The Lion City Prince

The tragedy of growing up is that the journey starts when the walking track ends. You can leave a million breadcrumbs behind you, but if you’re not meant to come home, you never will.

***

My first encounter with Peter was through my boyfriend Ryan’s old photo collection from his childhood. It was a group photo taken in a back alley.

‘Why are his pants down?’ I’d giggled at a boy. The said boy was topless and standing in the centre of the group, pants down to his knees, his blue-tinted tongue lolling out of his mouth. He was sandwiched in between two other boys on either side, all of their tongues blue. I could almost smell the funky-smelling Slurpee that they were probably drinking.

‘So, that’s Marcus, Rick, Tom, Peter, and me,’ Ryan said, pointing at each person. Peter was standing to the far right. He had curly hair, upturned pixie-like eyes, and an ambiguous race. Ryan told me that ever since Peter moved to Germany, they had barely kept in touch.

Sontag (2005:8) writes in On Photography: ‘To photograph is to confer importance. Today everything exists to end in a photograph.’

Peter Schmieder was born in Singapore in 1996 to a Thai mother and German father. He grew up on the west side of the island, right around Hillview, and lived in the same condominium as Ryan. Some nights, the kitchen in Peter’s house would be permeated with the aroma of lemongrass and chillies from the brewing tom yum soup, and other nights Peter and his two siblings would smell smouldering bratwursts as the sausages sizzled in the pan. Some days, he would have lunch at a nearby local food shop with his friends, guzzling down a bowl of laksa despite his seafood allergy.

Some nights, Peter would head out of the northern gate to the canal behind his condominium and hang out with his friends at a playground area on the walking trail. If someday the canal water overflowed, perhaps it would flood the ground with cigarette butts and broken bottles, echoing with old metal songs with the quality of an X-mini speaker. The Final Episode by Asking Alexandria would suddenly blare on the ground, conjuring Peter’s younger ghost, who would jump onto the nearest bench and play his air guitar, mimicking Ben Bruce in the music video.

When the boys were drunk, they would also do something called the DMC—Deep Meaningful Conversation—a session where they would cry and profess their love for one another. What was a mere walking path for others in the day became the place where a sworn brotherhood was born at night. But as you grow older, you learn that at its best, intoxication unifies people and at its worst, it breaks them apart.

For his sixteenth birthday, Peter had his eyes on a small island across Siloso Beach in Sentosa for the party spot. The legal drinking age in Singapore was eighteen years old, so bars and clubs weren’t an option for him.

On the night of the party, the wooden hanging bridge that connected the main beach and the island carried around seventy kids, all driven by hormonal passions to live. Ever since then, the legendary Sentosa party became a tradition for the international school students until they got tired of running away from police officers who started patrolling the area on weekends. If the bridge collapsed someday, it would perhaps drown the decaying zest for life that was poured on it. And at the bottom of the ocean, it would be much like the kids that used to cross it.

In 2013, Peter found out that his family would be relocating to Germany in a year. For someone who still claimed Singapore to be his first home, it was surprising to see Peter relent. Fernweh. ‘Nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in spring’, writes Vladimir Nabokov (1970) in his novel Mary. Fernweh. The opposite of heimweh, which is equal to homesickness—the very feeling that infiltrated Peter when he set his foot on Stadelhofen. A city of 2,000 people. An hour away from the Black Forest. Where Hansel and Gretel were abandoned centuries ago.

***

It’s 2020 and I am facing Peter on my laptop screen. He is wearing a familiar Heineken beer tank top from many of his old photos. Except it is hugging a much broader shouldered and taller figure. His upturned, pixie-like eyes remain the same. Except now they draw you in with depth instead of lightness. We are sitting 16,376 km away from each other, strangers to each other. The only thing that connects his being in the Northern Hemisphere and mine in the Southern is our memories in the East.

‘You know, I’ve always envied your friendship,’ I say.

‘You would always feel welcome with us,’ he replies warmly. ‘I can’t even think of a day where we weren’t friends.’

‘But the magic is just gone,’ he continues. ‘I’m not desperate to return to Singapore. I’ve got a life here in Germany already.’

It took Peter a long time to make Germany his home. In Singapore, he was on top of the world. He was the man. How did he end up at the bottom? How did he end up starting to do drugs?

Once I heard that one of Sofia’s ex-boyfriends from international school returned to his home country, lived in a small city nobody had heard of, went to community college, and worked at McDonald’s. From a luxurious landed house at Sixth Avenue and frequent shopping trips to Orchard Road, to all of that. But Peter picked himself back up through music. He switched his phone language to German, started watching German YouTube, and got into German raps.

‘I’m writing this German rap song,’ he admits. ‘And yeah, I make sure it’s really good.’

The Germans aren’t timid. In Asia, people may keep things to themselves and protect you with their seclusion, but in Germany, violence is rampant. About a year ago, Peter was walking home from work, only five metres away from the house he was sharing with his ex-girlfriend in Offenburg, when two local guys rode past on their motorbike.

‘Hurensohn,’ one of them spat out.

It was probably a wrong time to stand up for himself, as Peter was scrawny compared to the other two muscular guys. But he spoke back, nevertheless. They retaliated and then got off their bike. When they threatened Peter, he kicked one of them in the stomach. The guy took Peter’s arm, flung him over his shoulder, and threw more punches at him. Peter came home with wounds—badges of courage on his fingers, elbows, knees, and torn skin at the top-left corner of the left eye.

‘I decided to speak back to those guys because I trusted my body and instincts,’ he explains. ‘I could’ve kept being a nice guy. But it didn’t feel good anymore.’

When Peter moved to Germany in 2013, he left behind his childhood, his friendships, and love in the form of a girl called Lizzie. He believed that Lizzie would relocate to Holland in three years, they would go to uni, and they would live together.

‘So stupid,’ he remarks on his old plan with a laugh. The relationship fell to pieces a few months after, and so did a friendship with an old friend—the so-called Brotherhood.

‘What about the guy who cheated with her? Are you still friends with him?’ I ask carefully. I’ve spotted him in Ryan’s other group photos. A particular picture suddenly springs up in my mind. In a group photo taken at the canal, he is sitting next to Peter, both of them wearing matching tank tops, the very one he’s wearing now.

Today everything exists to end in a photograph.

‘They were the two people that I really loved,’ he says. ‘When I found out, I was like “fuck you!”, but I forgave everyone. I just don’t expect much from people anymore. I am my own person,’ he continues.

‘So, no bad blood with them?’ I ask incredulously.

‘I don’t want bad blood with anyone,’ he chuckles. ‘Remember the guys who beat me up? I don’t even hate them. I don’t believe you were born bad; sometimes it’s just the environment.’

‘True,’ I agree. ‘Speaking of environment, do you know they renovated the canal?’

‘No way!’ he exclaims.

***

My psychiatrist believes that when we are kids, we are bound to believe that we are invincible. The concept of death, betrayal, and unhappiness are like aliens—seems far but perhaps they are closer than we think. Much like other living organisms in nature, as you grow older, some aspects of your life will erode. They die so new experiences can emerge from their remnants—much like my dead American dream and the extinction of Peter’s magical childhood. Perhaps the mist from the Black Forest has revealed the reality of life to Peter just as it had to Hansel and Gretel. You should have learned by now that happiness is temporary, but so is misery. After all, great memories happen in intervals and no summer lasts forever.

References
Nabokov V (1970) Mary, McGraw Hill, New York.
Sontag S (2005) On Photography, Rosetta Books, New York

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