A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.
Experiments made up my life. They were of utter importance in clearing any doubts that I had since no one else would or could answer them. However, my experiments were often 'secret operations' because of their very nature. They were certainly quite unlike others'. For one, they were unique—no one else would even dream or dare to attempt them, unless he was willing to make huge sacrifices (if found out, that is), which included being banished to the storeroom and ordered to stay there for a day without sweets or amusement.
I remain particularly proud of certain experiments, all performed when I was only five years old. Experiment Conquer involved crawling at full speed across a restaurant, dashing under tables, and finally perching myself triumphantly on a chair with a menu as my crown and a salt shaker as my scepter, much to the enjoyment of my subjects, who apparently thought their King was quite entertaining. All went well until, alas! I found myself strapped into a high chair! At least the Experiment proved that a five year old can take over the world, if only for ten minutes.
Experiment Resonance was uncomplicated and painless. It merely required cracking open a violin to inspect its inside. I always suspected that those violins contained a device of some kind (maybe a musical box) which already had recorded tunes. How else would a plain box of wood produce beautiful sounds when horsehair was drawn across its strings? Nay, it was impossible! I was determined to prove those instrument-makers frauds. Getting hold of a violin was simple—I knew my father had a three hundred year-old Stradivarius. My theory was that he would not miss that old thing. After all, smashing an ancient, antique violin never did anyone any harm. So I split it open with a hammer, but to my absolute disappointment, the violin was hollow! Imagine how I wailed and howled when my enraged father spanked and caned me! I had completely no idea why an old violin that would eventually fall to bits meant so much to him.
Thinking back, I laugh at my experiments, although they sometimes caused mind-blowing explosions, and more often than not, from my poor parents. But there is one particular Experiment that still sticks out in my memory, and somehow, I cannot laugh when I think of it…
It all started with a lesson in school on the theory of evolution. That got an idea in my head: men evolved from apes, so does not that make us equals? Humans and animals as equals—even in character… That thought simply refused to go away. I went around asking everyone I knew for an answer, but as usual, only got the typical replies: 'Don't be ridiculous!', 'Why do you always ask such stupid questions?', 'Just go away and leave me alone!'
Finally, my best pal retorted, "Of course we are superior! We're absolutely nothing like animals! How can you even think we are equals? And in behaviour?!" I giggled to see the expression of utter distress on his face, but sobered when he continued with an indignant frown, shaking his head and wagging his finger portentously. "Now, don't you laugh at what I say! Never mind that we sometimes blow the world up with our little games and arguments. After all, isn't that evidence of our power? In what ways are we not superior? We discovered electricity. Animals didn't. We have guns, rifles and cannons that make splendid 'bangs' and 'booms'. What do animals have? Shells, claws, pincers, horns. So primitive! And when we fight, we fight over mentionable things like land, status, money. Sometimes, you see ministers of Parliament get into a brawl over such issues. They have the right to do that: the country's survival is at stake! When animals get into fights, it's always over partners, food… Unmentionable issues."
"We're absolutely a class apart from animals. We're creatures of compassion and understanding. We only destroy when there's a need to and not for selfish, personal gains. Animals like Dodos and Tasmanian Devils have become extinct, but let's put it this way: that was because we needed the food and money. See? We only killed them because we needed to survive! Animals kill for no good reason at all. Surely, buddy, you'd agree with me that we're all civilized, gentle beings! In fact, that's why we're trying so hard to get animals to be like us. You see bears and dogs being trained to ride bicycles and juggle. Perhaps we should even consider training lions to eat vegetables…"
How could I be satisfied by his response? It made a little sense to me, but could it be adequate to support his claim? Finally, I hit upon the best solution: an experiment. This one would be particularly straightforward and trouble-free. Experiment subjects were all out there waiting for me—I just had to control the conditions.
That weekend, I made a trip to town, notebook and pen in hand. In the park, I selected my first subject, noting his particulars: middle-aged male, probably having lunch break. Settling myself on a nearby bench, I watched. He sat down, munching on a Delifrance chicken baguette that was overflowing with lettuce and sauce. I scrutinized his every move in trepidation and anticipation as a flock of overweight, portly pigeons descended near him, waddling in his direction as they all eyed his baguette. My pen poised in midair, I waited to see what he would do. The man seemed oblivious to their crowding presence until one plucky pigeon hopped boldly onto the bench beside him, staring unblinkingly at him. Noticing it, the man cried, a slight hint of irritation in his voice, "Shoo!" Taken aback, the annoyed pigeon fluttered down to the ground, ruffling its feathers indignantly. It was only then that it seemed the man noticed the entire throng of birds for the first time. All staring unblinkingly at him.
The man glared at them with downright distaste and sighed before reluctantly tearing a tiny piece of his baguette and throwing it at them. There was a moment's pause, as if the pigeons could not believe what they saw. It was not for long, though. Promptly, a fight over the bread began. All these I noted as feathers flew and squawks could be heard: Subject vs. Animals—display common self-centeredness… "Must be an exception", I thought, as my friend's words echoed in my mind, 'We're creatures of compassion and understanding.'
I picked my second subject outside a cafe: elderly female. Nearby, a booth had been set up with the slogan 'A pet is for life' splashed all over it. A lady wearing a 'SPCA Volunteer' shirt approached the lady, smiling amiably, "Would you like to donate to give stray animals a better life?" Beaming and nodding her head thoughtfully, the ancient one fished out her purse from her bag and proudly dropped a dollar into the collection can. "Thank you for your support."
She had walked no more than ten steps when a busker strumming a guitar called out to her, "Please ma'am, could you spare some change? My boy needs to eat." Looking closer, I spotted a tiny ball curled up in the open guitar case on the ground. The ball moved, and a curly head popped up, two round eyes gazing up as he gurgled cheekily and clapped his hands. The ancient one glanced at them and walked off hurriedly. What did this say? Again, my friend's words came to my mind, 'We are absolutely a class apart from animals.' But… we seem to be more concerned about the survival of animals than that of our fellow human beings. Are we below animals? I quickly brushed that thought aside, thinking of the recent tragedy where massive earthquake-generated tsunamis claimed the lives of more than 80,000 and left millions homeless. Had not people all over the world stretched out a helping hand; raising funds and sending aid to the regions ravaged by the terrible waves?
Yet, why is it that we lend our sympathies to others around us only when calamity strikes? Why do we have to wait for such misfortunes to happen before the welfare of others concerns us? I groaned, knocking my head with my fist, muttering to myself, "Have more faith." I was being too mistrustful of my own kind. How unfortunate to have met with so many exceptions for this particular experiment!
I then selected my third subject outside a shopping mall: teenage female. I observed as she sauntered out of the building, colourful shopping bags in tow, flicking her hair with every step she took—the sheer epitome of vibrancy and elegance. Hopefully, this would turn out more successfully. My gaze never left the lady as a handicapped man in a wheelchair stretching out his hand with a few packs of tissue, approached her, "Please, ma'am…" He was gaunt, reduced to a withering stump, wearing only a thin shirt and tattered shorts.
She practically leapt away from him. The look in her eyes could not be missed. She looked at him as if he were some…some slimy, filthy, nauseating, vile, revolting parasite. Her stare was so icy, so hard and so stiff she could have just melted everyone around her into little shriveling blocks of icicles. The poor man could only look down at the ground, trembling and stammering. Things might have taken a turn for the worst if an older lady had not patted the teen's shoulder.
"Oh! Hi, Mrs. Lim!" The young girl whipped around, exclaiming with overwhelming sugary sweetness and charm, "I never thought I'd meet you here! Oh yes… I'm applying for an overseas scholarship, and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to endorse my application?" I blinked. Was she the very same person I had studied a few seconds ago? Shutting my ears out to her shrill laughter and chatter, my brows furrowed as I recalled what my friend had said: 'We're all civilized, gentle beings.' Another exception! I could not deny that a disquieting sense of unease had crept into my heart. In what I had just witnessed, I spotted a dangerous and insidious secret lurking behind a smiling mask: hypocri-
Wait, I should not draw unfounded conclusions so swiftly. I need to survey more than just one subject. Yet, as the day went by and as my notebook began to brim over with words, it suddenly dawned on me: exceptions no longer seemed like exceptions. They were the norm.
My mind was reeling. It was like what I had always suspected. Were we just like animals? Or rather…
Who were the beasts?