Tag Archive | "contraband cigarettes"

Not sure if justice served…

Not sure if justice served…

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…or vicious cycle of life.

Take a look at these drawings done by a local artist by the name of Frankie Chang Inn Kong.

David Marshall

Gandhi

Queen Elizabeth

His Leeness

These were created using a mix of charcoal and lead, and drawn using a cloth instead of a brush.

The method of drawing is unique precisely because the technique was developed and mastered by Frankie when he was serving time in prison and there was a lack of proper drawing tools.

Frankie, you see, spent the last 30 years going in and out of prison for a variety of offences, such as getting involved in drugs, loansharking and robbery.

Woah, we do have a badass over here.

However, Frankie did have a rough childhood, having been abandoned by his parents at the age of five and later ended up on the wrong side of the law multiple times.

But during his final stint in prison, while he was serving nine years for drug trafficking offences in 1999, he wanted to turn over a new leaf.

That was when he finally decided to put his talent to some use, and experimented with charcoal-lead-based “black powder”, an epiphany he had when he pondered about his past dealings with “white powder”, a.k.a. heroin.

He was already an expert in carving, carpentry and drawing then but he could only make do with drawing while in prison because it didn’t require special tools.

(At this point, if you kind of think his story sounds familiar, that’s because Frankie was the poster boy of the Yellow Ribbon Project and his life has been dramatised on TV before.)

By the time he was released from prison in late 2007, reports estimated that he completed between 150 and 200 pieces of his charcoal-lead drawings.

And he was considered rehabilitated enough to contribute actively to the Yellow Ribbon Project.

As life would have it, two weeks after he was out of prison, Frankie was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer and doctors gave him only a few years to live.

He refused treatment initially, due to a lack of cash, but the doctors at Tan Tock Seng Hospital said they would cure him anyway.

In the end,the government subsidised for his surgery,chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Since his final release from prison, Frankie has contributed his artworks to fund-raising events organised by the Yellow Ribbon Project and Singapore Cancer Society.

Today, Frankie is 62 years old.

He makes an average of $1,000 a month and stays in a one-room flat and sleeps on the floor. Whatever he makes from his art, he uses it for his medical treatment.

And guess what? He is on the wrong side of the law again.

He was caught on March 13 with more than 7kg of contraband cigarettes that was bought in Geylang, which he was planning to resell for a profit.

He claims to be in financial difficulty having spent a lot on his medical treatment and suffered losses when he opened an art gallery.

So what is his punishment this time?

He is fined $40,000 for his current offence and has since paid $10,000, and will pay the balance in monthly installments of $1,000.

In other words, a dying man is required to pay for a fine that otherwise might be used to pay for his medical treatment.

This is Frankie:

Frankie Chang Inn Kong

This man is utterly talented, has limited time left and we here at New Nation really don’t know what to make of it.

Should we pool some cash to tide him over? Will that be the right thing for society to do?

“Never travel in Albania at night”

“Never travel in Albania at night”

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Depressed traveller Ng Zhong Ming risks his life en route to the capital, home to some of the most dangerous drivers in the world.

Getting to Albanian capital Tirana sure wasn't easy. Photo: PREDRAG BUBALO / Creative Commons

ALL shoestring travellers must be some kind of sadist – bumping through weird lands on rickety, temperamental buses in the company of likeminded, travelling men, their bags, and crates containing contraband cigarettes (a universal favourite).

Animals are a constant companion too – like the affable but car-sick goat which once chewed on my toes on the road to Pokhara, Nepal, or a woman’s two feuding chickens on a cross-city sawngthaew (literally, “two-rows”, a ssouped-up mega tuk-tuk with two planks in the back for passengers) in Laos.

The journey’s end comes with a unique satisfaction — when we finally arrive at a place which before has only existed as a hazy place in our dreams, or a dot on the map. It could be a town, a village, a deserted beach…

For me, that hazy, unknown spot on my map was Tirana, the Albanian capital.

All I’d known about Albania, an eccentric Eastern-Europe communist regime who shunned Stalin for Mao until recent times, I’ve gleaned from a conversation I had with a well-meaning Macedonian man in the lakeside resort town of Ohrid, prior to walking over to Albania.

Me: “How is Albanija?”

Him: “Mafija (mafia)”

And when I told him I was intending to travel there, he laughed and said, “ti si lud (you are crazy)”.

Very reassuring indeed.

It was ominously dark when I finally crossed the border and found civilisation in Albania, where the taxi mafia (one car available in miles) took me to Podgradec.


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From Podgradec, the shared taxi – a furgon, in the local tongue – teared down the coastal road and screamed up and down a mountain with Lady Gaga blaring through the stereos at night (“P-p-p-p-po-poker face”).

That was comforting, considering that the headlamps couldn’t be turned on and the closest source of illumination came from a town that was way below us. Those pinpricks of lights disappeared as we roared into a curve, where the driver jammed maniacally on the brakes and fought with the steering wheel as we came to the edge, as if in a surreal dream.

I had the seat of honour, by sole virtue of being an exotic foreigner, right next to the driver, which really didn’t do much to help calm my nerves.

It was a nightmare. But nightmares were comforting — we don’t actually feel pain or die. But in furgons from hell, we can, and do. I was already imagining tomorrow’s headlines in the papers: “Furgon plunges down mountainside”, or “Tourist killed as furgon roars down mountain at night” — just a small box in the last few pages, since it wasn’t really new news, in Albania.

In that sense, I was prepared. I just never thought it would be this horrifying. It wasn’t much of a secret that Albanians drive like mad – “they learn it from the Italians”, a Dutchman sagely – and solemnly – told me, back in the relative safety of Skopje, Macedonia, where cars slow down for little old ladies to cross the road. But this I surely did not expect.

The UK foreign office had this to add: “Albanian driving can often be aggressive and erratic. Fatality rates from road traffic accidents are amongst the highest in Europe. Minor traffic disputes can quickly escalate, especially as some motorists could be armed.”

And what takes the cake is that this is a country where cars were banned by the eccentric communist government until 1991. And no one really bothered to learn how to drive after that.

Having reached Tirana safely on at least three prayers and many moments of squeezing-eyes-shut, I stumbled into a cheap hostel with a friendly girl at the desk. Having handed me my keys and bade my goodnight, she good-naturedly added, “And oh. I have one thing to tell you.”

“Never travel in Albania at night.”

It was one of those epic face-palm moments.

And despite later being ripped off by the waiter in the “fish restaurant” down the road who gave himself a hefty tip from my change, I was happy. And I was also in the mood to make lists.

Having your mode of transport break down in a Jordianian desert kinda sucks.

Here are best road trips to take if you’re feeling suicidal, or particularly existential:

  1. The Podgradec to Tirana furgon ride, by night
  2. On second thoughts, any form of transport in Albania (throw in by night, for extra kicks and bragging rights)
  3. Riding a motorcycle in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (again, by night gives you extra adrenaline-junkie “cred”)
  4. Bouncing up and down sand dunes in the Jordanian desert (with a 10-year-old Bedouin boy at the wheel too)

Tyler Durden’s immortal words from Fight Club ring in my ears as I sat in the hostel garden writing my travel notes and generally being thankful at being alive: “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”

Indeed, surviving the journey in a metal pot excuse for public transport that is an Albanian furgon did make the smells sweeter, the air fresher, and the sense of space and time and our place in this weird and wonderful universe all the more awe-inspiring.

P.S: To further explore the meaning of life, I will be travelling to Iran very soon. Watch out for an article on that.