The cockles of my spy

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Jamie Ee never fails to make me laugh


I DON'T mean to alarm the public unnecessarily, but after the story broke about Russian spies posing as ordinary Americans living in the suburbs, I can no longer look at my neighbours with a straight face. Like the woman spy with the flourishing hydrangeas, I too have unnaturally lush bougainvilleas crowding the common corridor outside my unit - and they are not there to hide my ugly shoe rack.

You see, I am a Russian spy. Well, at least I used to be one but I have since switched sides and now spend my time helping people to identify spies in their own backyards.

Remember how people used to think taxi drivers were spies - pretending to rail against public policies just to make you lower your guard and add in your two cents worth of grouses? Well, it's true. I know because my agency used to recruit them. Unfortunately, this scheme didn't last long because our spies went so deeply 'native' even we couldn't tell them apart from real taxi drivers.

Whenever we thought we identified one from the tell-tale signs: not knowing the difference between Shaw Towers and Shaw Centre; difficulty understanding English; tuning his radio to Gold 90FM because he thinks Singaporeans like listening to Air Supply and also because that is the same radio frequency our agents use for communicating with our satellites - it turns out he really doesn't know where he's going and he really likes Air Supply.

However, that doesn't mean there aren't spies around and here are some tips to identify them:

# The neighbour who likes to take your favourite parking spot just when you get home from work, only to disappear after you have spent 15 minutes parking several streets away. Watch him. That could be a satellite hot spot and due to the time difference with Russia, that could be the only time he can communicate with his headquarters.

# Spies can be found even in hawker centres. Some well-known char kway teow hawkers are well versed in Morse code. Next time you order a plate, count the number of times he hits the pan with his spatula. Then look around for someone drinking sugar cane juice and discreetly taking notes. When that same guy then orders a plate of char kway teow, watch carefully. If he gets several more cockles than you, you know they're passing secret messages.

# One of the best-known ways of passing information from one agent to another is by secretly exchanging identical-looking bags when they pass each other in a public place. The next time you are at the Great Singapore Sale and another woman starts a tug-of-war with you over a handbag you saw first - she might not want it because of the discount.

# If you ever notice how part of your street is always being dug up by people supposedly fixing the cables or water pipes but you never see any improvement in your water pressure or broadband speed - they could be agents looking for a hidden cache of money.

As for me, I now work undercover in an office. You can tell who I am from the stash of identical-sized paper bags I keep at my desk, and the way I yell at anyone who tries to take one.


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