leaving LFZ looking stumped. Or LFZ goes fishing and ends up hauling in a beautiful mermaid. What does he do? He nonchalantly treats it like just another fish, cuts off the unwanted half and throws it back into the water!

The drawings in LFZ were very well done and comical. There's action and funny expressions not in the style of Garfield but more mad-cap like Calvin and Hobbs.

Remember the ulgy street gangsters in long hair, bottom pants and garish-print shirts? All very '60s and '70s! Because of that, it is a priceless read now. LFZ's gangster antics in the comics also taught me to be unafraid of those ruffians. Or know what will happen to me if I become big-mouthed like him in front of them. Sure to get beat up! Come to think of it, LFZ is a bit like Mr Bean in some situations. He has his own logic and way of doing things.

The good thing is that you can still find many copies of LFZ in salons and barber shops here, probably well-thumbed through and with pages torn. News stands still sell them in brand new condition, now in even handier B5 book sizes. And of course, there are still plenty of old LFZ comics at the second-hand bookshops in Bras Brasah Complex. I sometimes wonder how the comics volumes are organised (assuming Mr Wong did write them like that.)

As a student, I used to visit the original bookshops along Bras Brasah Road to buy 10-year exam series, Helix protractor and set-square sets, Rotring ink pens and other assorted drafting equipment that I needed for my Technical Drawing class where we learnt geometrical and mechanical drawing.

At the time in Bras Brasah, the St Joseph Institution school field was still there, as were some food stalls. It seemed the only place to eat Indian rojak and imbibe that local pink bandung drink. Although it is simply rose syrup mixed with carnation milk, it was a novelty item back then. I wonder who concocted it! Nowadays, you can find black jelly pearls in them like some bubble tea.

From Bras Brasah, one could take a short walk to Selegie Road. The Red Sea aquarium shop there was where I used to window-shop. I loved watching the fighting fishes there. Further along this row of shops was a mama-store selling sweets and magazines. Of course, no one could escape that huge billboard of Cathay cinema just behind. It would bring back happy memories of my family watching The Crazy Boys movies there. An Indian man who sold kachang puteh in the cinema building was a regular fixture. He would later move to the nearby Peace Center.

I would hang around often at Peace Center and its adjoining Parklane Mall in the mid-80s. A girlfriend worked in a temp employment agency there. It was run by a Mrs Poon and quite popular. I am sure many a Singaporean who has ever worked part-time during that decade or more would have gone there to collect their paycheck. As for me, I would make use of the photocopy shops in Peace Centre to zap hard-to-get textbooks. A few snack joints there on the ground floor near the entrance were popular too. Breakfast folks liked their breakfast and supper fried beehoon. The same can be said of their green bean soup.

Each time I had to wait for my girlfriend to finish work at Parklane, I would pop into a friendly saloon there on the ground floor to sit and read their copies of LFZ. My girlfriend was a classy lady and LFZ was no match, funny though he was. So once my girlfriend appears, I would put down the comic books I was reading and go greet her. By then the antics of LFZ would have already lightened my mood and put a silly smile on my face. It was something my darling girlfriend always noticed and be glad about. She too grew up reading LFZ.

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