Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.

June 1, 2008

As we stood in the middle of the utter chaos that was our destroyed campsite, our clothes strewn all over the sand, our tents overturned, and sand flowing from every possible crevice (in our items and our bodies), Yean looked at me and said, “Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.”

He looked at me. He didn’t smile, he didn’t laugh. He simply said that.

And I understood.

And of course, you guys don’t understand.

Obviously.

Well, let me give you some background.

Once a long time ago, I spent a month living in the Gobi Desert, shooting a documentary for the National Geographic Channel about the Great Gerbil and the Golden Eagle.

Now, the region I was in was called Xinjiang, which is in the northwestern part of China but aside from being part of China, this part of the world could not be any less Chinese.

In fact, they don’t even speak the Chinese  we know, in that region. They speak a peculiar dialect called Uygur. Also, they speak Russian, Kazakh and smatterings of Chinese that I didn’t really understand that well. (This mix of dialects was due to the fact that Xinjiang was once part of Kazakhstan and had many nomadic tribes with many languages and the Chinese invaded them and tried to unify them, even to the extent of naming the place the “Uygur Autonomous Region”.)

Needless to say, these cultural differences resulted in differences in food and we had to make changes in our diet and what we ate.

Remember how in Storytelling we always say change = conflict?

Major conflict, dude.

Throughout the whole trip, we subsisted on mostly stewed vegetables, mutton, rabbit meat, more mutton, traditional chinese noodles, even more mutton and … you guessed it … mutton.

In my second week out in the desert, as I sat at the table, half awake trying to see how much sand had blown onto the tomato egg (another peculiar China dish),  Yean asked me what I missed most and represented Singapore for me at that exact moment.

A light inside me came on. It was so obvious it was painful to say but out it came from my mouth:

“Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.”

Soon after, everytime we were in a fix, if sand got into the camera, if the gerbils ran away before we got the shot, if the nomads forced us to drink tea that tasted like Camel’s piss (I swear!) or if a Camel spat on you (I double swear!!), all we had to do was say “Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat”, and it would be alright.

For me, that represented everything about my home and my country. Forget the five stars arising crap; forget the red and the white; the thought of going home to a plate of semi-warm bee hoon with a half moon piece of luncheon meat cut up into thirds and a soft fried egg with a semi-cooked center was my idea of heaven. As long as I had that to look forward to, nothing could get me down.

Then the sandstorm happened.

I remember, we were just sitting there, drinking warm bottles of beer and smoking duty free Camels when Mickey saw it first. It was just a dot on the horizon.

Then it grew bigger and bigger.

And then it was upon us.

Remember Galactus, destroyer of planets, in that recent Fantastic Four movie? That’s what it looked and felt like, from where we were standing.

I cannot remember clearing up equipment in a quicker time but in about 2 minutes, Yean, Mickey, Steve, Becks, the two drivers, the two cooks, the government official and our guide Rick had managed to grab all the film cans, film cameras, lenses, tripods and assorted gear and stash them in the giant tent that we all hid in while the storm blew outside. It was like a scene from one of those Discovery documentaries about tornadoes and twisters.

And it all only lasted about 7 minutes.

And when we came out, it was like Katrina, the Tsunami and an earthquake had devastated the camp. My stuff had been chucked out of the tent and blown all over the place, over the dunes and onto the hills. My tent was buried under a ton of sand and took about an hour to dig out.

It was a fascinating experience but also one of the shittiest days there.

But when Yean said those words to me, the light inside me came on again and I knew, I just knew that no matter how shitty things got, I had that to look forward to.

Bee Hoon with Egg and Luncheon Meat.

Something about that just says …

… home.